Tag Archives: public transportation

Poll: How Often Do You Use Public Transportation?

23 Feb

I don’t know about you — hence, the flashy poll– but I use public transportation all the time. How often do you ride the bus, the streetcar, the metro, subway, train, incline, ferry, people mover? I’ve always tried to live in cities that have excellent public transit so that I don’t have to spend money on a car, and I can use my money instead for adventures.

I ride a bike and I walk a lot. But sometimes it’s nice to have someone else paying attention so I can pay my fare, relax, read my book, and get there on time and in style.

Reading on the bus

Like every service in this country that is for the public good, it is facing funding shortages. In cities around the country there are service cuts, layoffs, and an increased reliance on automotive transportation to get around.

Last year Pittsburgh had a 15% service and route cuts on an already shaky and skeletal system. Though often called the “Most Livable City,” Pittsburgh’s meager public transportation system is facing another 35% in cuts! Even in dense neighborhoods with the most bus routes and riders, buses are often 30 minutes apart now, and there will be even fewer if funding does not come through from Governor Tom Corbett. If a bus route even still exists after this systemic demolition, it’s likely that it will stop at 10pm. This truly is a travesty which will leave many Pennsylvanians stranded.

Public transportation is a resource for everyone. It makes the most sense for our money, our land use, for efficiency, for socializing, for socialization, for our time, our sanity, our quality of life, for our lungs, and for our future.

Pittsburgh bus in Lawrenceville

 

What are your thoughts?

Readings on Winter, Snow, Getting Stuck, and the Importance of Options

2 Feb

For those of you who are following the three whole posts I’ve written since November and for those who have commented even when things seem dead on this side of things, thank you! I’m clearly terrible at getting back into the swing of things. So I am going to give it a try posting with a regular schedule.

You can expect posts from me on Mondays (starting next Monday probably). I am always, always writing, but rarely posting to my blog lately so a writing plan will help me formalize my writing into a post, though I might post the occasional link or list of links. We’ll see how that goes. Please subscribe on the right hand side of this page and you can read each new post without even coming to the site.

So in the meantime, I’d like to recommend some links that I’ve enjoyed recently for your reading pleasure or dinner party banter preparation.

Readings on Winter, Snow, Getting Stuck, and the Importance of Options

I really enjoyed Erik Weber’s piece yesterday in Greater Greater Washington about the different realities of a crippling snowstorm when you depend on a car to get to the suburbs (you get stuck, sometimes up to 13 hours as happened to many in the DC area) or you live in the city where you have the options of car, bus, train, bike, walking, and in some cases, even skiing to get around.

This excerpt is long but I think important and fits in quite well with topics I have addressed all over this blog: that dependence on cars — or any one type of transportation — is extremely limiting. What we need here in the U.S. and everywhere is the ability and availability for people to choose how they want to get around and be able to do that safely.

Cars give people mobility. But what’s more important is accessibility. Sometimes these are the same: if I live 10 miles from a grocery, and I own a car, I have access to the grocery.

But if my car breaks down, it snows a foot and a half, or I’m suddenly unable to drive for another reason, I no longer have access to that grocery. Because I’ve relied on a single means of mobility, when it is no longer available, both my mobility and accessibility are severely diminished.

Many people often argue that smart growth proponents (like me) are trying to force people of their cars in favor of biking, walking and transit. But, to me, growing smarter really is just providing more legitimate options. I don’t necessarily want to live in a place where you can’t have a car. Nor do I want to force other people to do so.

I do, though, want to live in a place where you don’t need a car, a place where, when driving is no longer an option, we are not imprisoned by our built environment.

Me too. What about you? Has snow made getting around harder? What’s your experience?

On transit

This is a link that I’ve been meaning to draw attention to for awhile.

This is a post from August that was recommended by a reader from a blog called “A Midwest Story.” It’s an analysis of public transportation perception in the U.S. and abroad, there are three posts before this one that address different facets of public transportation.

The American perspective:

The fact that American riders are poorer indicates that in U.S. public transportation services are focused on people that are unable to drive a car – because they cannot afford one or because they are to young or to poor. Now, if we eliminate the riders under 18, and we consider the  the other market segments – the poor and the disabled – in correlation with American culture , the conclusion is striking. In the U.S. public transit is considered by the public as well as their representatives as an alternative for the society’s destitute no different than public assistance services such as welfare and food stamps.

