Public Transportation: in favor? disapprove?

You may get the idea this is a spin off of this thread, which it is.

I was sitting around today after working on my car today with my mechanic friend (head gasket surgery, the process is a pain). Perhaps the most noticeable complaint from him though was not about the repair work, but about the rising and not dropping price of gasoline with the current price of oil/barrel. Much of my thinking during a bit of a rest after all the car work revolved around this central fear: the economy is heading for some trouble all thanks to the cost of oil and gas.

In FIRST terms, fundraising efforts over the summer may prove very very hard, all thanks to gas prices. So, just remember as you are out there for your team, FIRST is great, but it runs off the domain of reality. Having been on 66 fundraising during the first wave of threatening gas prices (2004-07), I know a little about how it is to fundraise in a tough economy. That said, good luck in all good spirit.

Anywho, dinner time came tonight and before the evening prayer, I told my dad “I wonder if mass transit companies are going to be taking advantage of the rising demand for cheap transportation.” Here in Ypsi, the AATA (AKA: “The Ride”) comes around the neighborhood I live, but its maps are extremely hard to interpret (at least for me). So I have some studying to do if I am to take advantage. Atlanta, of course has its MARTA, which I loved when I was there for the Championship Event.

(personally, I’d love an economically friendly and efficient way via mass transit to get to Ann Arbor and back, particularly to where I work)

My dad responded with an indirect reference to something he did not realize he referenced, but I got the point nonetheless. It sort of frustrated me when he said that because it plays with what I love a lot: innovation in how we live (mostly inspired thought thanks to FIRST as a whole), and the main sponsor in the region I live (GM, whose engineers/mentors I have met I will have everlasting thanks and friendship for).

Despite the trouble there, I raise the question to regulars on CD: How should public transportation be implemented on a mass scale here in the United States? Should we have one like that ran in Taipei, which today conveniently had an article published on WIRED? Or MARTA? Or some other system? Should it be implemented at all on a greater scale, while we go back to deciding between hybrids and electrics (“Tiny Toons Summer Vacation” with the one character deciding between Goobers and Raisonettes comes to mind)?

I post this thread with hopefully an open-ended welcome to response and discussion like in the thread about electric cars.


PS: This thread starter’s format brought to you by inspiration from MetaFilter. A great site for practically anything reading.

Transportation, energy, and city planning have always been three areas of politics that fascinate me, probably because of their close relevance to engineering. And just like tackling the new FRC games each year, if we apply that same kind of creative engineering towards these problems, we can solve them.

The incident you bring up (which was the main back story that Disney used fir the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit) was IMHO one of the two more unfortunate decisions made by GM - and other related industries. (“Killing” the electric car in the 1990s was the other). These decisions - while they made rational sense for short-term profits - weren’t good for the long term benefits of either the company or the American society.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, GM, Standard Oil, and Firestone bought up almost all of the remaining profitable (or at least break even) electric streetcar systems in the country, and replaced them with GM buses, running on Firestone tires and Standard Oil gas. Back then, gas was cheap and the environment wasn’t really a concern as of yet, so there wasn’t much of an outcry at the time.

But had that not come to pass, and had all these transit systems been left in place, there’s a good chance most of them would have still been here today. This immediately would have saved cities hundreds of millions of dollars in costs of rebuilding these abandoned systems, and they would have left America in a better position today in regards to energy independence and environmental sustainability.

Now a much better approach from GM should not have been to mercilessly buy up and dismantle all opposition to the automobile, but should have diversified their markets. Had they gone out and expanded their public transportation to include not only buses, but also trains, there would have been no need to dismantle the transit systems.

Gas isn’t going to get any cheaper in the long run, and any long-term transportation strategy which relies on gas or diesel powered vehicles is IMHO bad planning. This does not mean the end of cars, but it will mean a general restructuring to be less of a monopoly of cars and more of a diversified mix of transportation options, involving more walking/bicycling/Segwaying at the local neighborhood level, more mass transit (light rail, subway, monorail) in major cities, and more long-distance alternatives to planes (such as high-speed rail, maglev trains).

