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.


Will

We could have spent $150 billion building mass transit infrastructure instead of bread and circuses. That would have made it possible for more people to leave the cars at home.

JNG

My employer in DC offers a very nice incentive for using public transportation - $100/month on a Metro card. I live and work in the District so I never end up using the entire amount, including personal trips. I don't even own a car now.

I know such a system can't work for everyone (as DJH mentioned), but I believe an incentive plan like mine would drive up demand for public transportation, making more comprehensive systems cost-effective. In return, the government could offer tax breaks that equal the amount of money in highway maintenance on a per vehicle basis.

Joe D

dweller @ 16:

I don't need it to be shorter, just less than twice as long (currently, with bus changes, the fastest route is 3-4 times as long as driving). Oh, and it has to still be running when I need to go home (10pm).

Like lenny (23) said, the exercise and non-driving productive time makes up for the extra cost in time.

Damian

The bus takes way too long. Clients pay $405 per hour for my services, so it simply makes no sense to spend 150 to 180 minutes per day commuting when I can make the same drive myself in 50 minutes (for both car and bus times, I'm counting both ends of the trip).

This doesn't even include the aggravation of trying to make a bus leaving at a particular time, being lumped into a crowded bus, lacking flexibility to go meet with clients, and so forth. It will be even more impossible to do so when I have kids ("Sorry, Jimmy, I can't make it to your baseball game at 6:00 p.m. - I'd have to leave work at 4:00 p.m. to make it, and I'd get fired if I did so.").

I realize I'm not exactly sounding like a sympathetic figure here, but no matter what someone's time is worth in purely economic terms, they shouldn't have to waste it because of some ivory tower social engineering. I think that the transit evangelists need to figure out some kind of argument in response to those who don't want to spend 400% as much time commuting by transit as they could by car.

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lenny Timons

Dear 16 and 20,

My commute by car would be 20 minutes if I drove. Walking and taking the train it takes an hour, but the benefit for me is exercise and productive work/play time on the train. All the time driving would be spent driving. I'll take 2 hours of exercies and productivity over 40 minutes of wasted time. You can, of course, make your own choice.

Whitney

If the bus ran on a decent schedule to the train station, I would take it instead of having to fight for parking places there. I would prefer to save my gas money for the weekends. Even then, I would certainly take public transit if it ran late enough and was safe at the time of night I'm coming home.

Neal

I'm not sure if where I live now has a public transit system, and if it does, I'm certain it doesn't go anywhere near where I work.

Both my hometown and my college city had large mass transit systems, but they always look unwieldy at a glance.

The simple matter is I'd have to depend on someone else to get me where I'm going on time, and I would have to get up earlier and get back later. Its why I stopped taking the school bus when I could. Granted as the cost of filling up my tank rapidly approaches the price of a new bicycle, I'm greatly considering that option.

David in NYC

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

Unless more dinosaurs start dying soon, it is obviously the latter.

GS

Mass Transit really is a problem in the suburbs more than anything else. I've lived in a bunch of cities and have never really found too much problem with the mass transit - both in functionality and in public perception. It's when you get out to suburbia that you have a problem. The busing systems never work the way you need them to. They add HOURS to the commute - so the time/cost analysis makes it more affordable to drive, even at $10 a gallon.

Until we see a change in how mass transit is done - we're not going to see much change outside of cities where having a car was probably a luxury anyway.

Chance

I hate the bus. However, light rail I can stand, and would vote for a measure to extend the rail out here.

Andrea

Dweller, same here -- I live and work in Chicago, not even in a suburb, and it's 25 to 30 minutes by car, versus 70 to 90 minutes by public transit. Chicago's transit system is ancient and crumbling.

mgroves

So the bus is slow, dirty, and filled with unscrupulous characters. I will pay a premium to avoid it. Also, even if the bus was quick, clean, and filled only with friendly, unfrightening people, what do I do with my car payment?

stephanie

I wish people would figure out that the US is NOT Western Europe. What works for European countries is not necessarily going to work here. The cost of putting public transportation in, say, Germany, is going to be significantly less than the cost of public transportation in the US, since Germany is about 1/50 of the size of the US. We have too many wide open spaces (virtually the entire Midwest), where it would be a waste of land for everyone to abandon the acres of land they care for and move to a major city. The cities will be overcrowded and much of the land outside the cities will be unused (hey Economists, remember the term "unemployment"?). The only way mandated public transportation would work for everyone is if it existed everywhere, or if we congregated in major cities and ignored the rest of our country. Neither of these solutions sounds beneficial or feasible to me.

