Want People to Ride Public Transit?

22 May

Gas prices could go up to $7.00 or $8.00 per gallon, and it won’t be enough to get people out of their cars. They might select different cars, but individual transportation will not die completely.

If you want people who are happy with their cars to consider using public transportation, it would be good to make that transportation clean, modern, efficient, and reliable. Big Billy Fuccillo buses need not apply.

So, consider this rubber-tired newfangled tram-bus, now rolling in France:

This is a bus-train, basically a train on rubber tires instead of rail tracks. The vehicle is designed to function exactly like an urban streetcar with a low floor that is level with boarding stations. The vehicle is guided by a centre track in the street and is meant for urban city streets, as shown above.

That’s all well and good for the city and throughout the suburbs. But what about speedier commuter rail? Quick trips between downtown and East Aurora, Hamburg, Orchard Park, Clarence, Lancaster, etc. Something like this would do just nicely:


Photo courtesy Kecko via Flickr.

Intercity and intracity rail expansion would be great for the Buffalo area. If only we had the money and political will to build it.

12 Responses to “Want People to Ride Public Transit?”

  1. Buffalo Blood Donor May 22, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    BP,

    It may be worth reading the following article: http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/pseudosc/masstransit.htm. The author makes a very good point that no amount of cleanliness and efficiency in mass transit can entice people to utilize it, if it remains costly in time and/or convenience.

    Most people know how much per hour they get paid. Time spent with family and friends is even more precious to them. If mass transit takes even a few minutes more than the same trip by car, people will be hard pressed to sacrifice that free time, no matter what the price of gasoline jumps to – it’s just too valuable to give up.

    Secondly, WNY does not have close to the density needed to make mass transit work. Traveling to Main Street, East Aurora to pick up that fictitious commuter rail between the Southtowns and downtown Buffalo (for those very few employees who actually work in downtown Buffalo) would force me to travel by car, in the wrong direction, nearly as far as my commute by car would be to downtown Buffalo.

    Perhaps slugging would be a more appropriate solution to pack more people into fewer vehicles.

    BBD

  2. Mike In WNY May 22, 2008 at 10:45 pm #

    The NFTA is already receiving a huge amount of money from taxpayers. 2008 State funding is $42,666,000 – Local funding is $35,381,000. Total federal, state and local taxpayers money funding the NFTA for 2008 is $90,148,000.

    The cost of a metro ride is kept artificially low by massive subsidies. Any grand improvements, as you have pictured, would undoubtedly lead to more fleecing of the general public.

    It is also an unfair comparison using France. Most of the cities have many streets that are very narrow and not conducive to regular automobile traffic.

  3. reflip May 23, 2008 at 12:23 am #

    BBD,

    It’s a valid point – some people will just never use public transportation. But, if public transportation connects people to the places they want to go, people WILL use it. Hence, you need to look at the big picture and start to encourage growth and development in areas serviced by public transportation. In Buffalo’s case, Main Street. Just connecting UB North, UB South, UB downtown, the Medical Corridor, Allentown, downtown/HSBC/future casino/future waterfront via public transportation as we have now – well…that’s a lot of people and a lot of places to go.

    Things change. There is no reason to believe that because things are this way now, they’ll continue to be this way forever. The argument that “people will never use public transportation because they don’t now and they just won’t because they can drive instead” is self-fulfilling. If we assume people will never use public transportation, we won’t fund it, we won’t encourage it and we won’t build it. In which case, we’ll have shitty public transportation that few people want to use. Pretty much like what we have now. Ta da!

    If we had a national policy that encouraged mass transit and development based on access to public transportation – most of us would be living near a train station. But since our public policy for the last 60 years has basically encouraged road construction and private automobile use, we live as we do now. Though we like to think nobody can tell us what to do because we’re Americans goddammit, in fact, our lives are pretty much written in the rule books. Sad but true.

    Mike in WNY,

    The public money spent on subsidizing private automobile travel dwarfs any amount spent on public transportation.

    The cost of driving is kept artificially low by even more massive subsidies.

    If you really want to live the unsubsidized life, you better start walking. Through the grass, actually, because sidewalk maintenance ain’t free, either.

