Invest in Free Public Transportation, Not Electric Cars

Invest in Free Public Transportation, Not Electric Cars

According to me in the Pittsburgh City Paper:  “An electric car is “still a multi-ton vehicle that requires a lot of money and resources from all over the world to produce,” notes Lolly Walsh. Walsh, a staffer for advocacy group BikePittsburgh, speaks as part of the loose-knit international Car Free Network. “If we just develop a different type of car … it’s just going to push back any change that we need to make.”

Land use is one of the major problems with structuring our transportation system around cars — electric or otherwise.

Though not printed in the feature story about Carnegie Mellon’s electric car, I also noted that land use is one of the major problems with continually structuring our transportation system around cars — electric or otherwise. If we just redevelop the car so now we plug it in to an outlet powered by dirty mountain-stripping coal, we’re not improving much. We still allow cars on nearly every single street no matter if the residents of that street are young children, elderly, deaf, or blind.

Why isn’t an electric car the magic solution that everyone wants?
An electric car is still dangerous to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers.
An electric car requires a tremendous amount of land to rest and operate.
An electric car depends on coal-powered electricity in most situations.
An electric car will not alleviate congestion.
An electric car will not level the mobility playing field.

A different type of car is not the answer, cars are not the answer. We need to fully fund public transportation and eliminate user fees to get people to use it widely.
Fully funding public transportation is the ONLY way we can give every single person the means to get to work, to school, to fun, to appointments, to recreation.

As I’ve said before, we should invest in excellent public transportation that is:

  1. Fast
  2. Free (to the user)
  3. Predictable (schedules available at all stops and on phones)
  4. Attractive / Beautiful
  5. Clean
  6. Frequent (always less than a ten minute wait)
  7. Everywhere (less than a ten minute walk from most locations)
  8. Efficient (Local and Express)
  9. Resourceful (should maximize options of local terrain. Pittsburgh for example could use streetcars, along side ferries and the incline to take advantage of our rivers and hills)
  10. and has the right of way against all other modes of travel.
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Are Americans Ready for Nimble Cities?

Are Americans Ready for Nimble Cities?

Imagine you had the power to do anything to fix the transportation systems in this country.

What would you do?

A fellow named Tom Vanderbilt wrote a book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Lots of people have already read it. I’m not one of them but it’s on my list, moving closer to the top. He wants to know what you’d do, and so do I.

Tom Vanderbilt talks enthusiastically about transportation, is pretty cute in a Traditional Clean-Cut Sort of Way, and also writes a great column at Slate.

Now he’s started something that is mix between a project and a conversation called Nimble Cities that is looking to solve the great transportation problems of today by looking to the whole world for ideas.

Ideas are flowing in nearly as quickly as the BP oil catastrophe pumps gas into our oceans. Submit yours now.

This is your chance. What are your great ideas?

Our Transportation System is Bankrupting and Killing Us

As he says in his Request for Ideas:

Transportation is also costing us even more: At the turn of the 20th century, U.S. households spent about 2 percent of their income on transportation. That figure is now around 18 percent, and it’s also rising.

And then there are the other social costs, not just time lost in congestion but the larger cost in human lives: The World Bank estimates that by 2030, road deaths could become the fourth or fifth leading killer worldwide, a larger threat than malaria.

I suggest that we Fully Fund Public Transportation

I think the most effective method to change consumption patterns in the U.S. would be to fully fund public transportation with public money. If taking public transportation was free for the user, ridership would grow astronomically. It’s been demonstrated again and again.

Level the mobility playing field. Give everyone the right and the means to get to work, to school, to fun, to appointments, to recreation.

We should invest in excellent public transportation that is:

  1. Fast
  2. Free (to the user)
  3. Predictable (schedules available at all stops and on phones)
  4. Attractive / Beautiful
  5. Clean
  6. Frequent (always less than a ten minute wait)
  7. Everywhere (less than a ten minute walk from most locations)
  8. Efficient (Local and Express)
  9. Resourceful (should maximize options of local terrain. Pittsburgh for example could use streetcars, along side ferries and the incline to take advantage of our rivers and hills)
  10. and has the right of way against all other modes of travel.

(Thanks to the blog, Free Public Transit for their constant work on equitable transit for everyone.)

Free Public Transportation Discussion on Kojo Nnamadi Show NOW!

Free Public Transportation Discussion on Kojo Nnamadi Show NOW!

Excellent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU, Washington, DC’s NPR station. Listen now on 88.5 in DC or check it out online.

Guests include my favorite DOT official in the country: Janette Sadik-Khan of NYC.

One caller mentioned the fare free zones in Portland: is this possible elsewhere?

Is it possible to make transportation a public resource?

Can we contribute towards public transportation together, lowering the costs for everyone?

