Traffic Congestion

Why More People Should Ride Mass Transit


How many public transit expert/advocates actually ride on public transportation? 

Make of this what you will: Transit in Lebanon is better and cheaper than transit in most U.S. cities.

I have met more than three folks, in and out of the establishment media, who speak with authority about mass transportation yet somehow can never get around to using it in the heat of their daily struggles. Judging by this storied Onion headline, I'm guessing others have met such people as well. 

But how frequently, really, are we getting our fix of transit-solution bloviation from people with no practical experience of the "systems" they're diagnosing and claiming to cure? 

I wonder this every time an expert makes the case for more intelligently planned transit networks featuring smarter coordination throughout the hub or loop or grid. There's one thing you learn by your second day of using transit when you actually don't have a choice: For every transfer in your itinerary, you need to double the time allotted for the trip. 

You may end up getting lucky with your transfers and not using up all that time. In a recent video, comedian Watt Smith did so well with his LAX-Burbank run that former Los Angeles Times transit reporter turned Transportation Authority flack Steve Hymon accused him of underestimating how crappy the L.A. transit network really is. (Third item down; the pride is back, Steve!) 

But the reality of transit use in the non-hypothetical universe is that you don't need smarter hubs or better coordination or more efficient transfers. You don't need experts planning out more brilliant three- and four-transfer itineraries. You need more shit running more frequently to more destinations. 

In Slate, transportation writer Tom Vanderbilt reviews a new book from a transport expert named Jarrett Walker. Vanderbilt is the author of the very good book Traffic, a fun-tasmagorical whirligig of novel concepts and unexpected tidbits (at one point our diminutive cousins the ants are marched in to demonstrate some point about high-volume and narrow-volume passageways) that you wouldn't want to bet any actual money on. 

Vanderbilt uses a heady-sounding dichotomy ("system" vs. "empathy") to pit Walker against another transit expert named Darrin Nordahl. Apparently Nordahl believes you have to make transit a more comforting experience whose aesthetic speaks to riders' sense of meaning and urban folkways, while Walker says you just have to make it more reliable and functional. Toward the end of the piece, Vanderbilt makes what seems like a reasonable point: 

But if the question is what's going to get the most people on transit in a city, what's going to move the most people, it seems to have less to do with the quality of the experience than the quantitystudies routinely find increases in transit usage linked to things like metropolitan employment numbers, fare costs, frequency of service, and gas prices. Trolling the Yelp! reviews for San Francisco's BART system, for example, while one sees the occasional knock for cleanliness, most people focus on things like ease of use (wayfinding and ticketing), connections, price, parking. Perhaps that's because our expectations are so low; one budget-strapped and beleaguered transit planner countered Nordahl's vision of a "fun" transit experience with this: "I'm just trying to give people transit experience." Or perhaps there's an empathic component to a good system. What warms a city dweller's heart more, for example, than a local train waiting across from an express for a quick transfer? Or transit that comes so often you rarely think about it? Conversely, a trolley car that comes once an hour—and rarely on time—no matter how droll in appearance, hardly raises the quality of life of those waiting for it.

Judging from this passage (and not having read either Walker's book or Nordahl's) I'd say Walker has the more sensible point. But then Walker speaks up on his blog, to explain that when he talks about reliability, he doesn't mean you should actually let people provide a variety of approaches for taking customers where they want to go: 

"Massive redundancy" may be fine if you're a megacity, though even there, its effectiveness may be a feature of the peak that doesn't translate to the rest of the day.  Anywhere else, services need to work together as a network.  Even in London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Berlin, that's really what's happening. 

This is what happens when your mind is full of smart networks and transit-oriented growth. The proper word here is not "redundancy" but "competition." To the owner of a taxi medallion or a member of the Transport Workers Union, minibuses, gypsy cabs, rolling chairs and pedicabs are all redundant, because you're already providing all the service a customer could legitimately need. If some abuelita is stuck in the rain for 45 minutes waiting to make one of your smart connections, well, that just shows you need more money so the system can be more efficiently planned. 

If more people traveled on mass transit more frequently, this would be obvious. Transit doesn't suck because it lacks central planning. It sucks because it's artificially scarce. 

Related: L.A. Times fails to correct California Gov. Jerry Brown's claim that Abraham Lincoln build the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War — proving yet again that you get more accurate information from AMC original series than from the Times

NEXT: Ron Paul in the Florida Grassroots: Flea Markets and "Sign Bombs"

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  2. Here is a public transit tale for you:

    There is a huge push by communitarians in the SF Bay Area to promote a plan called “One Bay Area”, which is based on several ridiculous assumptions, such as 1)two million more people will move to the Bay Area in the next 20 years; 2)there will be massive job growth in the Bay Area in the next 20 years; and 3)internal combustion engine autos will still be the predominant form of transportation in 2040, and thus we need to get everyone into public transportation.

    Their proposal to deal with this is to force small, affluent suburbs to “urbanize” by putting in high-density housing in their downtowns (much of it subsidized low-income housing, of course). The agencies leading this say the moves are “voluntary” but they will deny road maintenance and other transportation funds to the cities that do not comply.

