Tuesday, January 22, 2008

and on transit, in general

I sometimes get worried by the direction I see transit discussions going. People, especially on blogs and the internet, will talk about transit and how they want to improve it, but at the same time there seems to be a hate on for anyone with a car. There is the ever-popular phrase that we are in a “car-culture”. I sat down and thought about that one day, what does this mean? Well, for one thing, on your stereotypical date with someone of the opposite sex, the guy will drive the gal home in his car. Sure, you could always take the bus, but it does not seem to have the same luster that a car does. Then there’s the vision of the soccer mom who, of course, drives a minivan. Next you have the suit-and-tie office worker, who really gets to unwind after work in, you guessed, his sporty car. I don’t disagree that such a culture exists, and that it’s actually harmful. I agree fully that the car culture need to come to an end. What I disagree with is those who take this idea too far and blame anyone with a car for all the problems in the world.

Take for example, discussion about mixed-traffic streetcars. Every time the topic is raised, on blog after blog, I see either the blogger or the commenters speak about how this argument by drivers that streetcars cause traffic is bunk. They say that if a mixed-traffic streetcar is anti-car, then so what. They support it because it is anti-car, without stopping to think that it is also anti-transit. Lets take for example, one car and one streetcar. The streetcar pulls up to a stop, and opens its doors. Since it is blocking both lanes, the car must stop. The driver of the car, not wanting to be stuck behind the streetcar decides to pass him before the next light, and does so. The next light is red, and now we find the streetcar is stuck behind the car, and cannot open it’s doors as it is not at the stop. It’s usually around here that the car-haters will come in and remind people that streetcars carry more people then cars do, or that they cause less pollution. They will in effect, blame the car driver for not taking the streetcar. The underlying assumption is that everyone can take transit, and therefore, they should. This is false. For one thing, you can drive across a municipal boundary without a problem, but on transit this will mean a transfer. You can drive anywhere there is a road (and there are a lot of those) but you can only take the bus where there is a bus route (not nearly as many). What if you were working installing a new bus stop at the end of a new bus line. You cant take the bus, because the route does not exist yet. Despite this, people continue to rail against drivers and make arguments that driving should be made harder so more people take transit. They call this “Induced Demand”, a cute little term.

Frankly, the idea that you have to force people on transit by making driving impossible is a very anti-transit idea. I’m sure those of us with siblings know how it feels when your mother orders you to play with your younger brother or sister. Obviously, you don’t want to play with them. The message this sends is that the only way that they will get played with is if you force it on someone else. What does that say about the kid? Not much. I see forcing people on transit the same way. If you have to force someone on a bus, it says pretty shitty things about that bus. If we want more people to take transit, we have to make transit more convenient for people.

In a dream world, everyone could take transit, but in reality, this is not possible. I do see signs that the “Car culture” is fading. For one, more and more people are starting to think about the environment. Outside of this, I don’t see any reason that transit ridership, as a mode-share, cannot reach 2/3rds or 3/4ths of all trips. There will always be, however, cars, and there will always be people who take them as an alternative. Cost is usually not the reason, its mostly time. What if to get to your destination you had to make three or four transfers? It might take you over an hour to do a trip that could take 15 minutes by car. What if you needed to buy a week’s worth of groceries, are you going to lug all that stuff on the bus? What if you needed to run errands and go to locations all around the city. By transit this could take you all day, by car, a hour or two. What if it’s freezing outside, and the nearest bus route runs every 30 minutes? Sure you could try to time it, only to get to the stop in time to see the bus drive away. Transit cannot do what cars can, nor should we expect it to.

There are some pro-transit bloggers, such as Mr. Steve Munro, who says clearly that he does not own a car. It might surprise some, after reading the above, to learn that I do not own a car, nor do I intend to buy one any time soon. Despite this, I will take cabs, at certain times, or to certain places. I live on Dupont, near Shaw, a 15 minute walk from the Bloor subway. From there I can go to Yonge, and head up to St.Clair, where I usually get off to grab some food before I start my shift at work. If I take transit the whole way, which I do almost every day, I will be more then halfway to my workplace, timewise. I work south of Yonge and Finch. Alternatively, and I do this when I’m late, or it’s very cold, I could get a taxi to take me to St.Clair station. This cuts my travel time nearly in half, but will cost me $10. People will usually talk about “A few seconds” when someone talks about running for a bus. What many people fail to note is that all of these “seconds” add up. I could spend a minute waiting for the light to change at an intersection. Then a few minutes waiting for the subway. A few minutes waiting for the next one after I transfer. Maybe I need to grab a bus before or after my trip. Using an example of someone who takes a 5 minute headway bus route to the Bloor subway, outside of peak, then gets off the Yonge subway and takes another 5 minute headway bus, you could end up with a 20 minute variance in when you arrive at your destination. If this is an otherwise short trip, it leads to annoyance. It takes me 55 minutes to get from my house to work, on average. 12 to walk to the subway station from my house, and 7 from the station to my workplace. One third of my time is spent walking. People might ask why I don’t take a bus to the subway? The answer is because it takes too long. I live almost dead between Ossington and Christie. The Christie bus runs every 30 minutes, so forget about that, I wont risk the driver being 3 minutes early and making me 33 minutes late. Ossington runs often, on paper, but by the time I walk to the stop, wait for the bus, then have the bus take me to the station, it can take 14 minutes, and that does not count the extra time in the tunnel. It all comes back to the fact that transit cannot be a doorstop service for everyone, where as your car can be. It is for this reason that you will never get rid of cars, and for this reason that I find it both silly and offensive to have a hate on for those who drive.

It is my hope to offer suggestions and discussion of transit from a balanced prospective. One that recognizes that you don’t need to hate drivers to love riders.