public transportation

6 April 2012

would you use it if you had it?

This is going to become a more important question as cities grow in population and suburbs get farther away from the city center. Commuting time is getting longer and traffic jams are just aggravating. No one likes to wait in their car; not even with their favorite music playing.

After visiting Chicago recently I was reminded how convenient their system of public transportation is. More specifically, the “L” or elevated train impressed us because not only does it get you where you need to go, but since it is elevated, the view of the city is a unique view only seen from the train. My colleagues and I found it convenient and rather punctual. Being able to travel to areas of the city that would have taken an extremely long time to get to in a car, let alone walk, was really useful. Having to find a place to park everywhere we went would not have been possible and extremely expensive and time consuming.

Where I live has only 70,000 people in the zip code. There are less than 25,000 people in the city area, so an elevated train is not likely to appear. Public transportation is only buses and they are geared for longer trips than just a few blocks up the street. Outside the city area, most buildings have seas if not oceans of asphalt because you have to drive to get there and thus the need to park. (See my earlier post about parking).

I know public transportation isn’t cheap, its expensive to build and maintain and has a series of its own issues. However the public transportation pundits need to get this in their head, if public transportation is not more convenient than taking a car, no one will ever use it. I hear this time and time again, why don’t people take the bus? As Americans, we like our cars and until it is so painful to take our car, we’re not going to use public transportation, simple.

Everyone complains about parking in my city, but as said before, no one wants to give up their car either. It is the prime symbol of American freedom. So what gives? Can we have it both ways?.

What about you? If your neighborhood had a good public transportation system, would YOU use it? Why or why not?

top photo is from Bill Ward’s Brickpile’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

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15 Responses to “public transportation”

  1. Robert Ross Says:

    I would use it all the time and do in other cities! Unfortunately Atlanta is lacking the parallel lines that make a system truly work, so if you take a bus to the train to a bus, you are often tripling or quintupling your travel time! That fact combined with relatively cheap parking makes public transportation the choice of those who can’t afford anything else….bummer!

  2. David Says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. It seems that attitudes about owning a car are changing. In this NYTimes article,
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/a-teenage-question-a-car-or-a-smartphone/, a survey found that “46 percent of people 18 to 24 would choose access to the Internet over access to their own car.” If this trend continues, the next generation just might demand public transportation.

  3. Chi Town Traveler Says:

    I disagree with your analysis about the efficiency of Chicago public transportation. I have used the EL system for the past 7 years and do not consider it to be nearly as efficient and helpful as all the tourists that come in and treat it like a novelty because they can get on a wide open train from the airport to downtown during off business hours.

    It works reasonably well if you are traveling to an outlying neighborhood on the north side of Chicago to an area easily accessed from the loop. Try riding it home from a stop that is just 1 or 2 stops out of the loop (like the Chicago Ave Red Line) and you during rush hour and you will wait for 4-6 full trains to go by. That is what my wife does every day. It takes her anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes to go 5 miles, depending on if she can squeeze on a train. It is not dependable at all.

    Try a trip that isn’t in the direction of the loop? You want to go from the north or northwest side to the west side. You have to go into the loop and then back out. Again, an hour trip to go 5 miles. There are 0 trains that circle around the city and the bus system is horribly slow.

    The south side public transportation is just plain neglected. Many low income neighborhoods have to travel 30 minutes each way just to get to the grocery store.

    People in Chicago don’t use public transportation because it’s convenient. We use it because we don’t have a choice.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Chi Town Traveler. Thank you. Your comments are really helpful as they shed light on a system from a users point of view, not a tourist. So if the system that worked well for a traveler and appears to work really doesn’t work, then what is the future of public transportation for the rest of us look like? Great real input, thanks.

      • Chi Town Traveler Says:

        I would like to see more about Bus Rapid Transit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_rapid_transit). It is something that people are looking into in Chicago since taking the bus is so slow. Busses are subject to waiting in traffic, but the element that makes them so much worse than cars is that paying fares is SO SLOW. Brazil’s system of having people pay fares to enter into an elevated bus terminal seems very elegant.

        Also, I think one of the major downfalls in Chicago is getting away from the most common routes. Train lines that form concentric rings around the city would really help people that don’t follow the standard route of going in and out of the city during normal business hours. Planning the system more like a spider web than a sunburst would help a lot.


  4. I would certainly use public transportation from my small town to the shopping malls or the train and airport, the museums and civic center, if it were possible. We have none at all. I did use it when I lived in suburban Boston – much, much easier and convenient than using a car.

  5. Ted Rusnak Says:

    Two quick observations. Christmas in the ’50′s we’d go by bus to downtown Cleveland to look at all the animated displays set up by the various retailers, ALL gone now. Huge crowds for blocks. Everyone came in by public transport, very few cars. Suburban malls, car-centric lifestyles, free parking and convenience to whatever you wanted have had their part in the inevitable (sp) demise of p. transport.
    .
    25years ago I’m on the local light rail, out of downtown Cleveland to my suburb, going home late and the passenger, from Chicago, next to me asks if every station has the parking lots he see’s at every stop. Yes, they all do and its free, that’s why I use this system. “How long has this been in place?” Since the system was built, not sure when. “In Chicago you better live near an L station or you’ve got a walk ahead of you”. There’s that convenience thing again.

    To answer your closing question, I have my 5acres out in the country, an office that’s a ten minute (only two stoplights) drive even further out, and the nearest pubic transportation is 10 miles away, goes in the wrong direction and runs, at best, occasionally. But that’s me.

    Were I to return to the city again, not likely, I would use one of the light rails more to save on the parking fees than the lack of convenience.

    The return of public transport will required a reversal of our lifestyle changes of the last 50years or so. (A ten dollar a gallon tax for fuel might do the trick…….but the consequences of that would go beyond just our means of travel).

    Sorry for being so long…..t

  6. Jeremiah Says:

    I’m reminded of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” where they are conspiring to demolish the Red Car Line and Tune Town in favor of an interstate highway system, forcing people into the solitude of their cars. The separation of society is the fastest and easiest way to break it down. It’s why there is such societal upheaval today. Just turn on the news.

    Public transit is coming back though. Like the NYT article says, the current generation, my generation, and others, are looking for better less stressful ways of travel.

    Having lived in the DC area I can say that public transit is awesome. The “inconvenience” of full trains only bolsters the point that people would rather be crammed on a train headed home than sit in traffic alone surrounded by angry people.

    Currently I bike to work because our transit sucks. I don’t like cars. If I could live without the one that I have (wife and kids) then I would. Still trying to convince the wife to move to DC or Seattle or something like that so we can be car-free. It’s an uphill battle. :-\


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