    For example, the little town of Orinda, population 17,000, lies in the east side of the Oakland/Berkeley Hills. The average house value is >$1M, all on “semi-rural”, wooded lots, on windy, hillside roads. There is a very small and quaint downtown of about 8 blocks in about the only flat area of town, where there is a train station and freeway access. Because these make the little town a “transportation hub,” the agencies are demanding 700 housing units be placed in this area or funding will be withheld. This basically means the town’s General Plan of nothing above two stories will need to be thrown out to allow five-story buildings, and the entire little downtown with its hardware store, pharmacy and local shops/restaurants will need to be bulldozed so that high-density, stack-and-pack condos can be built.

    Market forces be damned! There is no evidence that these changes are needed — or that anyone who wants to live in dense apartments wants to be in the midst of a sleepy bedroom community twenty miles from the action of San Francisco (where there are plenty of available apartments, anyway.)But the push is very strong and very reminiscent of five-year central planning. And there is a lot of self-congratulation that these changes will bring “social justice” to these communities.

    Meanwhile, the fact that the vast majority of local residents do not want this is meaningless. Local control of communites would just get in the way!…

    1. The market is extremely unlikely to generate the population densities needed to make a mass transit system even remotely practical, much less efficient, so it’s necessary to bludgeon it into compliance with the irresponsible schemes of the central planners.

      1. Mass transit systems as we have known them require high population densities to be self-sustaining (from farebox receipts and other normal sources of operational revenue). PRT can achieve the same trick with much lower (suburban) densities. Check it out. (See links provided in my other posts here.) While central planners like PRT because it seeks to provide an attractive alternative to automobile-based transportation, I like it because it promises to make possible once again mass-transit as a PRIVATE-SECTOR enterprise, as long as regulatory agencies and municipalities co-operate.

      2. You would have a point if people were paying service fees to use all roads. However, they are not. (And don’t start with gas tax thing…gas taxes don’t pay for all road maintenance.)

        1. Certainly not with the percentage skimmed off the top for green nonsense, and kickbacks to the unions, and, and, and.

        2. Fuel and road taxes most certainly pay for the roads as well as tolls. The pity of it is so much of the taxes that are supposed to tasked to roads are squandered on mass transit idiocy and other green-left nonsense and union subsides.

        3. Gas taxes don’t pay for road maintenance when they are used for bike paths and other central planner nonsense to include subsidizing buses etc.

          1. SDN, Cubanbob, and BBach,

            You are only right (historically) if you leave out local, county, and (in many cases) state expenditures for road repair.

            Now that the federal highway trust fund is almost exhausted it will no longer be true at the federal level…and pseudo-libertarian suburbitarians have been fighting a gas tax increase.

        4. Gas taxes don’t pay for all road maintenance? Umm…yes they do…and about 30% gets skimmed off to pay for public transportation and other non-road projects.

          1. Gas taxes don’t pay for all the free off-street parking that businesses are mandated to provide by zoning laws.

          2. Also Adam- what gas tax do you pay that funds your City and County roads?

    2. “This basically means the town’s General Plan of nothing above two stories will need to be thrown out”

      This is not a market force, so there is no existing evidence that market forces are what is keeping the downtown flat.

      In fact, in the absence of a market-distorting and property-rights-violating General Plan, the high property values here combined with the existing transportation link would almost FORCE increasing density in the downtown, if market forces were actually allowed to work.

      1. The market forces idea relates to the fact that there is little or no demand from anyone to live in dense housing in the middle of these sleepy suburbs, yet the central planners are trying to force it to be built because THEN there will be demand!

        Everywhere in these far-reaching areas they have built these there have been half-filled properties, vacant retail storefronts and bankruptcies. The only ones who profit are the crony developers, who have used redevelopment funds from the cities and region, and are long gone when the actual operation of the buildings commences.


          When Orinda gets rid of their “general plan”, I might feel some sympathy for them.

          1. State law in CA requires cities to have a General Plan, and to update it regularly.
            Besides, people should be able to have some say in how their communities are set up. Otherwise, what’s to stop a rendering plant from opening up in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

            1. A public nuisance lawsuit.

          2. I’m fairly certain that “city council” was a level of government that most everyone here could tolerate. If the city wants to limit their building height to two-stories that is there call. If you’re the sort of person who wants to live there, and build something bigger, if you’re unable to change the mind of city council, maybe your plan just isn’t meant to be.

            1. Um, no. Coercion from a municipal body is no different in principle than coercion from a higher-level body — in some cases it can be worse.

  3. I think we are more likely to see growth in self-driving electric vehicles that can vastly reduce the cost of cab fare, but I can testify to the usefulness of frequent buses. The unplanned and decentralized systems I’ve ridden in Odessa (Ukraine) and Lima (Peru) worked so well that I could quickly get where I needed to go quickly, cheaply, and with next to no knowledge of either the local geography or the local language. Show me one grand system that can compete with that!

    If you have to wait more than 5 minutes for the next bus, the system is not working well. If you have to wait more than 10 minutes, it is almost useless.

    1. I almost always drove around Lima, so I can’t attest to its bus system, but I can say that Sao Paulo’s buses are the best I’ve ever been on, and they were almost all private.

      1. ….but I can say that Sao Paulo’s buses are the best I’ve ever been on, and they were almost all private.


      2. Sao Paolo has a population density close to NYC’s. And far fewer cars. So that’s like the best case scenario for making mass transit profitable.

