Not too long ago, I wrote about a new bus that arrived in San Francisco. It was a fancy bus made by and for the kind of people who work at and finance tech startups. It was called Leap, and it had a cute logo that was a sort of dog/fox thing jumping in the air. It had distressed wood paneling and artisanal coffee and an actual counter inside with barstools. It cost $6 for a one-way ticket.
I kind of made fun of it. I think the line I used was, “Finally! A bus as pretentious as you are!”
What I neglected to mention was that, pretentious or not, I’ve always found transit, in all its forms, to be pretty cool. I grew up in suburban Detroit, a metropolitan area that could charitably, be described as “transit-deprived.” When I was a small child, we went on a family vacation to Toronto; I am sure this trip featured many child-friendly attractions, but all I remember was the subway. It was thrilling. So many different people! Straps hanging from the ceiling!
Having grown up in Chicago I took mass transit everywhere. But things have changed. Mass Transit has become something of a two tier system. Virtually all of the ‘elites‘ take the CTA elevated train system. But the poor are relegated to the bus. And frankly the bus system is the one segment of CTA that has the best chance of ever being in direct competition with the automobile.
Trains are expensive to build the rail lines for. They require overpasses and subterranean caverns to ride through. And most important you cannot lay down track until you own the land. And you cannot simply buy up land without some guarantee that there will be passengers who need a route that takes them somewhere.
Buses on the other hand can go wherever there is pavement. Paving a street is a good deal cheaper in terms of initial cash layout and no doubt cheaper to maintain afterwards.
But buses are the one area where residents constantly complain that the service is spotty and that the accommodations are well literally ‘shitty‘. Yep, folks take a dump on these beasts and simply get up and leave. Yummy!
And add into this bargain of a transit ride the fact that people who use bicycles that are mounted on the front are sometimes the recipients of a few tons of bus on top of them. Evidently the bus drivers are sometimes unaware that a passenger is removing or installing their bikes and run them over. Ouch!
Competition Is Needed!
The very last thing that Mass Transit deserves is another handout from the Federal or State Government. It needs to raise it fares to meet the actual costs of operation. The poor can still get special ride vouchers to allow them to afford the service. But everyone on trains and buses who can afford it should be paying what the service requires.
Allowing folks to see what quality bus service looks and feels like is something that most mass transit systems would avoid like the plague. But getting people from point a to point b is not quite as cheap as the activists want it to seem. Cars are a great bargain if you can afford it.
They seldom have a systemic breakdown that prevents your travel in the way that mass transit systems (especially rail) do. And unlike most mass transit you cannot roll out of bed and drive to your office building, park and walk in. But there are some places where just that is happening. Bravo!
My thinking is that if mass transit has competition it will have to improve. If it does not there really is no reason to get better.