InTrans / Feb 10, 2010

Your life, your transit

Go! Magazine

Busy highway.

For many people driving a car is about freedom—to go where you want, when you want, how you want. More than public transit, you have power over your route, travel times, and what car you drive. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Transit could be about freedom—from car loans, steep insurance rates, and a steep gas allowance in your monthly budget. Below, three young people, two from New York and one from Australia, share how they would improve public transit to make it more empowering and liberating from the car commuter culture.

Buses and trains should be faster than cars

In Perth, Australia, everything is spread out. You can get almost anywhere you need to by riding public transit, but it’s inconvenient.

“A half-hour trip to my university will take me just under an hour-and-a-half if I have to take the buses,” says Shannon Dunlap, an architecture student at the University of Western Australia.

Dunlap points out that some cities, like New York and London, actively discourage car use.

“Either it’s too cramped and impossible to find a place to park if you ever drive in, or it’s so expensive that it’s not even worth it…London charges drivers a fee to even enter the city,” says Dunlap.

Making transit easy and quick is the first thing that many people suggest when asked how to make transit more empowering. If transit is going to be made an attractive alternative to driving, it needs to be more competitive; commute times especially need to be reduced.

Schedules should be easily accessible

Ian Vens, an art director and barista living in Brooklyn, New York, has a litany of issues with public transit. At the top of his list: “I would like to see train arrival times at every station and accurate bus times at stops.” That’s a pretty straightforward wish.

“Knowing when public transit is showing up would make me feel more in control and less at the mercy of the system,” says Vens.

Up-to-date route info isn’t only a problem in Brooklyn. I recently rode the Valley Metro in Phoenix, Arizona, and noticed that bus stops don’t have the schedule posted. A small display next to bus stop benches that provides an up-to-date schedule would go a long way toward making public transit more accessible. Instead, many metro systems put the burden on riders, who are forced to memorize schedule info, look it up on the web, or carry around a 200 page schedule book.

Fares should be really cheap

I suggested to Andy Hare, a grad student at the New School in New York, that making transit more luxurious could make it an attractive alternative to driving. He completely disagreed, saying people would rather have cheaper fares.

“With people already complaining so much about the quarter fare hike:from $2 to $2.25—I think most New Yorkers would say, “Screw the experience! I want to get there cheaper,'” says Hare.

I want to get there cheaper. That’s key! Many people who ride public transit do so because they can’t afford to drive. But that’s not enticing for people who can afford to drive. For transit to be competitive with driving, regardless of income level, it needs to be made so cheap that people who can afford to drive can’t afford to not take transit.

By Bennett Stone, Go! Staff Writer

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