  4. Mass transit systems are only efficient if you have tons and tons of people using them. The market is inherently not conducive to competition.

    It’s not like the potato chip industry, where competition is great because you can make a profit serving 2% of the potato chip market. If you have 3 redundant bus companies each serving 1/3 of the available riders, they’re all going to have to be more expensive than driving a car would be or else they’d go out of business. It’s the same problem with Reason’s bizarre insistence that we should have “competing toll roads”. You have any idea how much it costs to build a toll road?

    And taxis aren’t a good comparison because taxis are used by people who have no access to a car. They’re willing to pay more than it costs to operate a car themselves because they have no choice.

    1. Tulpa,
      “And taxis aren’t a good comparison because taxis are used by people who have no access to a car. They’re willing to pay more than it costs to operate a car themselves because they have no choice.”
      In a word: Bullshit.

        1. Sidd Finch|1.28.12 @ 8:58PM|#

          Neither of Tulpa’s conditions are required; I take cabs because I either don’t want to either park or drive where I’m going. Guests to my home often do the same; parking is tough. When my parents were alive, it was more convenient to have a cab take them to some places they went rather than me ‘cabbing’ them.
          In a word, bullshit.

          1. So they take cabs because taking a car is not an option.

            That’s basically my point.

            1. Tulpa|1.28.12 @ 10:24PM|#
              “So they take cabs because taking a car is not an option.”

              Well, no. Are you having a hard time reading? None of the circumstances mentioned precluded taking a personal car. Every one was simply a matter of choice; a car was an option in every one.
              “That’s basically my point.”
              Nice try; think someone can’t read up-thread?:
              “And taxis aren’t a good comparison because taxis are used by people who have *NO ACCESS TO A CAR*. They’re willing to pay more than it costs to operate a car themselves *BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO CHOICE*.”

              See the added emphasis; both are the bullshit I mentioned, ignoring the added bullshit.

              1. Sort of like walking from NYC to LA is an option. So you shouldn’t complain about TSA searches.

                1. Tulpa|1.28.12 @ 10:55PM|#
                  “Sort of like walking from NYC to LA is an option. So you shouldn’t complain about TSA searches.”

                  Care to equate finding parking 3 miles away with ‘walking from NYC to LA’?
                  Pathetic; hope your day job doesn’t require logic or intelligence.

                  1. It seems that Tulpa’s job only involves abstract theoretical shit in academia with minimal practical applications to real world mass markets.

                    1. Nah, I’m in applied mathematics so the first part isn’t the case. Though I’m not an economist, so I concede that my work doesn’t involve mass markets, at least directly.

                    2. And note that Sevo doesn’t actually address my main point, just harps on the throwaway line about cabs.

                  2. You’re harping on a minor point, Sevo. Yes, I did omit the possibility of someone who owns a car taking a cab because it’s impractical or counterproductive to attempt to find parking at their destination. A thousand apologies.

                    The point is, the dynamic that puts people in cabs is quite different from the dynamic that puts them on buses and trains. Very few people take a cab to work every day, for example, because it’s too expensive. The amount that cabs can charge for the added convenience is precisely what allows competition to work in that market.

                    1. Cabs are too expensive because there aren’t enough of them. And there aren’t enough of them because their supply is artificially limited.

                      The thing is, more competition leads to lower prices and better service, which leads to more customers. Somewhere in there is an optimal balance, but you’ll never get there with central planning.

                    2. Cabs are more expensive because they spend most of their time driving around empty looking for customers (in densely populated cities) or sitting in garages waiting to be dispatched (mid-sized cities and lower), as well as having the same low efficiency of automobiles. It’s an extremely inefficient mode of transportation.

                    3. Very few people take a cab to work every day, for example, because it’s too expensive.

                      What would the market driven price be without government created artificial scarcity?

                      We can get an idea by looking at parcel delivery rates. In the LA CSA the rate for point to point delivery is about $1 per mile. So I would say that is the high point for unregulated personal transit.

                      Your point about taxis necessary costing more than private auto ownership is false because the taxis will be utilized for a far larger percentage of the day than your personal auto will be.

                  3. Care to equate finding parking 3 miles away with ‘walking from NYC to LA’?

                    It’s a COST. Sidd is trying to pretend that walking 3 miles to get a parking space isn’t a cost, which is complete bullshit. Convenience is part of the cost equation – that is Tulpa’s point.

    2. Competing toll roads make sense. The toll road is competing with ALL options. There might be a toll road serving N suburbs, one for W suburbs, one for S suburbs. People can also use surface streets, use private mass transit if available, or just not fucking go anywhere. And if all options suck, people are incentivized to go live and or work somewhere else.

      1. That’s not competing toll roads. If you live in the N suburbs in your example, you have precisely one toll road you can take. The fact that you can substitute a different type of transportation is not competition.

        For example, no one would claim that the local power company is not a monopoly because I can install solar panels on my roof, or run a generator in my back yard.

        1. Options are not competition.

          What you are saying, extended to an extreme conclusion, is that if there were in fact two toll roads serving the same segment of communities, each one would still be a monopoly in that only one road can physically exist in the area of space that it is in. Let’s say, one road might have a ‘monopoly’ of having a nicer view. Geez.

