Will Drivers Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Bus?

The New York Sun reports that gas may hit $10 a gallon before too long, putting it in line with European prices.

The ground is already shifting. Employers find that getting employees out of their cars and onto company-owned, Wi-Fi-enabled buses boosts productivity and morale.

Fewer and fewer teenagers are getting driver’s licenses, and public transportation ridership is at its highest level since the 1950’s.

Is this a temporary shift, or the start of something more far-reaching?

James Kunstler, meanwhile, who weighed in here on the spike in U.S. urbanization, sees rising gas prices as just the kick in the pants we need to kill off suburbia.


Scott

To the poster who bills $400+ an hour -- Don't worry, eventually a ton of people will /not/ be able to afford the gas and routes will be designed to be much more convenient. The idea is: are we at a tipping point or a fad? When does this increased transit use reflect in schedules, funding, etc -- does it fuel additional use due to improvements? Does a major US city end up developing a decentralized transit system that 'works' in the next 15 years?

Andrea

Lenny (#23), when I lived in a suburb I actually loved taking the Metra train in. It's a full fledged commuter train that runs on the same tracks as the AmTrak trains, with big comfy seats. I had a great friend to talk to the whole way, and the Metra was clean, calm, quiet, temperature controlled. I always got a seat. I never felt unsafe at the station or saw anyone urinating on the wall. You really could accomplish something on it, or enjoy yourself. Ah, those were the days. Metra is glorious.

It's different now that I live in the city and my public transit options are the El or buses (collectively known as the CTA). Trust me, I gave the public transit option a really good try -- over a year and a half of taking it every day, consistently.

You can't accomplish anything on the CTA during rush hour except possibly reading something you can hold with one hand or listening to audiobooks. I almost never get a seat, and it's insanely crowded, loud, and dirty. The temperature is often not comfortable in one direction or the other. You don't get personal space, which causes a constant low level anxiety in me. It's a herky jerky ride, so you have to struggle to stay upright if you're standing. There are long delays, waiting for buses or trains to come, waiting for one uncrowded enough to cram yourself into, waiting for workers to get off the track or the signalling system to let your train through or the slow people to get on or off the bus. You hear of derailments or other scary problems, too, and think about what it would be like if you had been on that blue line train and had to walk out of the smoke filled tunnel in the dark.

It costs a lot to drive -- Gas is almost $4 a gallon here, and I have to pay $8 a day for parking, nevermind the rest of the cost of owning a car in the city. However, public transit is about $4 a day with the 30-day plan on the reloadable farecard system. So let's say that difference is around $8 a day, factoring in other costs of car ownership. (It would be more if I had a car payment, but I don't.)

I feel bad about contributing to greenhouse emissions -- I really, really do. But the negatives outweigh the positives here. I try to do the right thing for the environment in other ways. My car, a Saturn, is relatively fuel efficient, and every bulb in my apartment is a CFL. I don't eat meat, and about half the time I remember to bring the darn reusable shopping bags to the store. And yes, I've contacted my state legislators about the problems with the CTA in hopes that the system can be improved to a tolerable point.

But as it stands, while my current car survives, I am willing to pay $8 extra a day plus karmic guilt to reclaim one to two hours of my life, and spend my commute in relative comfort.

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John Jay

poster #45: no immediate solutions to your current vehicle, but your next car can get 40 or 50 mpg. That would help quite a bit.

John

"One of the reasons that driving for many is so much quicker than public transportation is the billions of taxes that we have poured into roads instead of pouring them into public transportation solutions."

You mean taxes and tolls paid for by drivers through the state and federal gas taxes and state tolls?

Doug B

One of the reasons that driving for many is so much quicker than public transportation is the billions of taxes that we have poured into roads instead of pouring them into public transportation solutions. I agree that for most, myself included, the lost time costs more than the gain afforded by not having to drive--especially if you still need a car to get around on the weekends. Unfortunately, this is the mess that we have built for ourselves. It could have been different.

Nuclear Mom

It's a crying shame that we didn't have the cojones (and still don't) to impose a several dollar a gallon gas tax to (1) drive up average fleet fuel economy; (2) have money for/increase use of mass transit; (3) your good idea here. Instead we have the same high gas prices we tried to avoid, but we're transferring massive amounts of money to oil producing nations, many of whom are most charitably described as destabilizing influences in the world.