In addition, we may also start to see a shift of freight traffic from trucks to trains for long distance - especially if transported using the intermodal containers. Trains are much more efficient when it comes to energy costs than trucks.

The key is placing higher priority on mass transit as opposed to more highways when it comes to increase transportation network capacity. Why? Because its easier to make electrically powered transit networks more environmentally sustainable and energy independent through (wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear).

And while all of this won’t be cheap, nor will it happen overnight, the economy of America will not shutdown or cease to exist if we move away from an oil centric economy and more towards a diversified transportation network like Europe.

In fact, I can only see long-term benefits for America from such a move. New transportation systems means new markets for products, new industries, more jobs for construction workers, and less time and productivity (and hence money) wasted while we sit in traffic. More mass transit means the less this country has to depend on foreign oil for our economic livelihood. More mass transit means better environmental sustainability, which our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and many more generations yet to be born will surely thank us for.

In short, diversifying our transportation network will only help ensure the long-term sustainability and stability of the United States. Economic stability, along with an effective military and vigilant and well educated citizens are the three main pillars of our free capitalist/democratic society.

Going green is about more than just “hippies hugging trees”, it’s about patriotism and people realizing that the future of this country depends just as much on energy independence and slowing/reversing global warming as it does on eliminating terrorists and extremists bent on destroying our way of life. (Although the latter is a much more immediate issue).

Public transportation I support when it works…
Back home (upstate NY has an excellent system (CDTA) that is reliable, cost effective, and convenient.

Unfortunately… here in Greensboro was have GTA. Buses only run every 30 mins and totally shut down at 10:30pm and don’t start back up till 5:30am on weekdays. They also employ the hub system where all buses come back to the depot and you can only transfer from one to another bus at the hub.
To top that off they very seldom are on time and usually you have a 30min wait to catch your next bus.
Most routes there is very seldom full buses… except for the two major routes that usually leave the depot without any standing room. GTA seems to not care if your late for work or not and have supervisors that are rude even by yankee standards.
Oh they just jacked the price another dime… the second increase this year already.

At the last board meeting myself and a few hundred other riders we’re basically told that the system is what it is and if we don’t like it …walk.

It was also mentioned that railroads should be taking over more of the truck shipments going coast to coast.
I agree, railroads are much better for long distance hauling. Course America’s rail system is in bad shape. And are already operating at close to 100%
There is also a shortage of engineers… UP,BNSF,& NS to name a few have all reported to the FRA that they need at least 100,000 new engineers within the next few years. And are asking for federal permission to reduce train crews to one operator. BSNF is also asking for permission to start experimenting with robotic trains on the class 2 & 3 routes.

So yes,I support public transportation and see it as a key part to America dealing with higher oil prices and dwindling supplies. But it is only one part of a bigger puzzle.


Public transportation is a viable solution but it depends on where you live. When I was in Boston and New York to volunteer for those regionals I used public transportation to get to and from those events. Public transportation was a better soloution than driving my car and paying for those cities outrageous parking rates (which unfortunately I had to pay $40 to park at the Javitt’s center on Sunday because I had to go right home as soon as the event ended and it made no sense to take a train back to New Jersey to drive home).
Now in a mod sized city like Rochester everything is more spread out. Public transportation is not nearly as dynamic as larger cities and traffic and parking rates are more reasonable. So it makes more sense to drive your car especially if you live in the suburbs or in rural areas.

I question the premise that if GM et al had not bought out the streetcar companies, they would still be here today. The streetcars were replaced with buses. Those private bus companies mostly failed, resulting in the cities or regional authorities having to take them over to have any public transportation. The same thing would have happened to street railways if the public chose not to ride.

What really killed public transportation was the freeways and cheap gas prices. It was made easy to drive, so people did so.

I investigated public transportation to get to work. I would have to board a bus at the “downtown hub” of our suburb at the same time that I now wake up, to get to work on time. For me, the extra sleep is worth putting a few more dollars in the gas tank.

Until public transportation is nearly as convenient for commuters, or the costs (including parking) become prohibitive, public transportation will continue to mostly serve those who cannot afford automobiles. As Ed mentioned, the cost of parking in some areas has already made that tipping point. When we went to Washington DC several years ago, we used the subway from our motel in Alexandria to go downtown, to avoid the congestion. Things like that all factor in to the decision to take public transportation or not.

