Car-lovers for More Transit Options
January 4, 2020 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Last month, Aaron Gordon wrote an article for the car for Jalopnik, the site for people "obsessed with the cult of cars and everything that moves you," pleading for people to stop taking Ubers to the Empire State Building and instead take transit (it's the #1 most-visited location by Uber users, as reported by CNBC). This was noticed on the Facebook group New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens (NUMTOT previously), who include a number of car-lovers who also want better transit options, which lead to a new article from Gordon: It's Time To Let Go Of Commuter (Car) Culture.

The piece opens with a link to a series of articles from the Boston Globe on the local congestion, under the title of Seeing Red:
  1. Political Gridlock: Epic traffic afflicts the region as our political leaders remain stuck in place. (archived link)
  2. The Employer Problem: We’re hooked on cars, despite the gridlock. Only powerful incentives will change that, but major employers make it too easy to drive. (archived link)
  3. Tech and Consequences: The get-it-now age of Uber and Amazon has delivered something unexpected to Boston’s doorstep — new traffic that worsens our soul-crushing snarl. (archived link)
Aaron then looks to alternatives, and U.S. History:
When searching for a more sensible transportation landscape, people often look abroad, and particularly to Europe. They invoke the likes of London’s congestion pricing (CityLab), Paris’s automotive liberation (CityLab), or Oslo’s car-free downtown (Fast Company) to show how it can be done.

But one does not need to look across oceans or even to other countries to see the possibilities. One needs only to look back in time.

America once had a balanced transportation landscape, one with choice and some semblance of freedom through the 1940s—of course, transportation itself was racially segregated in much of the country during this time—until the federal government put nearly all its weight behind the automobile.

For the first few decades after the Model T, cars were still mostly used by families for leisure and adventure activities. As documented by historian Kenneth T. Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier (Indiebound, Goodreads, Amazon), a history of the suburbs—which is just as much a story of transportation as housing—the affordable automobile rapidly replaced family outings on the streetcar but not so much commuting trips.
From the Federal Housing Administration's racial segregation of American cities that was anything but accidental (Smithsonian Magazine) to the racist legacy of America’s inner-city highways (D Magazine), to Trump admin holding back billions in transit funding, according to congressional critics (Curbed), the federal government has supported suburban, car-centric sprawl over connected cities with transit options.

But it's not all bad news: Curbed highlighted 10 U.S. cities with progressive plans for public transportation in March 2017, when it was not yet certain what impact the Trump administration would have on public transit investments and funding.
posted by filthy light thief (92 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Most of the time wasted with buses is scheduling. I think we’re at the point where we can start integrating public transport and ride sharing platforms to change over to on demand dynamic routing. Use hybrids in city areas, minibuses in suburbs, and turbo diesel/LNG for point to point trunk routes where no train exists.

Pick up people on request, drop off at nearest transport hub, load up a train or large bus with people, send to transport hub, on demand bus to destination. Why are we still running set routes on hourly schedules? It’s so utterly inefficient in this day and age.

Pull up the app or call a phone number to request pickup, have time efficient public transport to your destination.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:03 AM on January 5


As mentioned last month, it shouldn't be a given that owning & using personal cars by everybody, all the time, is the default status for movement over distances. There are other solutions. Great public transportation, buses, trains, biking has to stop being pipes dreams. In 50 years, when the world was reduced to half its size, the survivors will be more apt to accept other systems.
posted by growabrain at 1:06 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Most of the time wasted with buses is scheduling. I think we’re at the point where we can start integrating public transport and ride sharing platforms to change over to on demand dynamic routing. Use hybrids in city areas, minibuses in suburbs, and turbo diesel/LNG for point to point trunk routes where no train exists.

Pick up people on request, drop off at nearest transport hub, load up a train or large bus with people, send to transport hub, on demand bus to destination. Why are we still running set routes on hourly schedules? It’s so utterly inefficient in this day and age.

Pull up the app or call a phone number to request pickup, have time efficient public transport to your destination.


Demand responsive transit is not mass transit, full stop. It wasn't when the technology was invented 50 years ago (here's a 1973 film about the Telebus in Regina), and it's not today. It is a way to slightly improve convenience for people if you're providing a little used service meant as a lifeline, and there is a place for that, especially in very low density suburbs that can't provide more demand until they densify. But the provision of low-ridership service by definition can't take any substantial number of cars off the road.

I highlighted the actual problem you identified. If the vehicle runs hourly, then having it come to your doorstop doesn't make it much more convenient than stopping a block or two away. And if you have enough vehicles and demand to run frequent service, then the most efficient thing is for them to go down a straight route without driving into a bunch of cul-de-sacs; you're never going to improve transit service overall by having 10 or 20 people sitting on a vehicle diverting for five extra minutes to save one person a five minute walk to their door.

Jarrett Walker goes through this in much more detail than I can write at this late hour.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:31 AM on January 5 [59 favorites]


The point would be to take it off schedule altogether. Have a short window where riders can accumulate, dispatch a bus, run through a catchment area, pick them up one by one and drop them off on the way or at a transport hub. Not necessarily to the door, but I think it could be convenient along major routes. The point is there’s a lot you can play with to balance level of service vs cost. For instance in periods of low demand you could wait 15 minutes for riders to accumulate.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:46 AM on January 5


Plus if you know numbers in advance you don’t have to necessarily send out a huge Volvo articulated thing, you could send out a Coaster mini bus or something.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:48 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


A certain percentage of drivers will drive everywhere as long as you let them. To peel their asses out of their cars, you have to make it impossible for them to drive where they want to go and impossible to park there even if they broke the law to drive there. Make car-free, parking-free streets and strongly discourage employee parking.
posted by pracowity at 2:10 AM on January 5 [23 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock there are a lot of efficiencies built into schedules and set routes. Like dedicated public transit lanes and dedicated visible stops, set schedules for the drivers so they can swap out at end of shift and are working for their shift instead of waiting to go out, being able to plan based on the schedule, etc etc.
posted by gryftir at 2:18 AM on January 5 [11 favorites]


Pull up the app or call a phone number to request pickup, have time efficient public transport to your destination.

Having experience with someone using a system like this (on demand paratransit van) in deepest built- in-the- 90s/00s suburbia, this is an incredibly inefficient system. If you're the only rider they need to pick up, it's great. If you try to string people together you end up with things taking hours and lots of backtracking.

I think Uber was looking into this and basically reinvented bus stops and schedules ("what if we had everyone meet at a convenient point? And around the same time everyday??")
posted by damayanti at 4:57 AM on January 5 [26 favorites]


you're never going to improve transit service overall by having 10 or 20 people sitting on a vehicle diverting for five extra minutes to save one person a five minute walk to their door.

And yet, car-pooling is a thing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:18 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


But carpooling isn't mass transit.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:46 AM on January 5 [19 favorites]


It is also how school buses worked but those only work because the passengers have no choice and can adhere to rigid schedules and the value of their time is negligible.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:57 AM on January 5 [10 favorites]


But carpooling isn't mass transit.