James

People cry and cry and cry when gas jumps up by 30c a gallon.

Sure, it takes you an extra $3 to fill up. How much was that latte on the way to work?

frankenduf

love the post- I'm a diehard public transportation user, and I'm tired of people looking at me like I'm from Mars when they find out I don't own a car- busriders of the world unite!
ps- a hilarious conspiracy theory about public bussing is expounded in the movie Crash

BobH

Folks, it doesn't have to be either/or. Ride the bus a couple of days a week, even if it takes longer, and use the time to catch up on some reading for work (or pleasure). Carpool with a co-worker once or twice a week. Telecommute occasionally if possible (#1, in a lot of businesses, such as manufacturing, there are many more obstacles than just "workplace culture").

I think if a lot of people were to stop and think about it they could find alternatives to driving alone every day. That alone could make a huge difference for the environment and in relieving congestion.

DJH

When I lived in LA, I had no car and went everywhere on buses. Living as I did in West LA I was served by the Metro, Culver City, and Santa Monica bus lines. I cannot say I ever had any trouble with it (except for the occasional jam-packed bus during evening rush hour). LA has a reputation for not being mass-transit friendly, but to be honest, I cannot see how! It worked great for me while I was there.

But my home state of CT, where I live now, is something else entirely. I live in one suburb and work in another; mass transit is utterly useless (unless I take one bus all the way to Hartford, then transfer to another going out, which would take 2 hours each way -- nope, not doing that!).

Our state government is constantly trying to beef up mass transit ridership, but it staunchly and ferociously refuses to acknowledge why people avoid it ... which is because of the common scenario of which I'm part (i.e. live in a suburb and work in another). It doesn't serve a majority of commuters.

This CANNOT, and WILL NOT, change until CT eliminates its "hub-&-spoke" transit model in favor of one which follows routes that people actually use. Of course, a grid-oriented transit system would require more buses driving more routes, which would make it expensive ... but the current system is useless to 99% of the state, despite the fact that it's already a money pit.

So we can either keep spending millions of dollars a year on a half-baked, outdated system that will never live up to government's vision, or spend tens of millions a year on something that might actually be useful and effective. Guess which of those choices the honchos in Hartford will make ... !

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Jrrd

IMHO it will be hard to convince urban and suburban professionals to ride buses, no matter how much gas prices go up. Trains are the solution. Trains save time on a commute; buses provide a commute for those who don't have cars.

Also, any suggestion that an increase in gas prices will transform our transit habits into those of our European cousins are ridiculous. European cities and surrounding areas are more or less the same that they have been for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they were developed around the common form of transportation at the time: walking. The older, large cities in America have the same good transit.

The most problematic trend I see down here (Atlanta) is the migration of businesses to the suburbs. Low density suburban growth wasn't as bad when most people still needed to get downtown for work. Now too many people live in one suburb and work in another. The end result is traffic everywhere at all times on both surface roads and highways.

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Beth

I live four blocks from my workplace, and will live a block and a half from work when our new facility opens later this year. I use my car only in the most inclement weather. This is the first time I've ever lived in a non-commuting situation, and I'd never go back - I've "window-shopped" for jobs in other cities, and I've always found interesting (though not necessarily cheap) housing solutions within walking distance.

I know this isn't a solution for many people; I work in public libraries, so these worksites are usually at the boundary zone between residential and business neighborhoods. But as integrated community planning becomes more popular in the suburbs, a combination of bicycling, walking, and public transit into downtowns is becoming more accessible. The question is, if it's an option, will people use it? I hear people talking about changing jobs to be closer to home; would you move house to be closer to your workplace, or to live on a public transit corridor?

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telecommuter

i telecommute frequently and love it! it can be much more productive than working from the office, and it gives back some of the many hours "wasted" in traffic. you don't have to sell me on broad adoption of telecommuting...preaching to the choir

however, i really wonder if this would save energy:

- do you heat the house from which you telecommute when normally the heat would be off? if you're in america, same question for AirCo. what about the lights/computer/etc?

- does your company save energy when you don't come to the office? probably not. consumption for lights and HVAC is probably the same whether there are 100 or 50 people at the office

- do you really stay home all day? a couple short city trips over lunch to run errands might burn as much fuel as you would on the road to work.

the above is a simplistic devil's-advocate-response to a simplistic proposal. if we get to some point in the future that a company with 100 employees only creates office space for 25, and there is a telecommuting rotation/schedule, then it would be plausible for a business to consume less as a result. but you're still probably burning coal from home to run your computer/monitor/stereo/etc.

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