          If you are trying to obtain something, the fact that alternative options are available means there is competition. Especially from the point of view of the provider who is trying to profit.

          1. And, of course, Target is not competition for Walmart because I have to drive an extra two miles to get to the Target. Wha?? In almost any market, there are trade-offs in addition to price. That doesn’t mean there’s no competition.

        2. I have said that the local cable company is not a monopoly because of satellite dish companies.

          1. And AT&T Uverse.

    3. You assume that each bus company has a monopoly on it’s routes and service area. Your comparison of using cabs because they have no choice is equally applicable to users of mass transit systems.

  5. Many years ago I lived in Berlin, Germany. I was super impressed by their transit system. I drove a car once the two years that I was there and that was only to take some big boxes to the post office.

    But they had a logical, easy to use, and frequent system that ran ON TIME. I could get almost anywhere in city using it without a great deal of walking.

    I agree strongly that those who plan it and run it should be riding it. I used to go to the local transit authority board meetings. I asked them how many had even ridden a bus in the past 30 days … none!

    I’v been to other cities in the world where there are several bus firms and low-cost taxis providing service … cheaper and more efficiently than I’v seen in the States.

    1. Unfortunately, no one is going to bomb the fuck out of our cities and then pay to rebuild them any time soon. But we can dream.

      1. “Berlin, Germany…frequent system that ran ON TIME.”

        Oh, I don’t doubt it!

        1. You know who else didn’t doubt it…

          1. Mussolini….err….WAIT I KNOW THIS ONE!

          2. I never doubted.

    2. “But they had a logical, easy to use, and frequent system that ran ON TIME.”

      But we don’t have that many Germans here.

      1. German cab drivers always show up on time.

  6. I’ll take a break from my ranting against Pittsburgh, including its transit system, to note the sheer genius of the busways (bus-only limited-access highways that circumvent traffic choke points). They eliminate the main problem with buses vs trains, that buses have to sit in traffic just like cars do, while maintaining the advantage that buses have in not being limited to a set route.

    Buses packed to capacity are never going to be as energy-efficient as trains packed to capacity, but the fact is it’s easier to design a convenient bus system than it is to design a convenient light rail system.

    1. You know who else liked “trains packed to capacity”….

      1. Lisa Sparxxx?

        1. lolz

        2. How come they don’t have a Bang Train, anyway?

          1. I’d bet every dollar I’ve ever seen that Germany and/or Japan has train porn.

            1. What’s the big scene in the Tiparillo commercial! A train going into a tunnel, man, you don’t have to Fellini to figure that out!

        3. A friend of mine went to HS with her. At a reunion, he had a long conversation with her husband about IT and the porn industry.

  7. I have met more than three folks, in and out of the establishment media, who speak with authority about mass transportation yet somehow can never get around to using it in the heat of their daily struggles.

    Our daily struggles do not lend themselves to such transportation.

  8. You need more shit running more frequently to more destinations.

    That’s why I have 6 cars/trucks and 3 motorcycles. DUH!

  9. “You need more shit running more frequently to more destinations.”

    This basically describes Personal Rapid Transit (PRT).

    Check out the “Heathrow Pods” system at London’s airport. Electric vehicles drive themselves to where they are needed, and vehicles usually wait for passengers. Travel is non-stop (no transfers) because stops/stations are offline. Pods are small, holding 4-6 people, using little energy, and requiring lightweight and commensurately inexpensive infrastructure. The infrastructure is NOT part of the normal road system, so doesn’t participate in street-level traffic and its gridlock; all trips are thus direct and as quick as possible.

    The Heathrow system was designed and implemented by ULTra, but they aren’t the only game in town. Other vendors offer different versions of the basic PRT idea, including one or two that support their guideways on what amount to fortified lampposts: much of the construction of such systems involves replacing existing lampposts in neighborhoods with the fortified ones, which could then also double as lampposts (and perhaps handle other utility duties as well).

    PRT can operate with minimal or no public subsidy even at fairly low (suburban) population densities, and when density/usage is greater, a PRT system can even make a profit, which could pay for expansion. Assuming reasonable cooperation from regulatory agencies, it is not unreasonable to contemplate a self-sufficient, private-sector mass-transit system, built on the PRT model. As a libertarian, this scenario is the one that interests me most, although the world being what it is, only governments or quasi-governmental organizations (such as the BAA, which runs Heathrow) are seen as the key PRT customers for the time-being.

    Ideally, PRT systems are laid out in a grid, with guideway lines 1/2 mile apart in either direction, and system access points (stops) positioned such that nobody in the service area would ever be more than 1/4 mile away from one.

    With systems running in London and Abu Dhabi, and in various stages of development in India and Sweden, I’m surprised that PRT is seemingly ignored in discussions such as this one. It’s almost as if PRT is the Ron Paul of mass-transit.

    1. Got any sort of link to provide a better understanding?
      Is this a ski-lift gondola operating from an overhead cable?

      1. ski-lift gondola operating from an overhead cable?

        Now those we need more of. And dirigible hotels. And if the Costa Concordia tragedy taught us anything, it’s that the do-nothing Congress must act now to build the high-speed cruise line network of the green future.

        1. We MUST close the Dirigible Hotel Gap!

          Also – peddle carz!!

