Friday, October 24, 2008

Transit Policy and why Americans are just wrong...

We now take a break from our regularly scheduled programming of complaining about the people on buses to complaining about the policies that make up the mass transit systems of our great nation.  Really to ask ... What is wrong America?  Why do you lack any sort of foresight?

This morning I was reading the "Dinner Links" over at Greater Greater Washington (which if you have yet to check out - you should, its a great blog) where a post on Salon was referenced.  This post attempts to explain or to understand why at a time when we have a record ridership on transit systems around the country, we are facing budget cuts and service reductions.  I really suggest you check out the article for yourself - here

I think we are in an interesting conundrum as a nation - as gas prices have risen, we have thankfully left the car in the driveway and have begun taking more and more transit.  Yet as our economy collapses around us, the states are left with massive budget shortfalls - and see transit as something they can cut.  I understand the pure economics behind it, but I do not understand why politicians (and most people) do not seem to see the true economics behind cutting transit budgets.  If we cut a transit budget, that means less trains, fewer buses, and more problems - which is exactly the opposite of what we need.  
The Federal Highway Aid Act allows the Federal government to pay 90% of highway construction costs, but where is the Federal Mass-Transportation Aid Act?  There is no question behind the fact that most Americans think they are above mass-transit.  I will admit that up until 6 months ago, the thought of taking a bus never would even enter my mind - now I have integrated them into my life.

My current problem with buses is not the fact that I feel below them - it is that most people don't realize they are there.  When I suggest we bus somewhere instead of taking a cab or walking, people scoff at me.  I can't seem to figure out what it is rooted in, what the American aversion to mass-transit is based in ... where does it come from?  I certainly don't have the answer, but anyone who could enlighten me would be greatly appreciated.  Why is it acceptable to spend so much money on highways, yet it is a huge issue when we spend even a dime on mass-transit?  Highways are good and serve a great purpose - I love road trips, and driving in general - but for intra-city transit, roads just seem unnecessary.  
In my ideal city, cars would travel through underground networks, while the surface was left for pedestrians, buses, and light-rail.  What a beautiful city that would be ...  I like Robert Moses and think he is a great man, though I also agree with Jane Jacobs that the car can destroy neighborhoods -- but I disagree with their car-centric thinking.  Moses cared too much about the car, and Jacobs made it out be our enemy.  The car has a place in society, just not one that supplants mass-transit.

To go off on a final tangent (sorry that I have been all over the place) - I'm going back to the Salon article.  In 1926, Americans took 147 transit trips per capita, per year.  In 1950, it was down to 113 - and by 1956 as families moved to the suburbs and got their cars, the number had dropped to 66.  Just two years ago, in 2006, it was 33.  (Here is the link to the article again, in case you didn't click it earlier)

I fear/wonder what will happen as oil prices continue to plummet.  I can only hope that Americans don't rush back to their cars, and can also hope that layoffs don't cause ridership decreases.  The more people using mass transit, the more people care about it - which in turn will hopefully allow our state representatives, congressmen, senators, and future president to understand that we need serious investment in mass-transit now!

I promise this post is over ... so I will write about this another time, but if you haven't already - check out Transportation for America.  Very important.


It's called a queue!

I don't care what you call it - a line or a queue - as a bus user I've noticed that some people just do not get it.  Here in America, we are pretty good at it - we form fairly organized queues for basically everything.  Though it is my understanding that many countries around the world just don't 'do' queues - they just kind of mob up, fighting and pushing to be the first at something. 

Though I can't find an article to link to, I know the paper of record (for those of you who aren't aware, it is The New York Times) mentioned in a few articles about teaching the Chinese people to form lines before the Olympics.  It seems fairly foreign to me that certain cultures do not form queues, but I guess they just don't want to - which I guess is okay.  It makes things a bit disorganized in my opinion, but I am not really one to judge - so they should do as they please.  Though it is nice of the Olympic organizers to take into account that the Chinese people should learn to form lines so as to not anger tourists at the Olympics.

So ... we form queues everywhere - for everything.  Sometimes things get a bit out of control, but for the most part we respect the idea of a pecking order.  Yet, for some reason this system completely fails when we get to a bus stop.  Why are lines impossible at bus stops? -- they aren't!  Yet for some reason, if you are the first person at the bus stop - you likely will not be the first person on the bus.  Part of the problem has to do with the fact that bus drivers don't stop in the same place every time - which bothers me even more, but that's a tale for another time.

The other evening, I was waiting patiently for the 42 (link to a great blog regarding the 42 - check it out) in the direction of Mt. Pleasant at Q Street.  I arrived at the stop just as another bus was pulling away, but decided not to run for that bus because I was in no rush.  As two buses passed the stop because the driver had deemed they were too full, I was beginning to wish that I had ran for the first bus.  Finally a third bus arrived and the driver was kind enough to stop for us...
Now, being the first one waiting for the bus logic would say that I should be the first one on.  Of course I knew that wouldn't be the case, but I was a bit pushier than usual as I did not want to get locked out of this bus.  I was probably the fifth person on the bus, after dealing with the shoving and groans from people as a maneuvered in front of them.  I'm all about giving up my seat on a bus to basically anyone else (women, elderly, someone carrying a lot), but if you people aren't going to bother forming lines - I'm not giving you preference in getting on the bus.  I usually concede this harsh stance when it is an elderly person - but otherwise, I don't really care who you are -- just because you are a woman doesn't mean you get to board before me, sorry.

That is my rant about that - It is just something that is really starting to bother me.  Sorry if I sound like an evil person, but the facts are the facts.

In case I don't see you - Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Goodnight!

Hey everyone - my name is Tim and I am one of the new members of the Connetiquette blog team.  Some people prefer to call this blog CAMP, but I'm going to stick with Connetiquette for now - probably until I get too lazy to write it all out.  I just figured I would say hey to you all before unleashing my first few posts on you.  I generally don't believe in the standards of conventional written English, so I apologize in advance for that.  I love the ellipses (...), I have developed a fond love affair with the dash (-) as of late, and I've also been known to litter my writing too many commas (,).

Also I'd like to note that certain authors and posters qualify their postings with a 'we' - I would like to say now, that I am not a part of 'we'.  Although 'we' may represent ideas stolen from me, I did not participate in the post -- and to be honest I am not quite sure who 'we' are/is?

I recently graduated from The George Washington University with a degree in Geography, a minor in GIS, and a fond (sometimes insane) obsession with urban and transportation policy.  I love cars, but I love mass-transit as well - both have a place in our society and one day I hope we will find a balance between the two.  Also I love wikipedia, and will be linking to it (and a bunch of other things) all the time in my posts.  I suggest you get a tabbed browswer and click any links to open new tabs - it allows you to keep reading what you are reading and store the interesting links for later.

If you ever have any questions - feel free to comment/reply to any of my posts, I enjoy the feedback and discussions.  It's been good to meet you ...