And the German perspective:

Unlike their American counterparts, Germans are more likely to use public transit indifferent of income or car ownership and, to a much larger extent, as a viable alternative for commuters. The way that politicians and their constituents regard public transportation is also different. At the local level, it is an alternative which lowers congestion in urban area and the  pollution damage to historical buildings. At the state and federal level it is a green, sustainable alternative. And for riders it is, beyond being the  only option for the poor and disabled, a comfortable alternative to spending empty hours commuting by car

What do you think?

On Fear

Check out Elly Blue’s post on Grist on fear and bicycles.

Many people don’t bike out of fear — with the most significant terrifying factor, of course, being cars. As many as 60 percent of people in U.S. cities would like to ride a bicycle if it weren’t for traffic-related concerns.

Yet..

Bicycling […] is astoundingly, incontrovertibly good for you. A 2009 review of the scientific literature found that the slight increase in risk from bicycle crashes is more than offset by the vast improvements in overall health and lifespan when you ride a bicycle for transportation. In fact, the health benefits of bicycling are nine times greater than the safety gains from driving instead.

And…

The real thing that’s killing us is that we continue to create places that impose barriers to actually being able to move your body. High-speed streets without sidewalks or crossings. Walkable neighborhoods where there is literally nowhere to go. Gyms accessible primarily by car.

Suggested Reading by Bike Pittsburgh

Some things I’m reading at work:

The Post-Gazette continues blaming pedestrians for the increase in pedestrian fatalities, but is this just more of the same “windshield perspective?”

Is bike-sharing a possibility in Pittsburgh?

Want to see some of the steepest streets in the world? Check out Rick Sebak’s video of the annual Pittsburgh bike race, the Dirty Dozen.

Grist goes over the six reasons free parking is the dumbest thing you’re subsidizing and StreetsBlog shows how European parking policies are leaving the US behind.

Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood touts how bike infrastructure creates more direct jobs, more indirect jobs, and more induced jobs per dollar than either road upgrades or road resurfacing with national bike advocates

My Beautiful New Bicycle’s Internet Debut

5 Oct

Now my bicycle is just over a month old and ready for her internet debut! Photos by the inimitable Elly Blue.

What Kind of Bike is That!

People ask me all the time, usually with an exclamation instead of a question mark. It’s the “Live 2” by Globe which is a new brand made by Specialized and tailored to people who ride for transportation.

This bike is not for racing, but it is perfect for life. That’s what I need anyway. I need to go to work, to the grocery store, to outreach events for my job, and I need to carry a bunch of stuff with me because I don’t drive Ever and this is my way to get around.

Hauling Supplies to Bikestravaganza!

See the giant silver circle in the middle of the back wheel? That’s my fancy 8-speed internal hub. That means that all of gears and everything I need to keep moving is contained INSIDE! Maybe, like me at first, you’d think, who cares about that?

I am telling you that it might be one of the greatest inventions since the bicycle

This means that you don’t have any messy greasy gears on the outside and your gears won’t get mucked up in the rain or snow. So if you depend on your bicycle to get you places even when the weather is undesirable, this is the ticket. (Not the only ticket, but the only one for me!)

The other incredibly wonderful part is that you can shift anytime. You don’t have to be moving! If you’re stopped at a stop light in a hard gear, you can switch back to a much easier gear for starting again when the light turns green.

I’m not kidding, friends, this has revolutionized my bicycle riding experience.

The fenders and the rack are integrated into the bicycle frame and so it’s possible to ride in the rain without getting muddy and while easily carrying tons of stuff.

This is my favorite of the five bikes I’ve owned since I made the bicycle my main form of transportation in 2006.

PS: Before bicycles I used public transportation and my feet because I lived in DC and Chicago and made my home in places with stellar public transit so I would never have to own a car. It was a great time and having the resources of public transit is essential to any city that wants to thrive and not be choked by motor vehicle traffic, air, and noise pollution.

But now I’m happy to make my own schedule and get there as fast or slow as I like.

Usually it’s pretty slow because I’m a meandering kind of gal and I like to take my time. Doesn’t mean that my time is less important than motor vehicle users, I just make my plans accordingly. And since I like my transportation, I don’t mind spending time riding slowly through the city getting where I need or want to go.

I love you bicycle!

Nine Years as a Car-free Lady!

20 May

Today is my nine year anniversary of living without a car!

When I graduated from college, I just didn’t want to spend my money on a car. I wanted to buy new shoes and eat at a million new restaurants! So I moved to Chicago where I could take the bus or train anywhere I wanted day or night, close to my house.

And when I left Chicago, I moved to Washington, DC. I lived in five different neighborhoods: H Street NE, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Brookland.