        2. Tim Cavanaugh|1.28.12 @ 9:00PM|#
          “And if the Costa Concordia tragedy taught us anything, it’s that the do-nothing Congress must act now to build the high-speed cruise line network of the green future.”

          Yeah, well, the speed is definitely higher if the thing doesn’t contact rocks. And if it tends to stay more upright.
          I’m sure the law will require not hitting rocks and staying upright; that’ll fix things.

      2. No, it’s above track. They have some at WVU in Morgantown which smell like a public toilet, for some reason.

        1. is not a safe driver

          1. Yeah, that video is pretty strange. But in a world where people are convinced to buy insurance by a caveman in a cheerleader outfit, one comes to accept these things.

            1. Hey! My wife went to college with that caveman! At least his drama degree led him to something with a paycheck.

              1. My wife went to college with that caveman!

                How old is she?

        2. Morgantown was built 40 years ago. Although it has been a safe and reliable system ever since, and proves the basic PRT concept, today’s PRT is NOT President Nixon’s PRT, any more than today’s Tesla Model-S is a Baker Electric.

          It is also worth noting that modern PRT systems include a “reject” function: if the pod that comes to you is marred with graffiti, smells like a public toilet, or has anything wrong with it, you can send it back to the depot and get another one right away (usually in seconds). Try doing that with a bus, trolley, or commuter-rail train.

      3. For heathrow pods:

        For PRT in general:

        Or, in the time it took to make the link request of me, you could have simply googled the “heathrow pods” phrase I used in my original posting and come up with quite a few useful hits.

        1. The only thing ‘murricans want from Europe is hot bitches.

          1. Oddly enough, PRT was pretty much invented in the USA. The fact that it fist found a sound foothold outside the US is more a reflection on our situation and attitude here. Early, domestic attempts to implement PRT were doomed by political gamesmanship and over-engineering. As a result, the only thing resembling PRT to come out of the 1970s and early 80s was the Morgantown system, which was bigger, heavier, and more expensive than PRT needs to be. Other projects were pushed to be bigger, heavier, and even more expensive, and they were deservedly stillborn. The European adopters stayed close to the “lean and mean” original concept and found success. If you don’t want a European-designed PRT, we have several vendors in this country who could provide home-grown systems, and I’d be happy to ride on any of them.

    2. PRTs have their own issues. The “guideways” they travel upon are as expensive as roads to build. Also, it’s been pointed out that the capacity of a PRT is too low to be practical for city centers while the guideways are too expensive to be practical for less dense areas.

      1. Above, I responded to requests for links to data. Please do the same. I think the assertions that guideways are as expensive as roads depends on system chosen, and is generally false. Ditto on density claims.

        1. The ultra prt system cost around $20M per mile of guideway (based on most recent all-inclusive accounting of cost to build, including guideway, stops, and rolling-stock). The ULTra-style guideways are essentially mini-roads with concrete construction, much like pedestrian overpasses. But systems from other vendors do not use ULTra’s same guideway construction approach, and their guideways can be less expensive (and even less intrusive — that is to say, able to go where even a regular surface street alley-way is not practical).


          It is also worth noting that the Heathrow system is a pilot. As more systems are built, ULTra expects costs of construction to go down significantly.

        2. The latest figures show the Heathrow Pods system as costing 35M Euros to establish, inclusive of guideway, stops, rolling stock, and control system. For the 3.8km system, this equates to about $20M-US per mile. The Heathrow Pods system is a pilot, their first production implementation, and per-mile construction costs for future and larger-scale systems are expected to be significantly lower.


          A single PRT guideway can accommodate the same traffic as a 4-lane freeway. Costs to construct the latter vary widely with terrain, but tend to range from $4M to $25 million or more.

        3. Excuse me, you’re the one pushing a claim here. The burden is on you to prove it’s cost-effective.

          1. But Tulpa, I am very conscious of my “burden,” and I DID provide data. I only asked you to document your own counter CLAIMS. I’m not asking you to make MY case; merely your own. And yes, in order to be intellectually honest, you DO have at least that burden. Just sayin’.

            1. Finally, I am not “pushing a claim here.” I am trying to interest people into doing their OWN investigation and research into what seems to me to be an interesting and promising way to deal with mass transit without repeating the mistakes of the past, which have given us transit systems that, on the whole, simply do not work. It’s not as if the gang in here gets to vote on the idea, up or down, and see the result turned into public policy. But if we kick the idea around a bit, some who never considered it might discover it and gain enthusiasm, others might provide useful criticisms, and still others might offer even better alternatives.

        4. If I came on here and claimed that cardboard plumbing was a great idea, it wouldn’t be on you to provide data showing that tests of cardboard plumbing had poor results.

          1. Except the flaws of cardboard plumbing are obvious and apparent, whereas your alleged flaws could just be made up entirely.

          2. If I kept my mouth shut, you’re right. It wouldn’t be on me to cite ANY data. But if I stood up and said that “tests of cardboard plumbing had poor results” and then refused to cite my data sources, you or others might rightly think I was arguing unfairly, or incompetently.