My local transit agency runs a vanpool program and their long range plan includes integration of on-demand car pooling (both individual drivers and for-profit services); they are testing out a pilot ride sharing program now but as far as I know it isn't catching on. Car pooling and its variants should definitely be part of mass transit, but they aren't a substitute for scheduled buses on regular routes -- they are a supplement that fills a different gap in the system.

Anything that increases transportation density is good. This is a place with good public transit, and still most commuting means single-occupant vehicles. I like the Jalopnik article's approach of moving car culture away from commuting -- cars are fun and incredibly practical, but commuting in a car is terrible.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


I'll admit to taking Uber/Lyft around when I'm in New York. Other city's transit systems are always kind of confusing to outsiders just in for the weekend and plus there's usually a dozen of us so piling in cars is a lot easier than dragging everyone down to the subway.

We do usually take the Metro in DC because my sister-in-law lives there and is a good guide and the system is a lot easier to figure out.
posted by octothorpe at 6:03 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how changes in transit options can also accommodate "office sprawl." I read a book a few years ago called "Cubed" which talks about the history of the office, and one of the points the author made was the transition of workplaces out of downtown and in to huge campuses way outside the city (he cited Bell Labs as one of the first to do this). Here in Boston, that would be the Rte 128 Tech Corridor, which is almost 20 miles outside of downtown. I worked out there for a long time, and I was actually lucky! We lived near the terminus for the single bus that went out in that direction. The drawbacks to using the bus, though, were huge - despite being "near" it was still over a mile's walk (with no convenient transit options to shorten that), the bus only ran once an hour (and it was a true commuter - only outbound trips in the morning and only inbound trips in the evening), and it took 45 minutes to get to my office. On most days, I could drive to work in 25 minutes. So, I took the bus rarely and decided if I was willing to spend that much time commuting I would bike in to work.

The Tech Corridor has gotten so built up over the past decade that, between people trying to commute out there as well as use the same roads to get in to downtown, that 25 minute drive could take over an hour. I work in the city now, and I bike in every day.

My current job is also an interesting case study in where our transit dollars go, as the article mentions. Work offers commuter benefits, but they're capped by federal tax law - they're offering the maximum benefit allowed before it is considered taxable income. This pays for my monthly subway pass easily, but it doesn't cover the full commuter rail network; people who live out at the extreme ends of that system are still paying hundreds of dollars a month for rail passes. Meanwhile, up until this year the parking garage (fully owned by the company, which is a rarity around here) cost a whopping $8 per week to use. The average cost of parking in Cambridge is $350/month.

The city put a lot of pressure on the company, and changes were implemented with more to come. The cost of parking went up significantly ($10 a day with a cap of $150/month), and they're warning employees it's going to keep going up. The commuter benefit rose slightly. More bike parking is in the works. But I really think the traffic problems won't get better until our subway and commuter rail systems are better funded and better managed; without a faster, more reliable network, people are going to continue to drive for their commutes.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:08 AM on January 5 [14 favorites]


On-demand dispatch also doesn't get you some of the best benefits of fixed mass transit (& the reason trams are still better than buses): permanent way-throughs. Those are spots for little business gathering points / village downtowns, even within more residential areas. Encouraging this is good both for riders and those neighborhoods. But the more fixed it is, the more gravity it has.

Also waiting 15m for transit is not an acceptable headway to get people to use it all the time / prefer it. Consider that in Central London trains come every 2-4 minutes and really things have to be around 5–8m to let users just turn up and go, and not schedule.

More generally, I am glad Aaron Gordon does the work he does but I wish he were less milquetoast.
posted by dame at 6:10 AM on January 5 [13 favorites]


I’m surprised at how limited the number of transport options being discussed in those links, and this thread, are. It’s pretty obvious to me, at least, that low-cost electric powered individual transit, as much as public transit, is the future. Light rail needs its own lanes, busses need their own lanes and bike and light-electric personal transports (electric scooters, ebikes, enclosed trikes, other stuff coming down the pipe) will need dedicated lanes as well.

(We also need zoning laws that actually let people afford to live near where they work, which is a different but tightly-interwoven issue.)
posted by mhoye at 6:11 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


What you are seeing with people Ubering to the Empire State Building is tourists opting out of the cognitive effort of learning how to use a city's transit system ( 1,2,3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, and W!!!) and optimizing how much they can see in the typical extremely short vacation window that Americans get. People who live in a city can learn to optimize their travel on public transit taking into account both the routes and the quirks. Tourists don't have the time, energy or frankly the reason to do this as it will be a large one-off learning cost and of very little benefit and is far more time consuming.

The problem for urban planners (and residents) is that these are hugely rational responses to the constraints a tourist is under.
posted by srboisvert at 6:15 AM on January 5 [26 favorites]


I just spent some time in Japan and I was amazed at how much better the mass transit systems are there than what I'm used to in the US. There are so many little details to make things more efficient: markings on the platforms to help people line up for quicker load/unload; screens on most train cars that show details like where the stairs and escalators are at the next station relative to the specific car that you are in.

Another small thing that greatly increased the utility of these systems for me was the fact that one stored-value transit card can be used in many cities: I was able to get a Suica card at the start of the trip and use it in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe... it just works.

These kinds of improvements can go a long way towards convincing more people to use mass transit.
posted by sriracha at 6:20 AM on January 5 [33 favorites]


Tourists don't have the time, energy or frankly the reason to do this as it will be a large one-off learning cost and of very little benefit and is far more time consuming.

Tourists need tour buses and apps. One ticket good for all tour buses all day in the city. An app to help them schedule their time, find their way around, and use the buses as needed.
posted by pracowity at 6:39 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


My wife and I were in Downtown Pittsburgh for a concert with some of our older neighbors this fall and found out that some of them had no idea how to ride a bus. We don't live in the suburbs; we live right in the heart of the city but some of them had lived here for decades without ever knowing what bus went to our neighborhood or how to pay for it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:40 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


Great article.

This stuff isn’t a mystery. We know what we need to to do to make improvements in this area. Other cities in other countries are already doing it with great success and we can follow their lead. We don’t need to innovate! Dedicated bus lanes. Frequent and cheap subway/light rail service. Protected wheeling lanes. Removing cars altogether from very high traffic streets. All of this paired with changes to zoning to increase density.

What are we doing instead? Hyperloops and complicated ride sharing schemes.
posted by scantee at 6:41 AM on January 5 [17 favorites]


Another small thing that greatly increased the utility of these systems for me was the fact that one stored-value transit card can be used in many cities: I was able to get a Suica card at the start of the trip and use it in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe... it just works.

Wow, mind blown. As an American that just sounds so crazy. Also my city's transit system just got cards five years ago; before that you had to feed your crumpled up dollar bills into the reader on the bus each time while fifty people were behind you trying to get on.
posted by octothorpe at 6:50 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Tourists don't have the time, energy or frankly the reason to do this as it will be a large one-off learning cost and of very little benefit and is far more time consuming.