It's not too late! Europe is paying $10 a gallon and manages to function.

mike

I shifted my work hours 30 min earlier. It takes me 15 min less each way and I fill up every 9 days instead of 7 now. Its not much, but its a start.

dweller

Until it takes LESS time for me to take public transit than drive my car, I will continue to drive regardless of gas prices. Currently, it takes me 80 minutes to commute by bus and and average of 35 minutes to commute by car.

Lenny Timons

All I can say is, "What took so long?" The sooner driving is too expensive an option, the sooner people will stop making decisions which harm the planet. Thank goodness.

exjvpastor

I live in Oklahoma. I commute about 20 miles to work in OKC. Mass Transit systems are non-existent around here. Oklahoma City is the seventh largest city in the country in terms of geographic area, and the largest in land area that is not a consolidated city-county. We have no other options but to drive.

Ernesto@InsuranceYak.com

A year or two back, Monster.com did a survey of what employers were doing to help with the high cost of fuel. 99% of the respondents said NOTHING.

If there are some green thinking companies on the left coast who are helping their employees drive less, they haven't influenced Columbus OH yet.

John

I take the bus in to work every day in downtown Denver from the suburbs. It's only a mile drive to a park and ride where the buses arrive every five minutes. I've found it to be extremely convenient and a big time saver since the bus flies down the HOV lane past the traffic.

MattH

The article on the drop in 16 year-old drivers points this out, but perhaps does not emphasize it enough: Almost 100% of the drop in 16 year-olds with driver licenses can be attributed to states raising the driving age. E.g. Florida raised it's driving age -- no longer can 16 year-olds get licenses. This means an automatic 100% drop in the number of Florida 16 year-old drivers. Many other states have taken similar action.

Just another area where statistics can be misleading! 100% drop in 16 year-old drivers does not equal a drop in the desire of to drive among people of that age!

CRM

Many comments seem to be missing the point of the article. Good economical mass transit seems to be impossible in the suburbs as they are created in the US. Low-density suburbs as we know them will have to go if we're going to get our people to work and back without a huge self-imposed transportation tax which would devastate the economy, both internally and exports.

Scott

From the Sun article: "For example, European drivers are already shelling out $9 a gallon (which includes a $2-a-gallon tax)."

I think they're understating the tax there.

For instance, in the UK, the petrol tax is 54 pence per liter, or $4 / gallon. That's not including the 17.5% VAT.

discordian

So what's the vision for the future for companies located in these suburbs?
I've been in manufacturing for 18 years and have always worked in a suburb where the only mass transit would be bus service to a city.

Claudia

I live in the DC suburbs and work downtown DC. I normally ride my bike to work, and very rarely take the bus/metro combo or drive. The bike ride takes 30-35 minutes, I spend no money and exercise. The drive takes the same 35 minutes or more depending on traffic and it is a lot more expensive; the bus-metro combo takes even longer, although less expensive and offers the possibility of doing something productive on the way there... At least for me, it is a no brainer, the bike is the way to go

Gwalton AT domuskids DOT org

I agree with #2: We're a CT nonprofit down on the Gold Coast and nervous about how this will affect our work. We obviously can't pay top dollar, so our employees must live outside the expensive Stamford rental market and commute in. But the trains have worthless schedules and routes, and we can't afford to have offices and program locations near the train station, so trains aren't a commuter option (because of #6's point of turning a 30min commute into a 120min commute). And forget what this is doing to the poverty-stricken parents we work with, most of whom can't make ends meet with two full-time jobs.

Govar

I'm from India and I frequently travel to the US. Know what? It's just about time you guys in the US have public transportation. I've been in CT, NJ, Detroit, Seattle and Atlanta, and the public transportation, if there's anything like that, sucks for the most part. And what's really puzzling is why so many BIG cars ride with just a single passenger. I mean, can't these guys get smaller cars if they are going to drive single for the most part? Cars and US is actually a whole lot different from East. US has a HOV lane for vehicles which carry more than 1 person. It's funny coz in India, and I guess in other parts in the East, most , if not all, vehicles would qualify for HOV lanes in this case!

The point of this long winding comment is that US can and HAS TO indeed go a long way in optimum usage of fuel and resources - for the sake of the humanity! This would mean smaller cars, more car pooling, more public transport and giving a little bit of respect to fuel.

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Robert Cipriano

The problem of getting to work is different for each of us and so the solutions can be as well...a combination of different methods of commuting will likely be the best resolution but our governments have to support and expand (in a substantial way)alternative means of transportation...including buses, trains, car pooling and of course bicycling...Alternatives to the single driver/commuter will bring us all closer together and improve society as a whole.