    3. “Assuming reasonable cooperation from regulatory agencies …” -Me, above

      This, of course, is a BIG assumption. I am personally aware of several offers made by PRT vendors to cities large and small, along the lines of, “we have the financing, all we need from the government is right of way and some interference run for us in the regulatory paper chase.” Now it is possible that such words could be those of snake-oil salesmen, but the cities involved wouldn’t even INVESTIGATE the offers to see if they were legit, much less accept any of them. A sincere, legitimate offer of this type, if embraced, would result in a city getting a new mode of transit — and another potential stream of revenue — basically free of charge, while giving the vendor a demonstration system that serves real passengers, with which they could advertise their approach to transit and attract other business.

      In my own town, where one of those offers was made, I suspect that the official diffidence comes from the fact that the new system would compete directly with our money-losing county bus system; perhaps nobody here will be interested until they can come up with a way for said bus-system to control any PRT and own its revenue stream (perhaps as a way of helping to subsidize bus routes). That’s just conjecture, of course, but I have come to view PRT’s prospects in the US as fairly dim, as long it can serve as a political football for municipalities, regulators, and transit districts. It will be sad if US-invented PRT has to first become established outside the US, in order to be accepted in the land of its birth. But with the political shenanigans I have seen surrounding US PRT proposals, it’s hard to imagine any happier outcome.

      1. That’s the big problem with the PRT. You’d have to pay off the right power brokers with enough money/contracts etc.

    4. I’ve liked the concept ever since I’ve heard of it even though it’s not particually libertarian. Still I’m waiting for the Minority Report version.

    5. I’ve liked the concept ever since I’ve heard of it even though it’s not particually libertarian. Still I’m waiting for the Minority Report version.

      1. My first squirrel generated double post. I feel like a real Reasonite now.

  10. In the next 10 years, most people in cities will not own their own vehicle.
    Most people will be part of a car share program instead.
    Owning a vehicle will just be an anachronism of the 20th century self-image, where you were defined by the car you drive.

    1. Awright….
      No, I’m not defined by the car I drive, but I certainly want it right now when I want it.
      And I don’t want to kick the Micky D wrappers out to use it.
      Oh, and do you wear sack-cloth?

      1. so people think you’re the same person if you pull up in a BMW vs. a Grand Caravan?

        1. As far as I know, I’m the same person whether riding the bus, my motorcycle, or my Echo.

        2. Forward Thinker|1.28.12 @ 8:53PM|#
          “so people think you’re the same person if you pull up in a BMW vs. a Grand Caravan?
          I see answering questions is a bit beyond your capabilities. Why am I not surprised? Might it be your obvious self-righteous ignorance?

    2. Good job copying and pasting from Zipcar’s propaganda site.

    3. I can personally guarantee you and would be willing to bet you a significant sum of money that I will not be part of a car-share program “in the next ten years”. Let me guess, you owned a large amount of Segway stock?

    4. Starting ten years from now social engineers and progressives will be decimated yearly.

  11. some people amazes me when if your city didn’t have transit you’ll have a lot more cars on the road those same roads that don’t pay for themselves thus its more of a needed necessity to have in your city… from New York to Cincinnati and beyond then again I also have to remind folks, you are not sitting in traffic… you are the traffic

    1. seattle snow|1.28.12 @ 9:03PM|#
      “some people amazes me when……..”

      I’ll bet there’s a *lot* that amazes you.

    2. “you are not sitting in traffic… you are the traffic”

      so deep.

      like the yogi who orders a pizza and says “make me one with everything”

      1. …and receives no change from his $20 bill because change comes from within.

        1. …and has it cut into four pieces because he couldn’t eat eight.

  12. Herman Cain is endorsing…


    1. So one guy wholly unsuited to be President endorses another guy wholly unsuited to be President. Gotcha.

      1. Unsuited like the current prez? That is simply not possible.

  13. There’s one thing you learn by your second day of using transit when you actually don’t have a choice: For every transfer in your itinerary, you need to double the time allotted for the trip.

    It’s amazing how true this is. My BF commutes pretty much all the way across Chicago, which involves a transfer of one kind of another, and he usually allots two hours for it (each way), though he typically makes it in an hour and a half and sometimes in more like an hour. I don’t think it’s much fun to show up at work an hour early half the time, or to get home half an hour late half the time.

    This is for a drive, btw, that in the worst rush hour traffic takes 40 minutes tops.

    1. Chicago is definitely one of those places where you can get anywhere on public transit… eventually.

      1. Chicago exists almost completely outside the formal city and even Cook County boundaries. The majority live and work and travel almost exclusively in the suburbs and almost never set foot in the city.

        1. I grew up in some awful area of Chicago(land) and taking the bus was routine. And the service was provided by private companies. I remember never even having to give a shit about timetables (except after 9pm) because even in my rinky dink suburb the bus came every 20 minutes in mid-morning and every 10 during rush periods. If I didn’t make the bus at 10:30, waiting for the next one wasn’t that big of a deal. Get on the bus and it’s mostly women and seniors.

          Then the state limited how much these bus companies could charge and the service became less frequent. Still, the older women and seniors put up with the less-frequent service, but the added time plus the advent of safer, longer-life tires and smaller cars eventually tilted the cost equation in favor of automobiles – EVEN WITH THE REDUCED BUS FARES.

          Inconvenience is a huge cost. Cars have their inconveniences, but they are much lower than they used to be. Meanwhile, transit systems have increased their inconvenience and mandated lower fares has something to do with it. Simply put, cars are much less a pain-in-the-ass than they used to be and transit system are a much larger pain-in-the-ass than they used to be. Mostly due to central planning.

