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.


Gary

Living in the DC Metro area, I use public transportation a fair amount. My roommate and I live in the VA suburbs, but work a few blocks apart, so generally, we carpool into the city together, and since I generally work later hours, I take the metro to the bus to get home. Timed properly, its about a 20 minute ride. This works well, but only because the bus goes all but right past my house.

I'm willing to do this, because the crowd on the bus I take is such that I don't feel like I need a hepatitis shot when I get off the bus. Better than half the passengers are average, middle class professional types who are just plain sick of traffic.

The Federal Government and Virginia dropped the ball in failing to secure funds to extend the Metro to Dulles Int'l. The sticking point was over some of the efforts to help the metro blend in to the surroundings, these were deemed "excessive." The whole idea is to make public transportation attractive to users. If the metro is such an eyesore, you're not as effective at creating the new mini urban centers along the rail that truly reduce traffic!

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George

What about telecommuting? If everyone that was able to actually worked two days a week from home, how much would we cut fuel consumption? This is one measure for which there is no economic cost (I think most people would probably be more productive, not less), and all that's holding us back is the workplace culture of 'face time'. Since cultural attitudes can be changed, we ought to get about it - perhaps through celebrity public service announcements, politicians' use of the bully pulpit, earnest pronouncments by Sierra Club and the like, etc. - all the measures that are now being used to heap 'green guilt' upon us.

Andy

Why do we have to force anyone to do anything? What's wrong with, um, free choice?

Adam

Public transportation isn't feasible where I live in NJ. It would require a 15 minute walk to the nearest bus stop, and then three total buses to get me to work. That's to go less than 10 miles.

Craig Lake

Re: #24 - Are you volunteering to buy my house in my low-density suburb so that I can move? Abandoning existing suburban homes and mortgages isn't going to be cheap either. A forced mass migration to urban cores could also create a huge tax that would devastate the economy.

Martha

What about those of us who live in rural America far from the "big city"? In most cases we have little or no public transportation and most people are middle class or lower. We have no choice but to drive, and sometimes great distances, just to get groceries. Gas prices are hurting us, and we have no alternatives.

Greg

There's an interesting data point if you look at the APTA site. While the 10.3 billion trips on public transit in 2007 are the most in 50 years, that number looks pretty lame compared to the 23.4 billion taken in 1946, when the population was less than half what it is today (141 million). Looks like there's still a way to go.

Personally, I'm happy to have lived in cities like Washington DC and San Francisco where a car isn't a necessity. I sympathize with the posters living in rural areas or the suburbs. In a lot of cases, public transportation just isn't a good option there (or an option at all), and that's not going to change any time soon.

Snot Rag Dave

Sadly, I am one among the multiple-millions who cannot benefit from public transportation. Living in a small town... where there is no option other than personal vehicles... I am at the mercy of Big Oil. There are few options: 1) Move... and I am considering this, 2) Carpool... but I have no acquaintances or co-workers who share the same commute... or 3) Telecommute. At this stage in my career, #3 is a solid option... but my boss is old-school (and lives close to the office)... so it will be a tough sell. Besides, I'll be lucky to get one day out of five... so I might be able to cut gas expenses by 20%.

Snot Rag Dave

#47 -- That would be seen as an improvement. Still, at 50mpg with today's pump price... that's 7.3 cents per mile... which is more than the rate per mile I paid this time last year (when you factor my current 35mpg).

ken

Things are going to get interesting in the US over the next 5-10 years for sure.

I hate to go around idealizing Europe, but I spent 2 months in France this fall for work, and I was amazed by the transportation network there. In the greater Paris area, you can easily get almost anywhere, even distant suburbs by a combination of Metro and commuter train. And, the local transportation systems connect almost seamlessly with the National rail system. One Saturday, I left my apartment in Paris on a Saturday morning, was in Lille (about 130 miles north) about 1 hr and 45 minutes later, and was back home that night by about 8:30 after a very full day of sightseeing. By contrast, I live in Portland, Oregon, and the trip to Seattle would be roughly comparable to the Paris - Lille journey. Amtrak could easily take 4 hours one way, vs. the 1 it takes from Paris to Lille and it would probably take another 45 minutes to an hour to get from where I live to the train station.

By the way, one sees plenty of people driving in France despite gas prices that are around $8/$9 a gallon. The difference between them and us, is that if gas prices doubled or tripled, they would face some inconveniences, but would have the infrastructure in place to deal with it.

By large, the people who live in exurbs and rural areas are the same ones who mock urban environmentalists and vote Republican. As far as I'm concerned, they've made their bed - now they get to lie in it.

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AC

FINALLY. We've been fat and happy for years -- now let's let the discipline of market forces whip us into shape.

Oil has been underpriced for years. It's time for the innovative engine of our country to come up with better solutions for energy independence (NOT BIOFUEL) in the long-term, and getting rid of our bad habits in the short term.

As a resident of urban Chicago, I am thrilled about the funding for our rapid bus system.

Alek F

Great point, George.
Yes, telecommuting would be an effective solution.
Personally, I frequently do computer work from home for some of my clients, and - as you stated correctly - productivity is no worse than working at the office.
So, hopefully - Telecommuting will be a reality in the near future.
Alek

Harry Francis

Rochester, New York just LOWERED their fare to just $1.00. Cutting their fare with $3.60 a gallon gasoline makes the bus the attractive alternative people are seeking.
At a time when the transportation industry across the nation is raising fares, or disguising cost increases in terms of fuel surcharges, Rochester has worked with deliberate effort in recent years to be in a position to offer working families and commuters an affordable alternative to record high gas prices.
An agency that is actually doing something about it- It is about time.