    I guess your best bet is to pull a Thoreau and just go live alone in the woods. Then, you can truly avoid any complicity in the “fleecing of the general public.”

  4. Denizen May 23, 2008 at 1:12 am #

    Commuter rail to the suburbs would be a spectacular idea, that’s where trains are actually needed to get people downtown very quickly. I’m sure many suburb-downtown commuters will gladly trade the highway driving and parking hassles for a smooth comfy train ride if there is a park-n-ride station near their homes. The ROWs already exist and it a decent system could easily be put in place with some track upgrading and station construction.

    The current bus system is actually not to bad for getting residents of city neighborhoods downtown, but outside that it’s rather ineffective. Beyond the city line the bus is just a major pain in the ass.

    Most people know how much per hour they get paid. Time spent with family and friends is even more precious to them. If mass transit takes even a few minutes more than the same trip by car, people will be hard pressed to sacrifice that free time, no matter what the price of gasoline jumps to – it’s just too valuable to give up.

    You paint the word “people” with a wide brush. Or maybe you just need to get out more and make some new friends. There are plenty of people who don’t like having to drive and would gladly utilize an alternative means of transportation if one were available. Don’t forget there are also plenty of people who CAN’T drive for one reason or another, therefore they’d shut out of so many jobs because employers choose to locate in far-flung office parks and stripmalls that are inaccessible to anything other than the personal auto. A downtown-centric employment market would bring much more equality to ALL modes of transportation, not just the car and the car and the car and the car.

    Secondly, WNY does not have close to the density needed to make mass transit work. Traveling to Main Street, East Aurora to pick up that fictitious commuter rail between the Southtowns and downtown Buffalo (for those very few employees who actually work in downtown Buffalo) would force me to travel by car, in the wrong direction, nearly as far as my commute by car would be to downtown Buffalo.

    Chicken and egg problem. Building a semi-decent commuter rail system that serves most of the surrounding suburbs will remove the extreme need for copious parking downtown, therefore allowing employers to locate their operations there and completely subtract parking costs out of the equation. More jobs downtown means more people on the street, more stores to service increased foot traffic, and a lot more people who will want to live next to all this new energy downtown. Oh geez, Buffalo could actually look like a real city! Who woulda thunk?

  5. Mike In WNY May 23, 2008 at 2:25 am #

    reflip,

    Mass transit is subsidized at a rate of approximately 75%. A good share of highway taxes are used to help subsidize mass transit. How do you figure that automobile travel dwarfs mass transit subsidies? Automobile drivers pay myriad taxes on gasoline, tolls, motor vehicle fees, sales taxes, tire taxes, etc. . . .

    Automobiles are much more beneficial and enable people to significantly increase their personal income due to the wider choice of employers. Purchasing an automobile is a voluntary expendenture, paying for mass transit is not.

    Per mile, the cost of an automobile trip is much less than the cost of public transit. Time is money and cars save time.

    As far as subsidies go, I would be more than happy to see any automobile subsides ended. That goes for all subsidies.

  6. Jon Splett May 23, 2008 at 4:05 am #

    Can we start small by running the subway we do have past midnight?

    I’d gladly hop on the subway and head downtown to spend money on Chipewa and Allen Street if it was practical. The 4 AM closing time means nothing really gets going downtown until 11 and with the last trains leaving at midnight, that gives you maybe an hour out at the bars.

    Not to mention the fact that you have a large student population in University Heights who, lets face it, are going to drink anyway. Drunk college kids driving home from downtown at 3 AM are far less a public safety issue then drunk college kids riding a subway home at 3 AM.

    It’s 6 freaking miles of track. How much more can it really cost to run the train for another 3 hours a day?

  7. STEEL May 23, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    Mike in WNY

    Highways are subsidized to a massive extent to keep personal car transportation costs artificially low as well.

    Don’t forget the massive military expenditures and international turmoil we endure to protect our oil supply Mike. Don’t forget the added cost of health care caused by automobile pollution. Don’t forget that people like me pay for your highways even though I rarely use them. Don’t forget the increased cost of food caused by the silly bio fuel craze sold as a way to keep personal transit cheap.