          It may sound like a favor to the poor to charge them $2 instead of $4 for a bus ride, but when you force the poor to take two 90-minute trips instead of two 30-minute trips you aren’t really doing them any favors.

  14. To put a fine point on it, mass transit suffers from the same failure as any central planning: Ignorance of demand.
    It is operated by some ‘agency’ which presumes to know what’s required and when it is required.
    Only a market can deliver that knowledge and only competing suppliers can discover what those needs are.
    All the rest is commentary.

    1. The problem is that, as I pointed out above, competition isn’t feasible for most mass transit situations.

      You don’t see entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to start competing bus and train systems in mid-sized US cities. They’re simply not profitable unless you’re the only game in town, and if you have to serve entire regions (as opposed to a few heavily trafficked corridors) it’s probably not profitable at all.

      1. Tulpa|1.28.12 @ 10:34PM|#
        “The problem is that, as I pointed out above, competition isn’t feasible for most mass transit situations.”

        OK, I looked above and didn’t see anything other than an opinion. Wanna make the point other than that?
        “You don’t see entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to start competing bus and train systems in mid-sized US cities. They’re simply not profitable unless you’re the only game in town, and if you have to serve entire regions (as opposed to a few heavily trafficked corridors) it’s probably not profitable at all.”

        Which suggests they aren’t needed.

        1. Amazing, you’ve eliminated market failure! All you had to do was define “needed” as “provided by the market”.

          Neu Mejican would be proud of your sophist maturation.

      2. Maybe then instead of having a bus companies just be local would having companies that are based in larger cities expand to the mid-sized ones. Might that help offset the cost issue, seeing as they could rely on the larger city profits for expansion into other urban areas? Or is this a case of regulation be a pain and why take a private mass transit when you can take a public one that you are paying for already?

        1. Excuse me missed the part where you went on to talk about serving entire regions.

        2. That idea works in a lot of other settings, but the problem here is that there has to be a potential for at least *some* profit to make expansion make sense. In most mid-sized cities there are at most a few transit routes that would be profitable, and if you have multiple carriers serving those routes even those wouldn’t produce a profit.

          Competition only works in situations where multiple competitors can make profits in a fragmented market. Now, that condition holds in the vast majority of economic activity, but not in the world of mass transit.

          1. So far all you have done is make the case for private automobiles.

      3. “They’re simply not profitable unless you’re the only game in town, and if you have to serve entire regions (as opposed to a few heavily trafficked corridors) it’s probably not profitable at all.?\”

        It is a money pit at best, the only question is at what rate they hemmorhage cash. Fares do not pay for the real costs of operation.

      4. You don’t see entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to start competing bus and train systems in mid-sized US cities.

        How would you know since it is illegal to do so in every city in America.

        Which raised the question of why the government monopolies are necessary in the first place if no entrepreneurs will try competing.

      5. You don’t see entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to start competing bus and train systems in mid-sized US cities.

        That’s because they aren’t allowed to.

        ALL transit systems in the US used to be private. Then the lawmakers started restricting fares and the private systems collapsed.

  15. Apparently Nordahl believes you have to make transit a more comforting experience whose aesthetic speaks to riders’ sense of meaning and urban folkways

    Christ, is there no escape from the shiny happy crowd? Some of us like the alienation of the daily commute – don’t make eye contact, don’t talk, keep your arse to the wall, and watch out for the shiv made from that morning’s toothbrush

    1. I also recommend the cultivation of “crazy eyes.” As in, “Don’t fuck with that guy – he’s got crazy eyes.”

  16. I stumbled on to a morning bus a few days ago. A low income looking woman with an offspring got on and utilized the seat next to me. I was smelling dookie for twenty-five minutes. Fuck the bus.

    1. Right, that would never happen on a train or in a cab.

      1. It would never happen in my personal vehicles- car, bike, shoes.

        1. It happened to me on a bike once.

  17. Public transport works fine in many European cities, and is a gross failure in many US cities.

    Many of the European cities grew along the stations of public transport rail, during the second half of the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century. The population density near what nowadays are subway, bus, tram, or local train stations is pretty high.
    That allows trains and buses to go very frequently, such as one train per line every five minutes during rush hour, with many stations served by multiple lines. A transfer takes 2-10 minutes, and typically at most one transfer is needed to get from where you are to where you actually want to go. Most offices and stores are close to some station, and parking is scarce. Public transport is approximately as slow as driving by car in European city congested traffic. It is crowded, but it is good enough that a family of two adults needs only one car rather than two.

    In many US cities, driving by car is the only way to get where you need to go. Thus, American adults have a car, and they know they need one. Traffic is less dense than in European cities.
    Plenty of parking. Lower gas prices.
    Public transport planners who think that public transport should not serve the airport because that harms the local taxi and rental car providers.

    Totally different worlds. I don’t think one can map the European approach to public transport to the typical US city.

  18. I was shocked and pleased to discover the chaotic bus system in Panama in the 60’s.
    It seemed to be completely free-enterprise, with vans and old school busses stopping ANYWHERE they wanted along the main streets. Fare was 5 cents. Each driver seemed to be his own boss.