I'm absolutely flummoxed by this statement. Tourists have nothing but time - they're not going to get fired because they were late to the museum! One thing we always do before a major vacation is checking out a travel guide from the library, and one of the main reasons we do that is to read the half page in each guide that's dedicated to how to use the local transit system. With very rare exceptions (those exceptions entirely consisting of "there is literally no transit here"), we will walk and take public transportation exclusively while we're traveling.

And for the folks who travel but don't want to be labeled as a grimy "tourist" and want to "experience the city like a local," I can't imagine how getting whisked from one attraction to another in a private car helps foster that image or experience.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:52 AM on January 5 [19 favorites]


Make car-free, parking-free streets and strongly discourage employee parking.

Obligatory reminder that disabled people exist and these policies hurt us.

Anyway, regardless of efficiency, Your Childhood Pet Rock’s suggestion solves most of the accessibility problems for public transportation for me. The 5 minute walk does actually make a huge difference. I also can’t stand in the heat waiting for a bus, but I could sit in a temperature controlled building and wait. It also removes a lot of the panic of missing the bus, which is extra bad for me because it means more standing in the heat and risking fainting and having a seizure. I also only have to figure out which bus goes to my destination, rather than figuring out which one picks me up and where does it cross with one that goes where I’m going and how do their schedules align and and...

I could do public transportation if it were like this. I don’t really care if it would take longer at that point.
posted by brook horse at 6:58 AM on January 5 [21 favorites]


I'm a gearhead in a peculiar position, in that I love auto design and engineering, hate car commuting, adore riding the commuter train to work (despite it adding twenty to thirty minutes to my commute compared to driving), am supremely over our culture's idiotic love of mostly terrible cars (seriously, fuck the SUV and all the damage they do, despite the fact that I own a giant '96 Ford F150 with an engine better suited for a small ocean liner), and particularly disdain boring, appliancey cars that we accept because of lowbrow standards (and yet are safer, more ecological, reliable, and long-lived that anything of the past), work happily in an academic laboratory of advanced transportation technology that mostly focuses on managing auto traffic (though I'm delighted that we're starting to get into transit data) despite my disdain for people's willingness to become traffic (you're never "stuck in traffic"—you are traffic, by your own choices), and while increasingly preferring pedestrian, bicycling, scooter/motorcycling, and transit to dumb, silly cars, I just bought myself a vintage Citroën with all its attendant need for attention, maintenance, and expense with the intention to never use it in any pursuit as tiresome as driving to work.

I seem to be the only person wildly grinning at the excitement of travel on the bus or the train, because I get to ride the bus or train, the only person in the grim lines of traffic who's singing and bopping around behind the wheel because, if I'm going to be traffic, I should at least have a song in my heart, and when I'm standing on the MARC platform of the lovely Victorian station in Laurel, Maryland, I'm the guy who can't figure out why everyone else there looks so unhappy, because traaaaaaaaain.

I've picked my recent careers based on the proximity of train stations, because I love my cozy home and the small town where I live with an excellent walk score, in part because it's also a perfect place from which to get on the highway and drive, and in part because I'm lucky and privileged for choice by the location where I just happened to grow up (halfway between Baltimore and Washington).

I used to ride a little French moped to college, from the apartment I've retained for the past 32 years, despite it being an hour-long grueling road rally of seeking routes where I would not get killed by idiots in trucks, then moved up to riding a little Italian motor scooter to school despite it being a 45-minute stylish road rally of seeking routes where I would not get killed by idiots in trucks, and often took the #89 bus to and from school at the University of Maryland (particularly in the rain), because it departed from a stop around the corner from my apartment and dropped me off directly in front of the campus on Route 1. The direct bus route, however, is no longer possible, because when they built the Greenbelt station on the DC Metro, they rerouted the #89 bus from going straight down Route 1 to Hyattsville to going to the nowhere-near-anything Greenbelt station, so you've have to change to another bus, or take the Metro to the nowhere-near-the-university College Park station, then catch a campus bus onto campus (or walk a mile), for a great deal of money and time. Sigh.

Waiting for Godot has nothing on the surrealism of transit in the exurb towns around DC. One would almost think all this was designed with the express purpose of making transit less desirable, but from an inexplicably enthusiastic semi-insider's perspective, the morass of disconnected systems and midway through construction (we're still waiting in Laurel on the Metro stop promised in '67) is precisely what you'd get when no one is able to successfully come up with a narrative of explaining how transit can be a positive, constructive force in the world instead of an inconvenient chore that limits our choices (cars do this, but Americans have been fully bamboozled into embracing the "freedom" of cars without ever doing the economic or spiritual breakdown of their cost-benefit equation).

And hey, they're building a new light rail line inexplicably connecting two seemingly unrelated regions around DC that'll create a rail link to go from the nowhere-near-the-university College Park Metro station to the UMD campus…but in the process of construction, they've thoughtfully bulldozed the straight-line pedestrian access that allows me to walk or bicycle easily to our other lab on campus and helpfully provided an alternative route that adds a mile and a half of extra walking, thus making lunchtime trips out of the food desert around my main lab a car-only prospect.

Call me Mr. Quixote, I suppose. And now my gentleman caller is hinting that I should reside with him in a town even further out, and even more car-dependent (no sidewalks in the neighborhood), and I can't help but wonder if I'm the only person weighing the future of a relationship on how well the flag stop at St. Denis works out.
posted by sonascope at 7:01 AM on January 5 [20 favorites]


Also waiting 15m for transit is not an acceptable headway to get people to use it all the time / prefer it. Consider that in Central London trains come every 2-4 minutes and really things have to be around 5–8m to let users just turn up and go, and not schedule.

There is basically no transit in Atlanta that meets this threshold. The shortest wait you can hope for is 8 minutes for a train during rush hour. No buses run more often than every 15 minutes, as far as I know, and many only run once per hour. And yet 450,000 people ride MARTA every day, because we have no other option and our traffic is a god forsaken nightmare that makes me stressed just to think about driving in tomorrow.

As noted in the links above, it is impossible to talk about transit in the US without talking about race. And MARTA's sad state is proof of the continuing effect of racism on every aspect of our lives.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:07 AM on January 5 [19 favorites]


Make car-free, parking-free streets and strongly discourage employee parking.
Obligatory reminder that disabled people exist and these policies hurt us.
I don’t like framing this as an unavoidable opposition since designing for people’s needs rather than a single transportation mode: there are many, many people with disabilities which prevent them from driving at all and everyone else would benefit from less congestion or having to gamble that an accessible parking spot will exist, be open, and not illegally blocked by another driver.

Imagine if we took the Spanish superblock approach: low speed limits, measures to block through traffic in neighborhoods, and charging market rates for parking rather than massively subsidizing it with hefty reservations for disabled parking and loading so the Uber/Amazon/UPS driver isn’t blocking traffic and/or the handicapped spots like they usually do. That’d both massively reduce the negative costs of car-first culture and improve the experience for people who really need to use that form of transportation by removing the 99% of traffic from people who don’t but are driving by default.
posted by adamsc at 7:09 AM on January 5 [35 favorites]


adamsc: thanks for the reminder that people have different needs. I live in a family where only one of 4 adults can drive - and two have disabilities that mean they can never legally drive. We're required by our needs to live in a place where there is good transit - and we're very lucky that our home city is such a place. But it does change our opportunities - it restricts our housing options, means we can't look for jobs elsewhere.

the ideal system isn't a monolith, with only one option - but that is what car-centred (or as it often actually is: pedestrian-hostile) design creates. if you can't drive (or can't afford a car - another major issue) you are trapped.