I, for one, would not feel very comfortable giving up the independence that comes with providing my own form of transportation. I, like so many others, work on a very hectic schedule and there is simply no time for the delays mass transit systems are so often plagued with.

The US is going to be driving cars for a long time to come. I could list a thousand reasons why, but they should be self evident.

The best way IMHO to fix the energy issue is to slowly ween cars off of petrol. Plug in electrics and hybrids are a push towards this, but obviously the transformation will not be complete until the power generation infrastructure is able to generate from “greener” sources. I say nuclear :wink:

I want to fly.

Sounds like Rapid City, where I go to college. 30 minutes between buses on the same loop, 1 hour between buses going the same way on the same loop, plus an extra wait for late buses. Not convenient.

Then again, I like to walk/ride my bike between home and where I need to go. Easier than public transportation, and possibly FASTER. (I could start at my dorm at 2:00 and be at a place I volunteered at 35 minutes later afoot. The bus? Another 5 minutes, 2:20-2:40 or 2:45.)

Public transportation should run on time (If you can’t run on time, extend the time to reality on the schedules), be convenient to home and other places, and be cheap. Also time convenience is good, but you can’t get everyone’s schedule simultaneously. At least 4x an hour would be nice, every 5 minutes better. If it can do all of those, I approve. But if it can’t, I’ll take whatever I need to to get the job done–carpool, ride, or walk.

In most communities when the power companies came to town they built and operated the electric street cars as a way to promote good will and their electricity. Some communities even made starting a public transport service as a condition to allowing the power companies to string lines and place poles. Later they replaced the streetcars with buses…some using a electric bus that took its power from overhead power lines.
But as the ridership went down and cost went up many talked the local cities into taking over the operations.
Here in Greensboro Duke Energy (then known as Duke Power) actually ran the buses till about 1990 when they finally convinced the city to take over the mis-managed mess to be done with all the public complaints.


The last time I investigated public transportation in Columbia was back when I was still with 1293, right after Katrina hit and fouled up gas prices in South Carolina. Aside from cost concerns, the biggest kicker was that I would have to go to the exact other end of town from 1293’s home base of the time in order to catch a transfer. No thanks.

That said, I’m now working on transitioning into my own place, and there’s a bus line that stops right close to my workplace (ironically, a car dealership) and stops reasonably close to the campus at USC (which I anticipate visiting often, since the girlfriend will still be there). It’s almost viable, though I’d plan on making several on-paper runs (mostly pertaining to their on-time performance) before committing to it in a job-critical situation.

I love taking public transportation when it works. At USC, the campus shuttle buses didn’t except for when my alternative was walking half a mile uphill.* In New York City, it was almost the perfect method for two college students moving around Manhattan.** Like so many things we deal with around here, it all comes down to implementation.

*in the snow, with barbed wire wrapped around my feet, and while carrying fifty pounds in books–and I liked it, too!

**Sure, we only had the 1 train at the station nearest the hostel, and my girlfriend got locked out at one of those big upright gates after I’d gone in–but I left the car in South Carolina, taking a taxi everywhere was out of our budget, and I’d have been confined to a wheelchair for Chesapeake if I tried to walk from 103 to Battery Park. I couldn’t allow that to happen, obviously, so break out the MetroCards!.

Mass Transportation works with some people, while it doesn’t for others. If you are worried about it not working with your schedule, it wouldn’t hurt to leave earlier.
I live in the San Fernando, suburbs north of Downtown LA, and the buses don’t really get around from my home to school. I would have to go more out of the way, so it doesn’t work for me. I know quite a few others though that the bus is along their way so they can easily hop on and get to school quickly. From Santa Clarita, students usually take 20-30 minute bus rides, when it takes 30-40 minutes to go by private car just because there are some special bus routes that regular motorists cannot go on, so the bus has some perks on time saving. This method, along with Hybrid technology, seem to be the best ways for more efficient and environmentally friendly transportation. Electric cars, honestly aren’t that environmentally friendly, as most of the electricity they get needs to be manufactured in a way that burns green house gases. When more nuclear power and other cleaner power plants are used, then electricity will be more efficient to obtain and electric vehicles will be the friendlier choice, but so far mass transportation and hybrid technology is all we got*.

