Friday, June 8, 2012

Transit shmansit: what's the difference?


  1. 2 pictures.
    3 words.
    All the difference.

    Nice work

  2. I actually thing there is nothing wrong with the bus. I think this is counterproductive in fact. Can we not have both? They serve separate, unique needs and serve them better that the other could. Why add a layer of classicism to how we get around?

    1. I agree wholeheartedly there is and will always be a role for both buses in rail. In fact, except in places where population density, transit ridership, and traffic congestion are very high, buses will play a much more important role.

      But statistically, people do like streetcars better. In the era when we were replacing worn-out generations-old streetcars with brand-new modern buses with more frequent service, ridership immediately dropped 30-40% in many places when we switched to buses. If you're making public policy, and you want to grow the city and its economy and reduce congestion, you want a transit mode that can attract those who can afford to drive to take transit instead. In that case, it really does matter that people tend to have a strong preference for rail over bus.

      I didn't add the classism--we've been attaching status to mode of travel for a long time. Cars, buses, streetcars, commuter trains all have meanings in the popular mind (just watch a few car commercials), and it would be foolish to ignore those established meanings. But I don't want to further undermine the status of the noble and ubiquitous bus by propagating its image as the last resort of the desperate.

      Is it ugly for me to acknowledge the status difference between bus and rail? I think you're right--it is.

      But here's the thing: the status of the bus is much higher where people take all forms of transit. The best way to elevate the image of the bus is to get more people to take transit instead of driving. And this seems to happen everywhere they replace bus service with modern streetcars.

      One more thing: the subtext is to point out the irony that people sit in traffic in high-status cars to show they belong to the "business class," while if your time is really valuable and you need to get some work done while you travel, it's much better to be on a streetcar or a commuter train.