Mass Transit : All Is Not ‘Sweetness And Light’

Background Reading


Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images


To listen to the likes of StreetsBlog tell it, Mass Transit is our salvation.

And of course the villains in any drama like that written by a left-leaning group are the automobiles and their zombie drivers:

Cities Are By Definition Inefficient

The problem with mass transit is that it is generally an overloaded system (regardless of the American city in which it is located) and suffers all the same foibles as highways. Cities get overloaded because we have too many people attempting to reach essentially the same destination at the same time, day after day after day.

Now mix in a bit of bad weather and you have the makings of a real soap opera. Spread that same number of people moving between home and the office over several counties using staggered starting times and things get immeasurably better. In fact those same highways that everyone hates are a ‘real blessing‘ on off hour weekends when the traffic from the outer suburbs literally flies from door to downtown in mere minutes.

Walk any hallway of your average high school between bells and the places are essentially ‘ghost towns‘. Let the bell ring and suddenly you can watch the drama of poor organization and planning unfold. No matter how big you make a school if the community is vibrant and growing the population for which the building was built will be exceeded and suddenly you have chaos.

Mass Transit is not wave of the future. At least not as it is currently configured. Mass Transit is an ‘accident waiting to happen‘. It suffers from all the general bad ideas applied to anything in this world:

  • Routes for trains and buses are almost always inadequate for the needs of many citizens. This is certainly truest of rail systems. They are the least flexible in terms of their designs. But at the same time they are by far the most efficient at moving people. Because they are on rails that avoid interactions with other forms of transportation they an move easily between the central city and suburban areas so long as weather does not stop them. Cold weather and snow are the bane of the existence of train people.
  • Buses are slow and cumbersome but are the most likely to go where you need them. Mass Transit system are always between trying to ‘make do‘ with buses before they can build out the rail system to meet the growing needs of a region. Buses can go wherever there is pavement. However if the distance is great (as in from the city to the suburbs) a single bus has to take either side streets or use highways and that makes them far slower than trains.
  • Mass Transit is a hoax. Like dope dealers who ‘give out samples‘ of their product mass transit operations are deliberately under-priced. The idea is to lure drivers onto their systems. But mass transit is never going to be able to grow into sustainability using that pricing structure. And most left-leaning types do not think it should have to.
  • Mass Transit is a hostage of its workers. If you drive to work in your car. You know that you have to leave before the Rush Hour begins to have any hope of getting where you want without waiting in traffic. But you never have to wonder if your car is going to strike for more pay. Labor disputes are the one way to find out how healthy a system really is.

Bicycles Do Not Offer A Solution To Rush Hour Traffic Jams

At best bicycles are ‘last mile’ solutions’ to multi-modal travels. But as everyone knows short of owning a Brompton folding bike carrying a full-scale bicycle or even worse a cargo bike on-board a train is ludicrous during Rush Hour. Scaling stairs going to tracks is not something anyone wants to do. Let the stairs be icy and only the personal injury lawyers will be happy.

No bicycles are what you would use to get from one side of town to the other without having to pay cab fare. And even then they are really lousy when dealing with crushing Rush Hour traffic. To beat a car you have to avoid obeying the laws. You have to ride like an AlleyCat racer in many instances to avoid being stalled. That of course is what leads cyclists to have earned their reputations as ‘scofflaws‘.

Walking Is Better Than Biking

Nothing kills a travel plan faster than trying to figure out what to do with your vehicle once you reach your destination. Personal bicycles are a joke. BikeShare is the real answer. You ride to your destination and allow someone else to take the bike from its station and use it going in the opposite direction. Smart.

But so-called Urban Cyclists deem locking up bicycles on public space (namely the sidewalks) to be somehow preferable to curbside automobile parking. But neither is really useful. Even if you build parking garages for both types of vehicles you still have to grab precious real estate to house vehicles which are lying fallow until the next Rush Hour.

Walking does not have the same effect on public spaces. You walk to a place and enter or perhaps sit outside and when you leave there is nothing remaining in place.

Bicycles are not the future they are a smaller more primitive version of the past.

If cities are to survive they are going to have to charge what their services are worth. That means that eventually Mass Transit will not enjoy an artificially created cost differential over driving. Instead it will have to earn its money by delivering more efficiency than anything else. And that may mean learning to better cope with weather.