Some of the News That’s Fit to Print: Stories News From the Neighborhood, City, Region, State, Country, and World.

Some of the News That’s Fit to Print: Stories News From the Neighborhood, City, Region, State, Country, and World.

A former gas station in the Larimer section of Pittsburgh has been converted into The Energy and Environment Community Outreach Center, scheduled to open in the fall. The Center will offer a place for people to learn about water conservation and growing local produce, and will feature solar panels, a community garden and a green roof that will collect rainwater for irrigation.

Urbanophile advocated for public transportation, arguing many of the same points we posited a few weeks ago, including a few additional ones: “We don’t pay to check books out of a library. We don’t pay to visit most city parks. We don’t pay when the police or fire department come to our house for a legitimate emergency. Most non-utility municipal services are provided for free to users and funded by taxes. So why is transit different?”

I pointed out “We offer free public education to our citizens, why not offer free transit to get them to work and school? Many cities offer trash and recycling services, employment and career assistance, police and fire response, parks, pools, and community centers. Why not offer community-supported transportation?

Carfree.US analyzes their financial and environmental impact of commuting by bicycle after their first two months of living Car-free, concluding that

  • I’ve saved $47 in gasoline expenses and the equivalent of $457 in fixed costs for a total savings of $471.49 when accounting for bus costs.
  • Burned 22,356 calories which if I had been eating a normal diet is the equivalent of 6.4 pounds of fat!
  • I have kept 543 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (19.546 lbs per gallon and my car gets an average of 21 MPG).

They also offer a download of the spreadsheet used to track savings and output on their website. Check it out!

Boston Biker has picked up the most recent Streetfilms release, Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development, and written an eloquent post about the necessity of moving away from car-centered planning. The post begins by taking on the question so may of us have had to answer — you know the one, about how we “hate cars.” As Boston Biker writes, “it’s more about hating what cars do to humans, and seeing the need for change. (from Streetsblog)

A man in Argentina builds a house out of 6 million glass bottles and creates instructional video for others to follow, while another man in Tennessee builds a ten story treehouse, the world’s largest, out of salvaged lumber for $12,000 (though doesn’t provide a video).

And Streetsblog continues their excellent coverage of rampant DWI accidents by NYPD officers  drink and drive with impunity.

Houston Considering Free Public Transportation

Houston Considering Free Public Transportation

America’s traditional response in our ongoing war against traffic has been to build more roads and build more highways.

When those become too crowded, we widen those roads and widen those highways and when those become too crowded, we build more roads and build more highways and when those become too crowded, we again widen those roads and widen those highways.

It never ends, the roads keep being built, the cars keep coming.

The rush hour only gets longer and longer and our approach has stayed the same for decade upon traffic-snarled decade.

Houston’s new mayor Annise Parker is considering a different tactic in her car-dominated city where 70% of residents drive alone to work.

Welcome to Houston! (Photo by aloofdork, courtesy of flickr)

Parker has been mayor for just over a month and is already making major waves by suggesting that Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority explore the possibility of free service.

Only 20% of the operating costs of the MTA are derived from fares and by subsidizing the entire system, the city would be able to offer mobility to all, including those that are too young or too old to drive, as well as those unable to afford a car. Parker wants to shift the focus of the MTA to ensure that those “who depend on public transportation should receive priority in Metro’s planning.”

We offer free public education to our citizens, why not offer free transit to get them to work and school? Many cities offer trash and recycling services, employment and career assistance, police and fire response, parks, pools, and community centers.

Why not offer community-supported transportation?

Removing the upfront cost of transit makes it more efficient as buses and trains will not have to wait for people to pay their fare before continuing on their route. Removing the upfront cost of transit has been shown to greatly increase ridership, inevitably removing cars from the road and reducing congestion and pollution.

The town of Hasselt, Belgium was profiled by Dave Olsen after city officials introduced free public buses with the principal aim in making it “the natural option for getting around. And it did — immediately.” On the first day, ridership increased by nearly 800%. The first full year showed a constant increase of 900% over the previous year and by the second year was up by 1,223 %. A major motivation for officials in Hasselt was to “to guarantee the right to mobility for all residents in Hasselt… that an improved public transport system simply means a better use of the public space that will not only improve the quality of traffic, but the quality of life in general.”

Of course it wouldn’t be as easy as removing the fare box. Additional bus lines and stops need to be added, bus shelters need to be improved or installed, and service needs to be consistently fast and reliable.

It must to be more convenient and cheaper to take transit then to drive. By removing the fare, the cost equation disappears for many people. When transportation is actually public, when it is actually a service, people will use it because it will save them money. More people on transit means less people driving alone.

When 40 people elect to take the bus instead of driving alone, that takes 40 cars off the road and makes travel faster, more convenient, and more efficient for everyone.

Let’s take this solution to our own communities.