So after that ramble, public transportation for those it works for. Frees up traffic and lowers carbon emissions.

*for most consumers, solar, wind, and hydrogen powered cars aren’t big yet.

One of the main reasons why I prefer mass transit (if available and efficient) over cars - even if it took slightly longer to get to the destination - is the fact that I don’t have to do anything while on a train. I can read the newspaper, use my laptop, or just relax. If I tried doing those while driving a car, I’d end up wrapped around a tree.

And in our increasingly fast-paced lives, it’s nice to have a brief respite every now and then throughout the day.

Agreed and disagreed, disagreed mostly because I find driving itself to be relaxing at times. But that’s me.

My opinion on mass transit is that to get from place to place here in Huntington, it would be more of a waste than anything else. We’re a small city. It’s easy for me to take a 15 minute walk to get somewhere that’s a 5 minute car ride away. And on my bike, the time difference isn’t much from a car.

For transportation from town to town in our county, we could use a small public transportation system, but not much. We have a decent distance from say Huntington to Warren. But where we could really use mass transit at is going from Huntington to Fort Wayne. That is where most citizens are going.

My dad, though, works much further north, But he carpools everyday. If anything else, we need to really push for carpooling. Usually, you’re traveling with someone you know, so it’s not always so awkward, and it takes a handful of vehicles off the road.

Going away from judging mass transit on our small town, in the larger cities, mass transit can be the best thing in the world, if done right. As some have explained earlier, if they have confusing maps and complicated systems, people won’t enjoy it and go back to driving themselves.

Personally, I’m going to stick to a well greased bike and my two good feet.

Me Too!

I love driving to, but it all depends on the road.

There’s some great driving roads in New England, but most of them are quite far away from any sort of commuting route.

But when it comes to commuting, and dealing with heavy traffic and horrible drivers every day, I’ll pass.

In short, diversifying our transportation network will only help ensure the long-term sustainability and stability of the United States. Economic stability, along with an effective military and vigilant and well educated citizens are the three main pillars of our free capitalist/democratic society.

At this point I don’t think it’s ever going to happen because I think in some areas it’s just as impractical as driving a Humvee to work right now.

Electric cars, honestly aren’t that environmentally friendly, as most of the electricity they get needs to be manufactured in a way that burns green house gases.

Im pretty sure that your reasoning is wrong. Sure there would be polution but it is easier to regulate a few major sources of polution than thousands and thousands of little sources. Yeah it wouldn’t solve our problems but it would be a major step up from where we are right now. The major problem is whether or not we would kill the electrical grid.

In my area there is a public transportation loop that goes up and down the route 202 corridor outside of Phila. For years the commuter packing lots for this loop were generally empty. Maybe 3 or 4 cars. Last week I noticed that the parking lots are full and people are parking any where they can. The same is true for the SEPTA commuter trains. The trains have room, but just try to get a parking spot if your on the later trains. From this increased volume I’d say that allot of people have decided that public Transportation is a better deal.

For those that think electric vehicles are the answer, Look at the power transmission losses involved with charging them. There have been many studies done over the years and most conclude that for large parts of the country they are a negative. They do make sense for reducing pollution in metropolitan areas.

From what I’ve see in my business(HVAC) this country is not going to do anything about the energy problem until people start to change their economic decision making process. The days of cheap plentiful energy seam to be over.

Being blessed with living in a city with an excellent mass transit system (Toronto), I have to add that Toronto doesn’t hold a match to Singapore.

The entire country seems to have the perfect balance between private automobiles, taxis, buses, and trains down to a science. The place is miniscule, meaning there is very little space for roads, period. But, the population is relatively wealthy, and most probably could all afford cars, if they weren’t so heavily tariffed. It’s a smart move, because there just isn’t enough space in the country for that many cars.

But by discouraging the purchase of cars, the government now has an incentive to instill the belief that there’s no reason to own a car at all.