Our urban design needs to support good transit as well - and that means density. My house is 50-100 metres from a bus stop, much less far than it would be if we lived in a place with less density.

Density doesn't just mean towers - we live in an area of little semi-detatched houses. they are lovely and in high demand. As far as I can tell, this kind of low-rise moderate density is what makes neighbourhoods and cities the most pleasant - and they support good transit links, either on a grid or hub-based system.
posted by jb at 7:30 AM on January 5 [10 favorites]


there are many, many people with disabilities which prevent them from driving at all

Hi, I am am a person whose disability prevents me from driving at all. It is literally more feasible for me to rely on rides from friends and family than to take public transportation. I would love if this were not the case. By all means make changes to limit car use, but keep disabled people in mind when you do. Very often that doesn’t happen, and policies get implemented that hurt disabled people. My campus got rid of all the parking (including disabled parking) and driveways around our central building—paved it over with grass and sidewalks. Now I can’t get there without risking my health and I have to hope I never lose my ID or need to go to the Title IX office or use any of the other functions of that building. Every time this topic comes up, someone suggests car free zones and never includes how disabled people will get to places in those zones. Feel free to implement them as long as you have a solution for that, but it never seems to be on people’s minds.
posted by brook horse at 7:31 AM on January 5 [17 favorites]


Tourists have nothing but time - they're not going to get fired because they were late to the museum!

I'm debating whether your bafflement is sincere here, but if many American tourists are "late to the museum" they just don't get to see the museum, because their itineraries are planned down to the minute to fit into the three days a year they can afford to take off from their job.
posted by potrzebie at 7:34 AM on January 5 [11 favorites]


If I'm a tourist in a city, it usually means that I got there very late on a Friday night and will have to leave Sunday afternoon so I want to pack as much as I can into the 1.5 days I have to explore the city. It's not like most Americans can take vacation time for this stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


I'm absolutely flummoxed by this statement. Tourists have nothing but time

Not if they’re rolling with kids.
posted by mhoye at 7:41 AM on January 5 [11 favorites]


Feel free to implement them as long as you have a solution for that, but it never seems to be on people’s mind.

Personally, as a cycling enthusiast, transit advocate, safer streets worker, and general car-hater (etc etc), I keep this on my mind - the phrase "make streets safe for people from eight to eighty" says, to me, "ensure that all people, particularly the more vulnerable and less physically able, are able to use public space and get around the city."

i think the way a lot of people *talk* about necessary changes to cities can sometimes refer to the abilities of most and not the needs of a few, but that transit changes for efficiency, safety, better public spaces, and less car dependence benefit *all*.
posted by entropone at 7:43 AM on January 5 [8 favorites]


By all means make changes to limit car use, but keep disabled people in mind when you do. Very often that doesn’t happen, and policies get implemented that hurt disabled people.

That obviously shouldn't happen. Car-free doesn't mean disabled-free. You and the cops and ambulances and anyone else who would still need to use car-free streets would just use those streets, and you would still park in the disabled spots (which of course should still be there).
posted by pracowity at 7:46 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


What you are seeing with people Ubering to the Empire State Building is tourists opting out of the cognitive effort of learning how to use a city's transit system ( ...) and optimizing how much they can see in the typical extremely short vacation window that Americans get. People who live in a city can learn to optimize their travel on public transit taking into account both the routes and the quirks. Tourists don't have the time, energy or frankly the reason to do this

In some cities, transit is a cheaper, healthier and more responsible option, but it's not faster or more convenient than driving.

In NYC, though, there is no way that taking a private car to the Empire State Building saves time. The average traffic speed in midtown Manhattan is less than 5 mph.

The congestion in NYC, especially in Manhattan, especially in midtown, is so stunningly awful, all-encompassing, and never-ending. If somebody has the choice between modes, driving is never a good one.
posted by entropone at 7:49 AM on January 5 [9 favorites]


While on-demand car services are not technically mass transit they are microtransit. Buses vs. vans really depends on the population and the are you are serving. Microtransit services would definitely work better in some suburbs than buses due to population density. See Kansas City.
posted by roguewraith at 8:06 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


That obviously shouldn't happen.

It does, though, as in the example I mentioned, which is why I feel the need to remind people. I also would like people to think about what the “verification” process would be to determine someone “needs” to be there. Getting a disabled parking placard requires documentation, which is expensive and gatekept. It can take a long time to get as well. Limiting a street to only people who can park in disabled parking spaces cuts out a whole lot of disabled people who still need a car to get there but don’t have access to medical documentation. Places they could go before (even if they couldn’t use a disabled spot) are now inaccessible.

This set up would also encourage more of the harassment invisibly disabled people get when they park in disabled parking spaces. I am so relieved when there’s a non-disabled space right next to the disabled one. I park in that so no one yells at me about how those spaces are for “real” disabled people and I’m too young to be parking there. Making a zone car free now permanently puts me in the position of proving I’m disabled enough to be there, when previously I only had to do that if there weren’t other nearby spaces.

I’m not saying that these policies should never happen. But they do hurt disabled people. In a perfect world they wouldn’t. In the world we are in today, they do, and it’s something people need to be aware of, and make sure they’re addressing those other issues (access to documentation, stigma against invisibly disabled people, etc.) as well.
posted by brook horse at 8:21 AM on January 5 [13 favorites]


(Missed the edit window but in case someone jumps on it as an inconsistency: I don’t actually park myself as I can’t drive, but ask the people giving me rides—95% of whom are also invisibly disabled and also need a close spot—to park in a close non-disabled spot if possible. Yes, technically they could drop me off and park themselves but then they still have to deal with the same problems I do and then I have to stand and wait for them which can be a problem some days.)
posted by brook horse at 8:32 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Consider that in Central London trains come every 2-4 minutes

And every 10 minutes in the middle of the night. 10 minutes!

Granted, it’s only a few lines and only Friday and Saturday, but still. 10 minutes! NYC has 24/7 service and the headways overnight are abysmal.
posted by Automocar at 8:38 AM on January 5


Honestly, taking an Uber to the Empire State Building doesn't sound completely crazy if the group includes kids or anyone with mobility issues.

I just looked and it's currently $14 to take a standard UberX from Union Square to the Empire State Building versus $2.75 per person on the subway. That's not a big difference for a family of four, and riding through Manhattan and looking at the people and scenery is going to be more fun than herding your family into a crowded train and hoping it's the right one.

On the other hand, I don't think a lot of places in the US realize how much tourist money they're losing by not being transit accessible.

