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The one easy fix that can vastly improve public transit
— By Tyler Falk on February 12, 2014, 3:50 PM PST
My concerns of public transportation deal with the mentioned lack of a reliable schedule, and undesirable co-riders, but also poor planning of destinations & routes.
If the transport doesn't stop or go anywhere near where I need to go, what's the use?
In most cases it seems the "planners" have no clue about the areas & ridership needs. I doubt most of them pry their lard-asses off their chairs to actually research the needs.
2 years ago I was in Winnipeg Manitoba while my Mother was in the hospital. They had just installed the transit count down clocks -- I think in the spring.
I was using transit to get to and from the hospital. It was amazing. The usability of the system was incredible. And even though I was unfamiliar with Winnipeg Transit -- I always new when my bus was coming and they even had route maps available so I could tell which bus I needed.
I was very impressed.
Real time bus arrival info is displayed at most bus stops on Main Street in Vancouver BC as a pilot program. I've not heard if it will be expanded.
Texting the bus stop number to 33333 will give real time coach arrivals for the next five buses (http://www.translink.ca/en/Rider-Guide/Mobile-Services.aspx). If the stop serves more than one route, adding a space and then the bus route number will return arrivals for that route only.
Has been on London Underground and most of the UK rail network for decades......
.... though i'd be keen to see the methodology for the improvement study, as is the perception people just are better informed, so are less uncertain/anxious, as opposed to any real perceived benefit - your lead into this story was "the one easy fix that can vastly improve public transport" - I'm struggling to see any tangible benefits like improved efficiency, or quicker journeys, higher carrying capacity, more economical fuelwise/per user or as you say any appreciable uplift in passengers numbers - which is perhaps why operators have not invested more in it, and your headline promise of "the one easy fix" story turns out to be a bit of a damp squib.
To be honest, this does not really "fix" transit problems as much as it sets often lower expectations.
Unreliable trains consistently unable to stick to a schedule are still a problem.
With this you have just put in place a tool to set expectations.
Countdown clocks are great for those who are already committed to public transit but are not magnets to attract riders. Free transit has not shown it increases ridership dramatically. There are lots of issues to tackle to increase ridership. I am still awaiting news of a public transit system that operates at a break-even level with minimal if no public funding. There are private train services in Japan but I am not sure if they are partially subsidized or not. Every major city has the same problem of ridership not covering the cost. Each transit strike reminds the public of why becoming dependent on public transit can have a downside. No easy solutions.
One of the primary reasons that I rarely use my local transit anymore is the unpredictability. If I knew that there'd be trains running every 10 minutes or less, I wouldn't care. But when they idiotically reduced train frequency because of reduced ridership, not only did the trains become less frequent, but they also became less predicable. When you showed up that the station, you had no way of knowing if you were in for a 2 minute wait or a 30 to 45 minute wait. (It's even less fun in the winter with the wind blowing) Since more often than not there are few places this train can take me that I can't get to in my car in 30 minutes, it's just not worth the uncertainty. So it's little wonder (except perhaps to them) that when the schedule became less of one, ridership dropped even more. It was certainly a mode of transport you didn't want to use if you were on any kind of schedule yourself.
So yes, a countdown to the next train would definitely be an improvement. And it should also be available on-line, so I know when to leave the house. (My transit system recently released a phone app, but it lacks this obvious feature. Instead it's promoted as an easy way to report the bad behavior of people who'd just assume not be around anyway)
That free transit system might work in Utopia or what ever alternate reality you reside in but it sure wouldn't work in the real word. There is no way the transit system would ever make up the difference in advertising revenue that they lose in ridership fees. And as far as road maintenance cost, Transit systems could care less, their not paying for it. As far as businesses ponying up any money fat chance of that unless they can see a real tangible benefit from it. Most transit systems are run by companies and they are in it for one reason and one reason only....to make money. There are many reasons why people take public transportation but I don't believe convenience is usually one of them. You want more people to ride tains and subways?Put in a pub car, they have the quite car...now put in a riot car and you would probably gain ridership.
Here's a good idea: make sure public transit doesn't smell like urine. I've never ridden in ANY form of public transit that didn't.
There is another item that will attract more people to public transit systems, make it free.
Many cities are finding that they are able to make substantially more off of free transit systems than they are if they charge for them. While this may seem counterintuitive at first, let's look at how:
An increase in ridership, means higher prices can be demanded for advertisement space
This will help to attract travelers to your city vs. the next one over that does charge for transit, which means increased business and tax revenue
Fewer cars on the street means less maintenance is needed to roads
No more need to maintain payment systems, have people selling buss passes, etc.
In some cities businesses have also offered to help sponsor the bus lines, as it helps give good will and can generate business.
There is no more need for school busses, as kids can simply take the public transit at no cost.
I am sure there are reasons why this is working out so well in so many communities, but these are a few.
In Los Angeles middle class folks are often deterred fro using public transport because of who DOES use it. Let us say that if millions of impoverished, uneducated Latin American immigrants had not been taken into Calf., more middle class people would use public transport
@mryanaz Private vehicles are subsidized too - in the construction of roads and infrastructure, oil companies, automotive companies... Most forms of transportation are subsidized.
@jred Not a bad idea. I don't know where you live and how well they maintain things, though, but here I've never had that problem. I guess some districts are better dedicated to unoffensive service than others. ;-)
@cmwade1977 None of your idea(s) would work...
First off, "free" is not really free. Somebody has to pay for it, and advertising dollars won't ever be enough.Who would pay for it? Why, the passengers, of course, and the people who don't ride those "free" transportation systems would also be paying. Thus, a large number of people would be subsidizing the riders of the "free" systems. That is, in a way, income redistribution.
Travelers or tourists might appreciate the "free" rides, but, they also expect good and safe service. Anything that is "free" tends to be abused, and kids and those with time on their hands, will abuse and vandalize the system; not to mention that those "freebies" will also attract a lot of crime beyond vandalism. Soon, you'll end up with systems in major disrepair, and to stop the damages and crimes, the systems will require more guards and/or police officers, along with additional staff for maintenance and repairs, which all add to the cost of "free".
The "fewer cars on the street" part won't work either, since, states depend upon gas revenue to maintain and build roads, not to mention keeping people employed. So, no, the states will not be supporting a system which takes away revenue from one area to support another. BTW, the road systems are much larger than the public transportation systems, so, states will need to keep their gas revenue flowing into their coffers.
The part about "payment systems" is a non-issue. The infrastructure will have to be built up to handle the additional ridership, if ridership does indeed pick up. That means that, the people who did the selling of tickets will be given different jobs, and some of those jobs will entail keeping the additional traffic of people in their best behavior, thus, cameras and people monitoring them will be mandatory, along with, like I said before, people to police them. Free will in fact, make the systems more expensive.
The part about business sponsoring bus lines would also not be too persuasive in getting people to visit those businesses. In fact, a better way for those businesses to get more people into their stores, would be to reduce prices, and that is a much more visible incentive than just "subsidizing" the bus lines. So, if they took the money that might have gone to the subsidies of bus lines, and instead just reduced prices, chances are that, they'd have more people coming in through their doors, since, the people who don't ride the bus lines would also notice the reduced prices. That would bring in a lot more people than the simple idea of subsidizing bus lines.
Also, you don't want school kids riding regular transportation, for many reasons, and I'll leave those reasons to your imagination.
The idea of "free" has been around forever, but, "free" is not always free, and it's not really cost effective for most things. Heck, even "free love" comes with a price. ;)
@cmwade1977 I explored the connection between ridership and free transit a few days ago. It's not clear that free transit has as big of an impact on ridership as you might assume.