And there isn’t… honestly.

A single transit card got me anywhere I needed to go. I put $50 on it at the beginning of my trip, and each time I got on or off a bus or train, I walked past a sensor by the door. The sensor picked up the presence of the card buried in my backpack, and calculated how far I’d travelled using the GPS equipped on all buses. Once the fare was deducted, the doors opened. The fare is entirely based on distance travelled between boarding and dismounting points, and it automatically handles transfers at point time and place.

I thought I was spoiled in Toronto, but Singapore was something else. It was some kind of mass transit utopia.

To answer your question on how I’d implement mass transit in a city, it’s pretty simple. I’d ask these guys to figure out how much it would cost, then pay them:

It looks like plenty of other cities and countries think the same way.

I think public transportation is good in theory, but living in the Los Angeles area, I see many shortcomings.

What works:

The Los Angeles “Metro” system added some “Rapid” bus routes a few years ago. If you are lucky enough to live near one of the Rapid bus stops and travel on a week day, you can catch a bus running every 12 minutes or less, for the same price as a traditional bus. Most bus routes are every 30 to 60 minutes, which is inconvenient, especially if you have to go very far and transfer to another 30-60 minute interval bus. But at least Los Angeles now has SOME buses (and the trains) which travel at short enough intervals to be practical.

The trains, IF they are going where you want them to.

What doesn’t work:

I’ve encountered this problem in Long Island, Washington DC, and in Los Angeles: You drive your car to the nearest park and ride lot, only to find there is NOT ONE single parking space left. You waste gas driving around and around the lot. You’re stuck with either a) not being able to go to your destination at all, or b) having to drive there and hope you can find a parking space there.

Going from my house to downtown Los Angeles. A Torrance bus goes right by my house, and costs about half the Metro bus fare. It runs only once an hour, and stops just about every block before getting on the freeway. There are so many Metro bus lines running downtown via the freeway that I can’t figure out from the map which one goes where I need it to go downtown. Furthermore, there’s a surcharge for taking the express buses on the freeway, even with an all-day pass. To avoid the surcharge, I decided to take the trains. This involved taking the Rapid Bus to the Green Line to the Blue Line to the Red Line, about an hour and a half total, for a drive that would take about an hour in normal rush hour traffic. In my particular situation, if I had driven my car, my parking would have been paid for. It was a fun experiment, but would be a nuisance on an everyday basis.

Mom running errands with several kids in tow (doesn’t matter if they’re all her own, or some are day care kids).

People trying to economize on their food bills by using the strategy of grocery shopping just once a week. It would be very difficult to tote all those bags of groceries on a bus.

People running errands on Los Angeles buses during non-rush hours. It’s too easy to miss a connection, even if you have figured out all the routes ahead of time. Then you have to wait 20-30 minutes or more. My last bus trip to a local mall was bad–the bus terminal was at the corner of the mall farthest from where anyone would want to go, and this is the mall that was the largest in the U.S.A. during the 1980s–a long walk, good for fitness but terrible if you’re too weak to even drive a car! The transit company (Torrance Transit, which was referenced in the “Great American Streetcar Scandal” article linked at the beginning of this thread) has recently placed bus stops near the middle of the mall.

The Green Line to Los Angeles International Airport. Having two different transportation agencies involved, the much-needed rail line connecting the Green Line to the terminal area would need its own transportation board, because the two agencies can’t work together. Maybe it’s even ILLEGAL for them to work together! Mind you, a fit person could WALK this distance, maybe even dragging luggage–it’s about 2 miles. Of course, no one has mentioned that the park and ride lot at Aviation Station is way too small. The latest story is that Metro is building a new line from downtown to the westside, and THAT could be extended to the airport, many years hence. It would be no good for those of us in the South Bay.

The financial side–does anyone know of any public transit system anywhere in the USA that actually turns a profit?

Finally, I would like to mention one more reason for the demise of the Pacific Electric system that I didn’t see in previous posts: grade crossings. As more and more automobiles filled the streets, accidents at grade crossings became too frequent. Thus, modern light rail lines are usually grade-separated whenever feasible.