Sunday, February 26, 2012

"No public transportation to speak of"

Okay, this is how this works. Public transit is primarily funded by government subsidy, and most of this funding is allocated based on ridership. A lot of expansion funding also comes from potential ridership, which is modeled based on (among other factors) existing demand. Thus, you have two cycles in transit planning. One, if nobody rides transit (often because it sucks), then transit doesn't get funding, then transit sucks, then nobody rides it. Two, if people do ride transit, then transit gets more funding, then transit sucks less, then more people ride it. There are exceptions to this rule, and every transit system is suffering from budget cuts right now, but this is basically how it works. Every time you embark on a trip that could be accomplished by transit, and you choose to drive instead, you are directly contributing to how lousy transit is in the area.

That's why I find comments like the following frustrating. This is from Ed Brayton's blog, in response to somebody having a bit of schadenfreude about a Tea Partier spending $70 filling up his Hummer:

I don’t own a vehicle, so I save a whole lot on gas. And insurance, come to think of it. And seeing the maintenance costs that some of my friends have had to bear lately with their vehicles, I wonder how it is that anyone can afford to own a vehicle.
Where do you live?
I have friends that live in major cities and don’t own cars, but that is quite literally an impossibility here. Virtually anything of interest would be a half an hour walk or more, and there’s no public transportation to speak of. (we have a bus system, but outside of downtown stops are few and far between).
The upside for low income people I guess is that we don’t have smog requirements and southern winters are kind to vehicles, so it is quite possible to go and find a cheap 20 year old car for a couple hundred dollars.
"There's no public transportation to speak of. There's a bus system..."

Over and over and over again, I find myself defending the public bus. Bus systems are public transportation worth speaking of- and, if your bus stops are few and far between, it's probably because the urban form of your area is so spread out that anywhere worth going is similarly few and far between. And even if your transit does suck, the best thing that you can do to fix that is to ride it.


Leo dC said...

I agree to a point. I would love to utilize the the transit system where I live. Its even better for me, since I work for such system, so I know its inner workings, have more access than your regular patron and get to ride free. I live off the rail line, work off the rail line, and have nearby bus routes. There was a time that I didn't use my car for months and it was great. However, span of service has been cut, frequencies decimated. I can only rely on my system for either going to work, or going home, but not both. Thank goodness I still chose to live on a fairly bike friendly place so my car isn't used as much for commuting. My usage of the system nowadays is nil, because its not useful to me anymore. For the people to even think about riding, it has to be usefull. Hourly headways, no timed connection, and no night and very sparse weekend service does not constitute usefull service. Even the most die hard transit fan should not be expected to ride in order to bump up ridership figures in hopes of getting usefull numbers. Make the system as usefull as possible to the most amount of people possible with whatever meager resources on hand may mean cutting some routes altogether, but strenthening the core and get back to a more sustainable footing. How to make that happen though is another question altogether.

JN said...

Leo- Absolutely. It makes little sense to patronize a transit network solely for the purpose of improving ridership, except perhaps in the narrow case of an activist group targeting a specific threatened line. But if transit is useful- which it likely is in some subset of cases- and it goes unused, it will deteriorate. The point I was trying to make is that the commenter doesn't even likely know if his/her transit system is useful or not, as he/she has dismissed bus systems as "no public transportation to speak of." Bus systems can be useful transit.

Also, if you're in an area where you have rail and bus service, and your transit is not useful, that is a damned shame. I've seen in so many places where agencies have let the bus network deteriorate badly in order to prop up the rail network. (Boston comes to mind here.)