  19. [L]ocal subway trains through Manhattan are not a particularly fast way to move, but we know they’re valuable because they’re full of people.
    Train in Vain: The idiotic Department of Transportation rule that’s hobbled America’s mass transit?and the wonderful regulation that may soon replace it.

    “People” being defined as poor schmucks who have very few or no other viable alternatives.

  20. A month ago I wanted to go downtown via a bus from the local university (plenty of free parking) to the suburban terminal of the train line that runs downtown. To my surprise, every bus all day long reached the train station two minutes after the train left for the city. I wasn’t going to stand 45 minutes in the cold for the next train so I bagged the trip. A buddy happens to work for the local transit authority, and in the bus scheduling office! He says the trains are scheduled by another office and there’s no effort to coordinate arrival and departure times!
    Surely this is deserving of the 50% subsidy the transit agency receives from the taxpayers!!!

    1. That is the kind of stupidity which breaks public transport.

      Over here, such a bus arrives a few minutes before the train, departs again a few minutes after the train, and if either one is running just a few minutes late, they inform each other. And yes, those are separate offices.

  21. “Related: L.A. Times fails to correct California Gov. Jerry Brown’s claim that Abraham Lincoln build the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War ? proving yet again that you get more accurate information from AMC original series than from the Times.”

    Brown’s not that inaccurate. The bill to build the railroad was passed in 1862, and the railroad was begun under Lincoln in 1863 and completed in May of 1869 under Grant, so the first third of the construction was indeed during the Civil War.

  22. I know a guy who actually worked as a bus driver for around 20 years in the D.C. metro area. Listen to about ten minutes of his stories and you’ll figure out pretty quickly why America’s so-called “elites” don’t like using public transit.

    The story about the time he got robbed at gunpoint on the bus in the middle of the night was a particularly good one. Don’t kid yourself, dealing with the American general public for hours on end in a typical metropolitan area absolutely fucking sucks. That’s why, like most Americans, I too avoid mass transit like the plague if I can help it.

  23. Reminds me of my favorite Onion headline

    “Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others”…..-tra,1434/

  24. Besides the problem of management/workers not using their own product, is that many of the employees are unionized, which seems to breed its own kind of apathy towards the customers. I rode MetroLink/Amtrak for nearly 10 years, and while many of the conductors are hardworking and pleasant, some have an almost open contempt for the riders. And the station attendants for Amtrak are almost useless; some act like they’re doing you a favor by selling you a ticket. Fortunately, most of the attendants will be replaced by ticket machines, but not soon enough.

    And when your train is late, good luck finding out the delay. I asked a station attendant if he knew where the train was, he replied, “It should be here.” Gosh, thanks for the update. There’s just no incentive to improve the product.

    As long time riders of Amtrak say, “Amtrak doesn’t know where their trains are, and they don’t care”.

    1. Last time I used Amtrak, there was no station attendant. The station looked like a waste disposal site.

  25. A modest proposal: require all elected officials to commute to work via any public transit program they support, or for incomplete systems, to use it for any leg of their trip serviced by said public transit.

    I want to see Jerry Brown riding the Chowchilla Express, aka high speed rail, in the unlikely event it ever gets built.

    1. An even more modest proposal: all government officials and employees must use only the government-operated transit. Or walk.

  26. Dude knows he is like totally rocking it. WOw.

  27. /tag

    Fen’s Law: The Left doesn’t really believe in the things they lecture the rest of us about.

    1. Politicians and talking heads don’t really believe in the things they lecture the rest of us about.


  28. Most efficient public transportation system I’ve ever encountered—Caracas’ combination of bus, subway & “por puesto” conveyances. The latter being minivans privately operated and licensed to operate on specific routes scattered throughout the region. No infrastructure costs, no intransigent unions to deal with, just enterprising individual/operators intent on making their way on their own initiative.

  29. Rail has advantages in its operating costs which
    are vastly lower than bus system, using one driver
    (can be zero on driver-less systems) replaces many buses.

    Rail also needs network effects.

    Edmonton a typical north American city has a density 3
    times lower than LA, current population 1 million built a
    light rail transit (LRT) connecting downtown and the
    North East 30 years ago the. The system was very
    expensive and served only 5000 people per day, anybody
    needing to go from downtown to the north east or vise versa.

    The only thing that saved the LRT was that it actually
    made a very small operating profit. A doubling of the
    cities population and a 3 km expensive connection to
    the university increase ridership to 40 thousand people.

    A modest increase in the LRT to the south in 2010 instantly
    increased ridership 100 thousand a day not the 60 thousand planed.
    Trains became unbearably crowded, emergency funding for new trains
    was found within days, newly built stations are being expanded in 2012.

    The north american freight system, both Canada and US is at least along best in the world if not the best. It carries more than double the share of freight as in Europe, efficiently and very profitly.

  30. We recently visited Odessa on a short vacation. Before going I contacted in the Ukraine and was pleasantly surprised by the standard and quality of the guide and the tour. Our guide had sooo much knowledge that it was almost overwhelming. The car that was hired was clean and the driver was extremely professional. The company had worked with me getting the tour and price together before we arrived so all was done when we arrived. It gave us a really good feel about Odessa, understanding of the history, and wanting to return in the near future. Thank you for this service.

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