I live in New Orleans, where transit basically only runs within the city limits. Visiting friends and random tourists will ask me how to get to state parks, Cajun country, Baton Rouge to see Huey Long's capitol building, etc. and will just not go when the answer is "I guess rent a car."

Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi and Faulkner and such, is only accessible by private car. No Amtrak, no Greyhound, nothing.
posted by smelendez at 8:56 AM on January 5 [9 favorites]


If you don't want to ride the subway, why are you coming to New York? It's not just an amusement park where you get to see a cool museum and smell some gross trash, then tick off your list. We're not your entertainment mall. It's a real place and existing in it without externalizing the costs of your trip on the people who live in it every day means taking the train.
posted by dame at 8:57 AM on January 5 [11 favorites]


brook horse, thanks for explaining all of this. we just literally can't rely on 'should's and 'of course'es unless we're explicitly considered from the start and then, as you say, that's not even the end to the problem because we'll still be hurt by gatekeeping and people's attitudes. no solution can work for everyone's competing needs and will probably exclude some of those people, but we can acknowledge that.
posted by gaybobbie at 9:01 AM on January 5 [7 favorites]


When I was ten years old, in NYC for my first time, riding the subway was #1 on the list of what I wanted to do there.

the bus only ran once an hour

When you talk about taking the bus in the US, outside of the city center, this is by far what the schedule amounts to. And you're so screwed if you miss that bus (especially if there's weather to contend with).
posted by Rash at 9:01 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


damayanti: I think Uber was looking into this and basically reinvented bus stops and schedules ("what if we had everyone meet at a convenient point? And around the same time everyday??")

I don't know if Uber has something like this, but you may be thinking of "Lyft Shuttle", a pilot that expanded their carpooling service "Lyft Line", which started around 2017. Lyft isn’t reinventing city buses. It’s undermining them. (Slate) But I can't find any information on Shuttle now, so I believe it didn't survive, at least in that form.


srboisvert: What you are seeing with people Ubering to the Empire State Building is tourists opting out of the cognitive effort of learning how to use a city's transit system ( 1,2,3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, and W!!!) and optimizing how much they can see in the typical extremely short vacation window that Americans get.

backseatpilot: I'm absolutely flummoxed by this statement. Tourists have nothing but time - they're not going to get fired because they were late to the museum!

Also, in towns where congestion means that a 5 mile trip can take 30-45 minutes, dedicated transit is often faster. But ride-sharing services can also bridge language gaps, where local transit systems may be both confusing in their layout and orientation, and not in the visitor's language.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:11 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


It's a real place and existing in it without externalizing the costs of your trip on the people who live in it every day means taking the train.

Visitors to New York City put more than $40 billion into the local economy every year.
posted by pracowity at 9:27 AM on January 5 [5 favorites]


And for the folks who travel but don't want to be labeled as a grimy "tourist" and want to "experience the city like a local," I can't imagine how getting whisked from one attraction to another in a private car helps foster that image or experience.
This is known as “proof by incredulity,” and is a common logical fallacy encountered in discussions of evolution. It makes even less sense when talking about other people’s feelings, since people feel what they feel.

Speaking for myself, I am fine cramming into your gritty, urine-soaked people-movers while engaged in my rubbernecking, but my wife is incredible anxious on trains and buses, so if I want to go to a high-density destination with her, it’s a taxi (yeah, I’m old) or rideshare. I assume there are others with diverse explanations for their unmutual transit desires. It’s a free country, as we used to say back when it was a free country...

I am looking at this from the perspective of a visitor, since our metro area is not dense enough to need (or survive) elimination of cars. I am sure it is very different in the big cities.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 9:48 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


I'm absolutely flummoxed by this statement. Tourists have nothing but time - they're not going to get fired because they were late to the museum!

The typical American tourist in a full time job gets 2 weeks a year to vacation. I don't see why you're flummoxed that they would not want to waste it studying a transit system. If you take a couple days of that to see New York you don't want to spend most of it sorting out transit..

I take transit when I travel because I like the culturally immersive experience of it (and I have more vacation time than most) but I totally understand why other people want to maximize their time in different ways.
posted by srboisvert at 10:05 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


The tourists don’t take transit thing is a weird derail. Places I have taken public transit as a tourist include, but are not limited to, New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Seattle. I’ve gone through multiple Metrocards, and I have at least an Oyster card (London), an Orca card (Seattle), and probably a couple I’m forgetting. With the exception of Tokyo I figured all of them out myself. I don’t really consider mass transit a barrier to my enjoyment as a tourist, and often it is a boon. I get that physical limitations or group size might mean a car service is better for some tourists, but for time’s sake it is nearly always worth a small investment in research. Traffic in many of those places is nightmarish.
posted by fedward at 10:22 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


Removing parking requirements, for housing and business zoning, and making the gas tax percentage based, and significant enough that its not just barely covering interest on old projects would kill most of the subsidy that enable driving at the levels we see today.

No one has the motivation or want to switch from red to blue, especially if red is subsidized at every level.

While we are at it, we should add presumed liability to driving, and automated traffic enforcement to encourage driving pay its share of societal externalizes as well.
posted by vincentmeanie at 10:23 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Most of the places I've lived that has a decent transit system has special accomodations for folks who special needs, usually a dedicated van you can call. Austin is also experimenting with a lyft-type service to provide door to door service for people who are outside the main travel corridors. You can have a car free system that is great for people with limited mobility too.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:56 AM on January 5


The congestion in NYC, especially in Manhattan, especially in midtown, is so stunningly awful, all-encompassing, and never-ending. If somebody has the choice between modes, driving is never a good one.

Yeah, the people here talking about making every minute count on their NYC trip so they’ll drive aren’t just wrong, they’re flat-out crazy. The subway in Manhattan is always the fastest option, by a significant margin, even with the MTA’s current woes. You will lose large chunks of each day if you drive everywhere in Manhattan. There may be valid reasons to do so, but maximizing time is not one of them.

And it’s not like figuring out what train to take to the major Midtpwn tourist attractions requires weeks of deep study of arcane scrolls. They’re usually located in easily accessible places served by severa subway lines. Google Maps or whatever you have will tell you exactly how to get there, down to which station exit and entrance to use.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 11:16 AM on January 5 [14 favorites]


I take transit when I travel because I like the culturally immersive experience of it (and I have more vacation time than most) but I totally understand why other people want to maximize their time in different ways.

Taking Ubers around Manhattan tourists sites (ie the most congested part of the most congested city in the United States) is at best no faster than the train and at worst wastes double/triple the amount of time. The NYC subway system is not signed in Urdu...
posted by Automocar at 11:18 AM on January 5 [5 favorites]


Most of the places I've lived that has a decent transit system has special accomodations for folks who special needs

Our system has wheelchair-friendly buses, trams, and trains (with stops and stations to match), and the sidewalks are generally good following a lot of upgrades over the last decade or so. Some side streets still have shitty sidewalks, but it's fewer and fewer every year.
posted by pracowity at 11:24 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


The congestion in NYC, especially in Manhattan, especially in midtown, is so stunningly awful, all-encompassing, and never-ending.