While I was never more than a few steps away from a bus or train, I could walk to plenty of places as well. Numerous grocery stores, farmers markets, ethnic markets, restaurants, bars, parks were easily walkable for many parts of DC. (And many that have far fewer resources of course).

Owning a car seemed like a waste of money and time. Most of the people I saw in cars were sitting in traffic. Not many looked like they were enjoying themselves.

And they were paying money do to it.

I took the bus and train in DC for several years before I decided to save some dollars, make my own schedule and start riding a bicycle.

I had no idea how much I would love it!

After a few months I found a bicycle that I could afford, I liked, and that fit me. I’m kind of short!

Me and a sunflower I grew at my house in DC last year.

(PS: I didn’t  have a camera for several years so I am lacking in some photographic evidence, but if you’d like to see some more pictures of my garden, go here!)

I would have started riding a bike all the time, every day and night, had I known how much more free I felt!

I bought my first bike for $300 after years of not really riding and within the first week I rode 80 miles. I’ve never raced or competed or considered it. I use my bicycle to get around and I spend almost no money on transportation, PLUS I get in shape!

Everyone does push-ups at their going away party, right?

And though this might be a bit late…

If you’ve ever considered biking for transportation, tomorrow is a great day to start.

It’s National Bike to Work Day! Events, group rides, and free food are happening all over the country. Check your local bike advocacy organization for information!

Pittsburgh’s Bike to Work Day coincides with the first of a series of Carfree Fridays happening around the city for the summer.

Farmer Needs Car, Has Beer

6 May

One of my roommates (“Farmer Roommate”) is leaving Pittsburgh for six months to work on a farm in the middle of nowhere, as are apparently record numbers of young people disillusioned with the disconnect between people, the land, and food. Probably dozens of other reasons too.

If you’ve ventured out of our cities, you may have noticed that getting around without a car is nearly impossible. So for the first time, said roommate became a car owner through a pretty resourceful trade, two cases of homebrew beer for the motor vehicle!

The homemade beer on the homemade trailer

Though the car is sitting in front of the house, Farmer Roommate chose to deliver the beer using his main, Preferred Mode of Transportation.

PMT (Preferred Mode of Transportation)

And so Farmer Roommate completed the exchange by delivering his end of the bargain with the bike trailer he made using recycled bike parts and a design available at Free Ride!, the recycled bicycle and educational co-op in Pittsburgh. (PS: go there!)

Making dreams come true

Oil and Water Do Not Mix: Two Million Gallons and Still Spewing

1 May

Stop. This. Now.

Just because the entire earth isn’t burning at once doesn’t mean that we can keep pursuing the same archaic, inefficient, and destructive policies and technologies in the reckless pursuit of a dollar.

It is time to invest in sustainable transportation now.

Not tomorrow, not in five years, not in 2020, or 2030. Today.

We are in crisis. The earth is in crisis. Our population is unhealthy and obese and getting sicker. We are tied to inefficient, expensive, resource-heavy, sprawl-creating, land-devouring, oil-spilling vehicles, and we need to move away from this immediately.

Not tomorrow, not in five years, not in 2020, or 2030. Today.

Bicycle infrastructure, and public transportation that is cheap or  free, attractive, accessible, clean, predictable, and dependable MUST be a priority today. And we must invest real, substantial  amounts of money into systems that will make our communities ecologically balanced and our population healthy and robust.

In the Market for a New Name

28 Apr

I want a new name.

Not personally, but for my little piece of real estate on the internet. I selected “One Night Lemonade Stand” in the middle of the night and it is too long and too irrelevant to stick with for much longer. I had no idea when I started this blog that I’d do it for longer than a minute and so it seemed important just to start writing instead of wobbling indecisively trying to think of a brilliant name.

I’ve had a number of people offer to help redesign the layout, but it seems like a waste of time and effort while I’m stuck with this clunky web address.

“Reimagine an Urban Paradise” is more to the point but is also a burden to the mouth to say and for the ear to hear. It feels like I have marbles and bricks in my mouth every time I say it. So I’m looking to you, gentle readers, for your feedback and opinions.

I like cities, density, the transformative power of bicycles, public transportation, people, trains, gardens, being car-free and making it possible for people to live that way, clean air, safe streets, art, public art, murals block parties, getting to know my neighbors, libraries, and you.

If you have a succinct idea for my website’s new name that can convey this, I will give you credit on new flashy site as well as buy you an ice cream at Oh Yeah! if you’re in Pittsburgh, or the next time you come here.

