We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Why More People Should Ride Mass Transit

30th January 2012

Tim Cavanaugh turns over a rock and watches what wriggles out.

How many public transit expert/advocates actually ride on public transportation?

Damned few. I’ll bet you a paycheck on that one.

I have met more than three folks, in and out of the establishment media, who speak with authority about mass transportation yet somehow can never get around to using it in the heat of their daily struggles. Judging by this storied Onion headline, I’m guessing others have met such people as well.

My, what a surprise. Aren’t you surprised? I’m sure surprised.

I wonder this every time an expert makes the case for more intelligently planned transit networks featuring smarter coordination throughout the hub or loop or grid. There’s one thing you learn by your second day of using transit when you actually don’t have a choice: For every transfer in your itinerary, you need to double the time allotted for the trip.

That’s because it’s not just taking you, it’s taking a bunch of other people, too. When you’re the only guy using the bathroom, it’s pretty quick. When you share it with others, it takes longer. Anybody who grew up with siblings knows the answer to that one. (Hm. I wonder how many ‘experts’ are only children? That would explain a lot….)

But the reality of transit use in the non-hypothetical universe is that you don’t need smarter hubs or better coordination or more efficient transfers. You don’t need experts planning out more brilliant three- and four-transfer itineraries. You need more shit running more frequently to more destinations.

Transit doesn’t suck because it lacks central planning. It sucks because it’s artificially scarce.

The basic problem with ‘mass transit’ is that it carries you from where you aren’t to where you don’t want to be, with stops in between to waste your time by picking up and dropping off people other than you. That’s the long and the short of it. If ‘mass transit’ started at your door and went to the door of your destination, it would be great. But it doesn’t. So it’s not.

One Response to “Why More People Should Ride Mass Transit”

  1. Dennis Nagle Says:

    There was a line deliverd by Jimmy Stewart in the otherwise unremarkable movie Shenandoah. In the search for his missing son, he and his men stop a Union train carrying Confederate POWs north. In speaking with the engineer, he says, “Seems to me you run a pretty poor sort of railroad, mister; it takes folks where they don’t want to go and won’t bring ’em back when they’re ready.”

    For mass transit to become popular, it will first have to become more user-friendly. But of course that takes money–more routes, more buses/trains, more drivers, etc.–which municipalities 1) don’t have, and 2) wouldn’t want to spend if they did.