A lot of it is caused by locals. More than half of commuters into Manhattan are coming from the five boroughs, not from distant points. The thing is, they're coming in from parts of the boroughs that are not on the subway, which underlines the need for better public transport out to those areas.

And government workers are frequent auto-commuters because they get free parking. Make them pay to park and a lot of them will leave their cars at home.
posted by pracowity at 11:44 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


The focus in the comments on tourists is unfortunate for this excellent post about commuter car culture, though it's understandable that people would home in on the above-the-fold Uber angle. Most of the people who would take a car to the Empire State Building are likely from out of town and many of the other locations on that list are also tourist draws. The truth is we don't know how many people are taking Uber to the Empire State Building, or to any other places on the list, because no numbers are provided.

I'm lucky to have lived most of my adult life so far in cities with robust public transport and I'm very fortunate to be capable of walking and cycling for many of my daily trips if I feel like it. I'm a big advocate of massively expanding all of these options for everyone.

I also recognize that cars are going to continue being a necessity for many people, whether it's because of mobility issues or because they can't afford to live near their workplaces, or any number of other reasons, and this fact often gets lost in public infrastructure discussions. But a car-centric future is not viable and we need to create more incentives for shaping our cities in ways that make it easy for people to get around without one.

This involves investing a lot of public money. One of the biggest hurdles for this, as is often the case in the US, is that people have a really hard time imagining how something can benefit them even if they're not using it themselves.
posted by theory at 11:48 AM on January 5 [10 favorites]


When I moved to the DC area a few years ago I knew I wasn't going to drive into the City for my job. So I rode a bus to the Pentagon and then took the Blue ( and then later for a different job the Red Line ) and it was great.

Then I got a job out in the West suburbs of Virginia and while there's a Metro station, it's 2 buses to get onto the Metro line and then another bus to get to work, which was doable until I saw the schedule of the 3rd bus and decided I didn't want to spend an addition 45 minutes each leg waiting for a bus.

Now there's another station supposedly opening this year and I may rethink my commute, but until that 'last mile' portion is solved, driving is it.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 12:07 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


If uber is microtransit then individual automobiles are. Uber solves certain problems but in on the ground terms they're indistinguishable from private autos.
posted by klanawa at 12:21 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


The other thing I feel like gets ignored in this sort of thing is that often now lower income people are being forced into the exurbs and suburbs as middle/upper class people are all hot and bothered for city life again. So now you're having the people who need public transit most of all forced into spaces that are essentially the worst layouts for public transportation, have high maintenance costs for the roads they have and less income to invest in it. Public transportation doesn't solve the fact that so much of America's housing stock is designed to be actively hostile to mass transit.
posted by Ferreous at 12:22 PM on January 5 [30 favorites]


People who can walk but need cars because of a disability are people who need wheelchairs, but don't want to admit it. And, to be fair, I can see the attraction of a society where everyone is expected and required to own and travel in a wheelchair, regardless of disability, because it eliminates the stigma-- heck, not traveling in a car is stigmatized!

But that doesn't justify the costs of such a society, and it becomes problematic when the wheelchair-analogues are polluting and deadly, and when the space required for everyone to have one eliminates the possibility of pleasantly dense, inexpensive urban areas.

The nice thing is that the more car-free and car-lite spaces there are, the more demand we will have for alternative means of transportation that are suitable for everyone. Of course, accessible transit and other public spaces are key. Just a few days ago, a new Segway was publicized. Even though the word "wheelchair" is never used (stigma!), that's obviously what it is. In the long run, it seems likely that these developments will result in much better-- and, importantly, cheaper-- accessibility for disabled people.
posted by alexei at 12:57 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


If uber is microtransit then individual automobiles are.

Well, I'd push back on that-- Uber can be used in one direction only, which allows for mixed-mode journeys (for instance if you want to transport some large objects in one direction), and doesn't commit you to making a round trip with the same traveling companions (making things like carpools much easier).
posted by alexei at 1:01 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


People who can walk but need cars because of a disability are people who need wheelchairs, but don't want to admit it.

That's a bizarre statement. What's your reasoning?
posted by restless_nomad at 1:48 PM on January 5 [16 favorites]


One thing I wish would get more focus in micromobility chat is how parent/unfit/eldery unfriendly most bikeshare is. At least in NYC (since we're on that city anyway) CitiBike has not brought back the pedal-assist e-bikes yet, though I hear they are planning to. Bikes like that allow people to get over the bridges and go further distances than they otherwise would. I would really like to see some bikeshare bikes with actual cargo space (so you could easily get groceries) and child seats, if I am allowed to dream.

The subway in Manhattan is always the fastest option, by a significant margin, even with the MTA’s current woes.

This is very start and endpoint dependent. Even when the subway is running well (haha) my 10 mile commute is often faster on my bike, and I live on top of a station.

Quick edit: this also leaves aside people who want to get across Manhattan anywhere but near 14th street or 42nd street - for them, cycling (especially during work hours) is the fastest mode.
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 1:52 PM on January 5


The subway in Manhattan is always the fastest option, by a significant margin, even with the MTA’s current woes.

But I'm usually there with my sister who walks with a cane and the elevators never work and she just can't navigate the escalators. There's just no way she can take the subway.
posted by octothorpe at 1:56 PM on January 5


That's a bizarre statement. What's your reasoning?

Because they need devices which are, in essence, chairs on wheels.
posted by alexei at 2:07 PM on January 5


Ok, yeah, just bizarre then.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:08 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]


Taking the subway in NYC is absolute hell when you can't do stairs.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:15 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


That's a bizarre statement. What's your reasoning?

Because they need devices which are, in essence, chairs on wheels.
So everyone that rides the train standing up needs a Segway and the sitters all need wheelchairs. And everyone that has a refrigerator needs to live in Antarctica. Hey, this is fun, but I think there is a slight problem.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 2:22 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]


People who can walk but need cars because of a disability are people who need wheelchairs, but don't want to admit it.

I don't know about the general statement, but I have known someone for whom this was true. She had very bad arthritis in her knees and so couldn't walk a few hundred meters. She lived in a walkable / wheelable neighborhood and would have benefitted from something like a mobility scooter, but felt like that would make her "look old". Instead, she took her car even for trips that were only a few hundred metres.

You might say, well, this is her right. But her use of a car for short trips (and as a single person) also has an impact on the rest of her neighborhood, city and planet. It's not a neutral choice, and she did have another option. But that option was stigmatized.

Now, before people jump on this comment: I am talking about a specific person in a specific neighborhood making specific trips. This is not talking about anyone else.
posted by jb at 2:29 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


I was blown away the first time I used a suica card in Japan about 10 years ago, and blown away the first time I could just tap any NFC credit card instead in Vancouver a year ago. I look forward to the next event horizon in transport payment systems.
posted by zymil at 2:45 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that access to publicly-owned driverless cars would radically change the "last mile" problem for public transport, and help disabled people too. Taking paid human drivers out of the equation means that you could optimise the system for overall efficiency rather than profit. For instance, you might have cars that just shuttle people to a local station, or a transport system that uses its generalised knowledge of demand to allocate carpool seats on an ad-hoc basis. You could also have wheelchair accessible vehicles that store themselves away until they're needed, rather than cruising around taking other fares.