How can you resist that? Eternal internet fame and an ice cream cone! Here are some images from a mural in the works in my neighborhood to help inspire.

Mural in the works on the Northside

This mural is being painted on the side of one of the buildings of the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh which provides a furnished house, a living stipend, medical coverage, and help to writers who have been persecuted or threatened with death in their native countries.

Why I Love Pittsburgh: The Duquesne Incline

26 Apr

My little sister came to visit me in Pittsburgh this weekend and so we decided to experience the city through one of the oldest and most unique forms of public transportation.  The Duquesne Incline was built in 1877 and is a funicular railway that is one of the most awe inspiring forms of transportation I’ve ever used. The Incline is 800 feet long, 400 feet high, and has a somewhat terrifying slant of 30%, making it still much less steep than at least one other street in Pittsburgh.

Cable car transit up the mountain

We decided to start at the top of Mount Washington and ride the funicular railway down to the bottom and then ride back up again.

Downtown seen while riding down the Funicular

USA Today listed the Duquesne Incline at the top of the list of “10 great places to study skylines of the world” and the New York Times spoke with Chuck Massey, a conductor who has worked for the incline for years. He described how the engineer that built the incline boosted ridership when it was first built in 1877:

It seems the incline wasn’t catching on at first, Mr. Massey said, with a lot of potential customers still taking a series of stairs down Mount Washington rather than spending money for the ride.

The engineer hired somebody to scare those who chose to travel by foot by popping out of the bushes in the evenings. Rumors spread that the steps were haunted, and ridership on the incline picked up.

“Supposedly a true story,” Mr. Massey said.

I ride my bike across one of these bridges daily

After basking in the sun and swooning for the view, it was a little disappointing to leave the old-fashioned atmosphere of the 130-year old rail and cross the street to be greeted with this ugly scene:

Screaming billboards

I thought we’d be able to walk around and see some shops but I didn’t realize that there was nothing there except speeding cars, and visual noise yelling at me about my finances, my health, and my flooring. Ew.

So we turned to admire the view of downtown instead:

Yum! Soothing Views Across the River

I hope they turn on that fountain soon. We spent about five minutes taking pictures of downtown and in that time were honked at three times by three separate Neanderthals who had apparently never seen girls in dresses before.

That very distasteful experience left a sour taste in my mouth but then I just got back on the Incline and kept on swooning for my new city.

I’m not trying to make you jealous, but do you have views like this in your town? I bet not, and if not, you should move here. It’s gorgeous, very affordable, full of space, opportunity and charming people, and is the only city in the U.S. to be voted Most Livable City TWICE. There’s something for everyone here, including that obscure part of the population who like “sports”.

I felt a bit sorry for my sister who had to leave that afternoon to go back to DC.

If you want some more information about the Incline, check out The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline. The Society operates and runs the Incline which does not and never has received any direct government subsidy for operations from the City of Pittsburgh, County of Allegheny, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or the Federal Government. Operation of the Duquesne Incline relies entirely on fares collected, membership fees, donations, and gift shop sales.

So if you’re one of those disposable income types always looking for a way to lighten your wallet for a good cause, why not put some of it into the Incline?

Free Public Transportation Discussion on Kojo Nnamadi Show NOW!

5 Apr

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?

Bikes and Walking Equal to Cars, Says US DOT

16 Mar

Someone get this girl an old-fashioned hand-held fan! I am about to faint! I am so excited this morning that I can’t tell if it’s all the coffee I’ve had or if I’m just giddy that the highest official for transportation in the U.S. sounds like he is talking out of my mouth.

According to my favorite Republican, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, “This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Here are some of my favorite selections from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new policy position: (italics for my additions)

Reasons for Investment and Policy Change

Walking and bicycling foster safer, more livable, family-friendly communities; promote physical activity and health; and reduce vehicle emissions and fuel use.

The establishment of well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities, and their design should be a part of Federal-aid project developments.

Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

Transportation for All (Ages)

Transportation programs and facilities should accommodate people of all ages and abilities, including people too young to drive, people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive.

[It is important to ensure] that there are transportation choices for people of all ages and abilities, especially children: Pedestrian and bicycle facilities should meet accessibility requirements and provide safe, convenient, and interconnected transportation networks. For example, children should have safe and convenient options for walking or bicycling to school and parks. People who cannot or prefer not to drive should have safe and efficient transportation choices.

Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems.