    $3Billion for one aircraft carrier Plus several Billion more for the fleet of ships that makes up a carrier group. Plus 150 Million for each of 90 aircraft plus fuel and supply costs for each mission which easily reaches into the 10’s of millions. Plus staffing a ship for each mission another 10’s of millions each mission. Not to mention the lives lost so that we can have the cheapest oil possible so that someone can drive by themselves from inside their cozy house to the front door of their office without having to talk to touch or see anyone else.

  8. reflip May 23, 2008 at 10:09 am #

    Mike,

    It isn’t the actual cars, it’s the roads we build and maintain to allow all those cars to move around freely. Roads are money pits and, one way or another, we’re paying for them. Then when people propose tolls on roads (or toll increases) we get upset, as if to say “Roads are supposed to be free!” Well, of course roads aren’t free. Neither is public transportation. They’re public. That’s the idea. So they are supported almost exclusively with tax money.

    I’m not going to argue that one is morally superior to the other in any way. You can’t, however, argue that public transportation is heavily subsidized so it is bad. Roads are “subsidized” right? Even people who don’t use them pay for them. Basically you’re just making a value judgement – “I want my tax money to pay for roads. I do not want my tax money to pay for public transportation.” You’re allowed to think that, but don’t act like it is based on some neo-JS Mill libertarian philosophy. It’s simply about what you personally prefer.

    And if you dislike public subsidies for public transportation, you should be happy to know that the federal government is pretty much on your side on that matter.

  9. al-alo May 23, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    we actually already have much of the infrastructure necessary to build a system from the Falls to Blo to Depew. all three already have existing staffed stations. the route is signaled for passenger rail (since it is part of Amtrak’s Empire Service).

    you cant tell me that the counties, cities, and towns that are along this route could not afford to maintain a few additional capacity, new station stops and station improvements. a simple extension to the airport would increase the marketability of our region for tourism (wouldnt you prefer not to rent a car on vacation?). and help our Canadian friends get to our airport – you know, ’cause there is no additional parking.

    and dont give me that BS about population density. cities and regions smaller than our are springing for mass transit.

  10. Mike In WNY May 23, 2008 at 8:22 pm #

    Don’t forget the massive military expenditures and international turmoil we endure to protect our oil supply Mike. Don’t forget the added cost of health care caused by automobile pollution. Don’t forget that people like me pay for your highways even though I rarely use them. Don’t forget the increased cost of food caused by the silly bio fuel craze sold as a way to keep personal transit cheap.

    First, the military expenditures are not necessary to protect our oil supply. That is a red herring used to justify interventionist foreign policy. The countries that sell us oil have no incentive to sit on it. They need the sales to support their economy.

    Second, privitize the roads. That sounds fair to me. Costs should be borne by the users and people who benefit. If you eat food trucked on the highways, a portion of the cost can pay for roads. PA is poised to lease out the turnpike due to the inefficient government operation of the major highway.

    Third, don’t blame the biofuel craze on subsidizing automobile travel. Our exhaulted politicians all jumped on that bandwagon so it would look like they are doing something beneficial. A bit of palm greasing by the corn farmers’ lobby didn’t hurt either.

    As for the cost of highways, I’ve seen studies that peg highway taxes and fees at covering approximately 90% of the building and maintenance.

    If you end all the subsidies, the market will ferret out the most efficient ways to travel without inflating the costs. Competition works wonders when left alone. Billions will be saved just by eliminating money wasting regulatory agencies and you won’t be paying for EZ passes for life, among other things, for NYS Thruway Authority employees.

  11. Chris from OP May 24, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    To John Splett:

    Hear! Hear! In cities with mass transit lines that link party spots (Franklin/Chippewa) to colleges (Canisius/Buff State/Ub (kinda)), closing time is like another rush hour. Tons of people ride, keeping a lot of (potentially dangerous) drivers off the road, and I can only assume that having a good alternative to driving is great for attracting MORE business to downtown watering holes.

    AND PS: Extend the damn thing to UB North! It should be a major state priority.

  12. Bruce Varughese June 28, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Actually you can privately make these tram buses that perhaps run on hydrogen and run it your self!

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