Ray

Everybody concerned over the price of gas should look up the Progressive Automotive X Prize. By this time next year there will dozens of new cars ready to be mass produced that receive 100 miles to the gallon.

Kurt

Economics for me. Gas taxes=needed infrastructure, and are also consumption tax. I'm near Boulder CO, and have an "all you can eat" bus pass and decent access to the bus system.
My Time=$15/hr cash in pocket.
Work: Gas needs to be $6.50/gal at my current wages in order to make the extra time of taking the bus pay back on pure money terms. I drive a car with a rock bottom "total cost of ownership" of $0.16/mi (Bought used, liability insurance only, 40 real mpg.) Slightly "off peak" commute times.

Denver for school: It already costs $4 to park for the day, and the bus is a lot faster because of the HOV lane and direct to downtown access. Even if you pay the $3.75 bus fair, the BUS still wins. Especially peak commute hours. This bus is full of clean smelling polite professionals. Especially on a "snow day."

There are a lot of non money based incentives to alt-trans. I surf the internet on the bus, (aircard) or do homework, email, drink coffee, newspaper etc. Little traffic aggravation. I get to walk/window shop a short bit. I can hit happy hour with no worries (DUI/Ethical). I also take my bike to work, same time as the bus, but I get needed excercise and I have a scenic route with 1/2 bike trail.
My coworker is +75lb overweight & drives a newer V8 truck. He likes to bike, has a pleasant route, and a "one bus" commute. He DRIVES anyway. At nearly $0.75/mi its purely economically dumb. Its a lifestyle choice. Car economics are frought with ego/lifestyle/society choices. People get bigger cars becasue of road rage, perceived status, and a mostly a bigger vehicle can do the 1% jobs (moving, home depot runs). A new car looses 1/2 its value in 2 years, but has a useful life approaching 15yr.
Of course the incremental costs of driving "just a little more" encourage more driving once you own an insured car. The same incremental costs apply to "Just a little bigger vehicle" We're all "frogs in a pot of water, slowly heating to a boil"

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Bruce P

I agree that we need choices, but we need to be proactive and start making the choices, not just talking about them.
Cities need to start looking at cooperating with transit systems regarding urban corridor design. Transit only lanes for bus rapid transit, queue jumping alternatives for buses, vanpools and carpools at intersections and other design improvements that will make transit and commute sharing vehicles travel more quickly than the SOV need to be put in to place.

Also, employer incentives and options like 4 day work weeks, telecommute options, flex work schedules, and subsidised transit fares are a step in the right direction.

I use transit often, and I recently purchased a scooter. When I drive, I now get 95-100 mpg.

daveincolorado

One small problem with the impact of higher gas prices leading ot increased public trasit ridership, at least here in the Denver area: the transit agency -RTD and where I work (in the interest of full disclosure) - will have considerable difficulties in adding more buses to its fleet. Many of teh most popular bus routes leading into teh Denver CBD are near or over capacity, with standees on many morning trips. Buses cost $250,000 - $300,000 each and the cost of perating them need to be paid for also. RTD - and i'm sure other transit agencies as well - cannot simply go out and buy a bunch more buses due to the costs and the time it takes to get a bus ordered, built and delivered.

Arnaud

As a Parisian, I would like to comment about transportation and gas price in Europe (and specifically in France).

First of all, our system is certainly not perfect and some problems like commuting from a suburb to another is still complicated (at another scale,obsiously) even with ligth rail and buses. Almost all parisian mass transit go through Paris...

Second, gas price is high but id paid by a lot of people. Housing prices are still growing up major cities and their close suburbs. Poorer people buy houses far from the city and cannot use the transportation to go to work (too long, principally). So the tax is really not here to be green. We have been used to pay exepensive gas for a very long time now, long before environmental questions be on the front stage.

Third, Paris transportation are nontheless great. The new tramway changed my life.

Lenny Timons

DJH (#51),

The US has had no problem putting roads everywhere, and ALL taxpayers have subsidized that endeavor (regardless of usage) much more than rail has been subsidized, ever, despite the 30 fold increase in effeciency rail offers on the same amount of land (never mind the greater efficiency of energy resources and potential reduction in carbon footprint).

You are right, Europe is not the model for the US, because we elected to create an infrastructure that favors the selling of automobiles. Now that demand for oil is up and the sources are becoming more scarce, the error of our choice will become more pronounced. We did not have to go the route of "urban sprawl", it was a direction we chose, the same way people currently choose to live in places that require them to own a car.

I'm not advocating taking people's choices away, but it's well past time people started actually paying for the choices they make, especially when those choices negatively impact the environment we share with everyone. Had we subsidised rail the way highways have been subsidized all this time, chances are, we'd be having a very different conversation right now and people wouldn't be so worried about paying $10 a gallon for gasoline.

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Reuben

lots of nice comments, but I'm surprised by the narrowness of most people's views...

America is very diverse in terms of socio-economic 'status' of its citizens, even ones living only 20 miles apart (farm land next to cities, etc...)...

There's not a one solution for ALL...
for those who live if rural America, obviously there will 'never' be public transit to your door (or even town most likely) - so you need to drive your automobile [some] - but how about cutting down on the amount you drive - in most situations, it would be significantly more cost effective than buying a fuel efficient car (until your current one NEEDS replacement)

for those who live in urban, suburban and far-suburban areas, it's true that most public transportation systems are 63+% useless in terms of commuting time... - still, it would be rather EASY to reduce fuel consumption significantly for the majority of the population...
how about walking or taking a bicycle if travelling by yourself for under a mile or two or three... [realistic for some, not so much for others - who would want to pay 405$/hour to meet with some guy who is sweating profusely from biking to a client, he might only be worth 385$/hour then...]

Any way you cut it, most people WILL NEED to make sacrifices to maintain our good standard of living in the US...

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