Action Recommendations

Transportation agencies and local communities should go beyond minimum design standards and requirements to create safe, attractive, sustainable, accessible, and convenient bicycling and walking networks. Such actions should include:

  • Considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes (swoon swoon swoon! Yes! Finally!): The primary goal of a transportation system is to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Walking and bicycling are efficient transportation modes for most short trips and, where convenient intermodal systems exist, these nonmotorized trips can easily be linked with transit to significantly increase trip distance. Because of the benefits they provide, transportation agencies should give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes. Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design. (Yay!)
  • Prepare for increase in biking and pedestrian use NOW: Shared-use paths that have been designed to minimum width requirements will need retrofits as more people use them. It is more effective to plan for increased usage than to retrofit an older facility. Planning projects for the long-term should anticipate likely future demand for bicycling and walking facilities and not preclude the provision of future improvements.
  • Integrating bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on new, rehabilitated, and limited-access bridges: DOT encourages bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on bridge projects including facilities on limited-access bridges with connections to streets or paths.
  • Improving nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects: Transportation agencies should find ways to make facility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists during resurfacing and other maintenance projects.

Projected Benefits of Investing in Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure

Increased commitment to and investment in bicycle facilities and walking networks can help meet goals for cleaner, healthier air; less congested roadways; and more livable, safe, cost-efficient communities.

Walking and bicycling provide low-cost mobility options that place fewer demands on local roads and highways. DOT recognizes that safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities may look different depending on the context — appropriate facilities in a rural community may be different from a dense, urban area. However, regardless of regional, climate, and population density differences, it is important that pedestrian and bicycle facilities be integrated into transportation systems. While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.

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

8 Mar

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.

Federal Government Gives Away Billions for Transportation

18 Feb

Last year the Department of Transportation announced TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grants of $1.5 billion for transportation improvements or initiatives put forth by state and local governments, U.S. territories, tribal governments, transit agencies, port authorities, and metropolitan planning organizations.

Over $56 billion in funds were requested for the mere $1.5 billion available under the project, so many locations, people, and ideas were left out in the cold.

Clearly this is an area where the government needs to focus more of their budgeting.

The goals of the TIGER grants are:

  • preserving and creating jobs and promoting economic recovery (every billion dollars spent on public transportation produced 16,419 job-months, while the same amount spent on highway infrastructure projects produced 8,781 job-months.)
  • investing in transportation infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits
  • assisting those most affected by the current economic downturn.

Secretary LaHood added “TIGER grants will reflect the desire for livable communities that are well-coordinated and open to new opportunities.”

Winners and Losers

Greater Greater Washington has a great analysis of the regional award in the DC area, reflecting on what won (Priority Bus) and what lost (bikes and transit), and Beyond DC has the financial break down of the $58.8 million the Washington area received.

Elena Schor at Streetsblog DC takes a look at the initiatives that will benefit nationwide, including streetcars, rail freight, and multimodal projects. Road-only projects that did not make room for transit, pedestrians, or bikes were largely given the thumbs down, receiving only one-eight of the available funds ($180 million), despite making up nearly 60% of the requests.

Very unfortunately, bicycle and pedestrian projects were essentially ignored, but the fact that DOT saw the necessity of moving away from road/car-only proposals in favor of space, time, and resource-efficient transit is an important step for the present and the future.

Now it’s time to make room for bikes and pedestrians, on a national level.

The full list of award is available in PDF form here.

Houston Considering Free Public Transportation

16 Feb

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.

Transit Riders Shouldn’t Have to Suffer

4 Feb

“Government funding for transit doesn’t just stimulate the economy by moving people around. It furthers social justice through access for all. It helps make our world safer,” according to  Cap’n Transit (via Streetsblog Network).

Cap’n Transit makes the case that investing in transit, and making it accessible to all should always be a government priority, and even more so in difficult economic times.

I like the heading for this blog:

“Here are some reasons to get people to shift from cars to transit:

  • Reducing pollution
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Reducing carnage
  • Improving society
  • Mobility for all”

Any one of these five reasons should make it clear to government officials that investing in car infrastructure is antiquated, counterproductive, and essentially throwing money away while money spent on transit projects is smart, resourceful, and sustainable.

Some additional reasons to move from cars to transit:

  • Create twice as many jobs (every billion dollars spent on public transportation produced 16,419 job-months, while the same amount spent on highway infrastructure projects produced 8,781 job-months.)
  • More efficient use of space
  • We have the technology
  • Reduce congestion
  • Improve air quality
  • Productivity  (You can use your iPhone & Blackberry on transit without endangering yourself for others)

Local, state, and federal governments need to use our money wisely and fund all forms of public transportation now!

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