Removing the seat and controls for human drivers means cars can be smaller and lighter, or seat more passengers for a given size. There would be no problem designing a vehicle that accommodates a single passenger and their mobility aids, and something that size could probably get closer to an entrance than any existing roadworthy car. Even if the usage patterns of driverless cars means they need to be parked during the off-hours, the fact that they don't need drivers means that they could park themselves in purpose-built structures that are too low and awkward for human navigation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:29 PM on January 5


If I drive from Melbourne to Sydney my etag will beep on what ever tollway I choose to use, because the different companies obviously have an incentive to easily collect money from me. If I take my myki with me it's useless, never mind that Melbourne has a zoned transport system, the Sydney one is different.

These days I hardly use my myki because when I travel in to town by train I can use my vline ticket for free city connections.

The Japanese transit card sounds amazing!
posted by freethefeet at 3:31 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


yeah driving to an from work is just about the least pleasant thing to do with a vehicle. I remember driving home from work one time and there was this orange Lamborghini like two cars ahead of me, moving about 100m/minute maximum, same as the rest of us, for the next half hour or so (last leg into the suburb). I thought to myself - why would you torture yourself like that? Commuting in that thing? what a waste.
posted by some loser at 3:34 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


> So everyone that rides the train standing up needs a Segway

Yes? If Lyft/Uber are micro-transit, rental electric scooters are nano-transit and are a good attempt for the last half-mile problem. Getting to and from the train station has to be feasible, whether that's using a car and parking at the suburban commuter rail station or some other mode of transportation at the other end. I'm guessing Segway was chosen here because they're polarizing and easy to dismiss but pejoratives aside, commuters are already renting electric scooters to supplant train/subway/bus rides. Over-priced and over-hyped, the Segway fell flat on its self-balancing face when it first came to market 18 years ago but when it was first released, Steve Jobs predicted that cities would be redesigned around the device, and that's where we're headed as more and more cities redesign their streets to include protected wheeling lanes.
posted by fragmede at 3:53 PM on January 5


There are two major transportation cards in Korea, T-money and cashBee. T-money is the more prevalent one, particularly in the Seoul region. Anyway it can be used to pay for subway, bus, and taxis in most of Korea (except for some municipalities in Gyeongsangbuk-do province that have not yet adopted a card pay system).

You can purchase a rechargeable card from convenience stores, subway stations, or banks, and recharge as needed from these same locations. You pay a discounted rate using a T-money card compared to paying with cash, The other thing is that you don't need to get transfer passes if your trip involves bus transfers or bus-subway combos. The appropriate transfer rate will be deducted from the card at each stage of your journey.

As to how figure out how to best use public transit for one's journey, again from my experience in Seoul, you enter your trip origin and destination in an app like Naver Maps. The public transit option will provide you with trip options, duration, and cost - for example, one option might be to take an express bus, another to take a neighborhood bus (microbus) + regular city bus, or bus + subway combo, all with differing costs. You're told exactly which bus or subway line to take, even which subway car to choose for fastest access. Accessing your location on your smartphone, the app will tell you when the next bus is arriving at the bus station closest to you.

Seoul has bus-only lanes, and bus stops with signage updating you on which bus is arriving when. There are also different types of buses at different price points, ranging from neighborhood buses which traverse a limited 'neighborhood' area and make frequent stops, to city buses which traverse wider areas, to express buses making few stops and covering more limited routes. Then there are the airport buses which one can take to and from the airport and various destinations in Seoul, which also take T-money.

In Seoul this is possible due to the population density - not sure how this could translate to U.S. cities, given how much sprawlier they are than Korean cities.
posted by needled at 4:16 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


People who can walk but need cars because of a disability are people who need wheelchairs, but don't want to admit it.

Hot take. I used a wheelchair all throughout college, so I'm perfectly willing to "admit" I need it. I would still use one of I could, but I moved somewhere it's not feasible. Wheelchairs don't have temperature control, so I can't use it in summer to get anywhere more than 10 minutes away without risking fainting. Snow traction on power chairs is also not awesome. The city can't keep the sidewalks clear 100% of the time (especially when the snow is still coming down) no matter how good a job they do, and it doesn't take much to stall out my chair. Plus, using the chair means I have to stay in or near it so it doesn't get stolen. A lot of places I could otherwise get to I would not be able to. This has nothing to do with not "admitting" that I need a chair, it's about the chair not giving me the access I need. In a perfect world it would, but maybe we should focus on moving towards that perfect world rather than going "let's ban cars from [x location], of course disabled people will be fine" with no consideration for how to actually make it accessible for disabled people.
posted by brook horse at 4:44 PM on January 5 [19 favorites]


Just want to put a word in here that autonomous cars--even if they ever work--will never serve the full community because some people will need help getting into and out of the vehicles, to say nothing of the things they may need to bring along with them.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:52 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]


Does every dang public transit discussion need to have self driving car tech fetishists come out of the woodwork to assume magic future tech will solve every problem? Sure we could invest in proven tech that works like regularly scheduled buses or light rail but why not assume everything will be better by replacing private cars with an equal number of public cars that disappear when not needed
posted by Ferreous at 8:38 PM on January 5 [20 favorites]


Great comment upthread about the need to sell transit to ppl who don’t believe it will benefit them bc they’ll never use it.

But in much of America we need to sell it to ppl who don’t believe they will use it bc they’ve never seen a whole metro area of buildings fronted to the street, where you can shelter from the weather while waiting for a bus that will come in 10 minutes tops. Where you can expect to get to your destination in less than half a workday. If you’d only ever stood in hip-high weeds to wait for a bus, passed 45 minutes at a stop waiting for one or more connectors, or hiked a quarter mile across a blazing parking lot (or through pouring rain) for your last mile, why would you ever commit to transit if you had a car in the first place?
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:28 PM on January 5 [10 favorites]


Can we at least agree that the MTA needs its ass continuously and rigorously kicked until it stops acting like ADA compliance is optional? Because as zealous as I am about public transit, I simply can’t judge anybody with mobility issues reluctant to take the MTA. At many stops it’s not even possible.
posted by praemunire at 10:43 PM on January 5 [15 favorites]


Taking paid human drivers out of the equation means that you could optimise the system for overall efficiency rather than profit.

I think so, but I think there are a few specific barriers.

One is that in many cities and countries, there isn't a central entity optimizing the system for overall efficiency. This post, as traffic and transit posts often are, is about NYC and while there the beginning of a lean toward central planning, for the most part we've got the general throwing up of hands and reluctance to do aggressive measures to curtail auto trips (a loss even for the car promoters - those who would still use them would benefit greatly from trip reductions).

Secondly is that if we did start aggressive, coordinated measures to optimize the system for overall efficiency, we have the technology we need right now. We don't need to wait for private companies to deliver us a moving trolly problem. For example, the bollard is a great piece of technology that prevents a single person from doubleparking their private car and blocking a bus full of 50 people. Even those little scooters that annoy everybody could be great solutions to the last mile, but i think private companies squandered good will by dumping them in cities without real planning.

Ultimately, optimizing the system means that we need more space: more dedicated bus lanes, bus stops, safe lanes for various forms of micromobility (scooters and bike lanes), etc etc, and we get this space by taking away some of the lanes for private cars so that we can put more efficient transit in that space. Incidentally we'll also need more money for the rest of the transit system, as retrofitting for accessibility is a clear need pointed out in this thread, and we can raise some of that with renewed public funds as well as adequately pricing the use of private vehicles and parking.
posted by entropone at 6:25 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]


Dear New York, your public transit systems are fairly user-hostile. If they were even slightly user-friendly, visitors could and maybe would use them.
posted by theora55 at 7:38 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Uber can be used in one direction only, which allows for mixed-mode journeys (for instance if you want to transport some large objects in one direction), and doesn't commit you to making a round trip with the same traveling companions (making things like carpools much easier).

Can be is doing a lot of work here. In the majority of cases, just like with private autos, a single person goes somewhere and then goes home. The only real difference I see is that the user doesn't have to park (which is admittedly a big difference) but a) that assumes the car is always moving; and b) that cascades into a new problem which is that there's more congestion because people like the convenience of not having to park.

Anyway, when I think of transit the mass- is often silent but it's always there. To my mind, if a single (unscheduled) motor vehicle is transporting a single passenger, a failure has occurred.
posted by klanawa at 10:36 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Thinking of mass and individual transit as completely separate systems is part of the problem.

I am somewhat regularly the only person on an entire articulated bus, because I live at the second to last stop on a bus route and come home from work slightly later than most people in my government town. It's only for a stop or two, but it doesn't matter how you build your transit system, there are always going to be the people who are at the edge of the service area and/or use transit outside of those peak periods. Unless the overall transit system can somehow account for those people, a failure has occurred.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:51 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Dear New York, your public transit systems are fairly user-hostile. If they were even slightly user-friendly, visitors could and maybe would use them.

Is the transit in New York more user-hostile than the system where you live? I didn't find the system hostile when I visited a decade ago but I've used public transit in a lot of different places so there wasn't anything about it that was particularly unfamiliar to me.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:31 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


The problem with cars vs transit is this: If you have just ONE destination in your life that requires a car, you have to get a car. Once you have that car, the marginal cost of using it for all your other transportation is low, because the majority of the cost is in owning the car in the first place. Driving more costs little, and outside of a few big cities the car is not inconvenient. If you won't save any money or time by using other modes, you might as well just drive everywhere. Why sweat? Why be organized around bus schedules? Why pick and choose what to carry around when you can treat the car as a giant rolling purse? So people who can switch modes, end up 100% car.

The number of people who can't drive cars, is not enough to sustain the non-car options in a situation like this. If there were fewer car-only destinations in the USA, then some of the people who have a choice would choose to give up their cars, in favor of transit, and transit would have the volume to work better for everyone.
posted by elizilla at 3:35 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


Once you have that car, the marginal cost of using it for all your other transportation is low, because

...you’re externalizing most of the actual costs. We’re going to fix that (or die trying, I guess).
posted by praemunire at 6:20 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


and as previously referenced those external costs start at around $56000- adjusted for inflation that's ~$66,000. on the low end.

if auto sticker prices reflected true cost then you would see a great deal more demand for good public transit. until consumers are faced with bearing those costs.. it's very difficult to imagine any meaningful and widespread positive change, even in the face of climate catastrophe.
posted by One Thousand and One at 6:53 PM on January 6


As regards tourists in cities, again there is a racism and classism problem there. In places were public transit is terrible, only people with no other options use it. So people with other options think of transit as taken by *those* people, which is never going to go well.

Another issue is how genuinely bad people who are car-based are at public transit. I used to dread taking the silver line in Boston because so many people just could not figure out how to stow their luggage and get out of the way; I assume they must have been from the suburbs or tourists from out of town.

It’s also the case that public transit systems are much easier to learn when you already know several different ones. So this is a great reason to support densification and good public transit in cities not your own; the visitors from those cities are less likely to be total doofuses when on the transit system.
posted by nat at 3:09 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


If there were fewer car-only destinations in the USA, then some of the people who have a choice would choose to give up their cars, in favor of transit, and transit would have the volume to work better for everyone.

See this right here is why transit planning and zoning need to work hand-in-hand. In the USA we've spent so much time building exurbs and highways that it's no wonder people think transit can't take them anywhere useful and why the only solution to the last mile problem is to get in a car at the first mile.

But we built ourselves into this situation, and we can build ourselves out of it.
posted by entropone at 6:04 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


I do take the subway -> bus to work sometimes but it takes me 10 minutes to drive and 40 minutes to take transit and that's a pretty seductive difference. Transit needs to be easier and cheaper than driving for people to choose it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:58 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I was amazed to find Denver in the curbed articles 10 cities. Progressive plan huh? The progressive plan seems to be "Get the wealthy to their offices, brew pubs, and entertainment destination & fuck the poor." I came to Denver in 85, when it's all bus service was truly progressive; it went most places, was inexpensive, and had a good regular schedule it kept. Now we have light rail, which originally started well. The first line went out to 5 Points, which at the time was a poor neighborhood. Once light rail started booming, along with the city, they added more lines. mostly to the wealthier suburbs. They then cut the number of trains that went to 5 Points down to 1. I'm pretty sure it doesn't run very often. As of 2 years ago the started cutting bus services by increasing the time between buses, and getting rid of stops. When I move to my new neighborhood last year, the bus ran pretty well. As of now, aside from small windows of peak time, I can pick up up a bus every half hour, whether I need to or not! And I'm not very far out from the city center (6 miles). It was telling when I was in my old neighborhood (City Park) that the 15, the single most used bus line in the city, had started to cut it's services. Surely it's just a coincidence that bus service, which mostly impacts the poor, was getting cut at a time when RTD was being considered a wildly progressive system.
posted by evilDoug at 7:44 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


Once light rail started booming, along with the city, they added more lines. mostly to the wealthier suburbs.

To be fair, that part was because they didn't spend anything on right-of-way acquisition and just went with "uh, we can get some space for the rail next to the highways, right?" And so all those stations require enormous pedestrian bridges to get to, and more than half the land next to them isn't usable for transit-oriented development because they're either highway or on-ramp to highway.

Our cities and counties need to start giving a shit about bus service. We have, like, four dedicated bus lanes for a few blocks each in all of Denver (and some of those are part-time!), and none in any of the surrounding cities. Dedicated bus lanes are what make it possible to keep buses running quickly and on schedule. Routes running on schedule means bus drivers get to take breaks on schedule. Being able to take breaks and use the goddamn toilet when needed means bus drivers are much less likely to quit. Their union's been explicit about this: it's not the pay, it's the working conditions. I don't blame them a bit.
posted by asperity at 8:28 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


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