Building Transit

Post by Steven Dale

Beyond the obvious, here’s a few things I think transit should be:

  1. Free. Or close to it. Most businesses would pay millions of dollars for a captive market of individuals who predictably use the same two stations twice a day, five days a week. Transit operators should make their money not off of transit, but off the ancillary services people actually covet. The Freemium Model of Transit.
  2. Where people are, not where transit operators think people may sometime be. Expanding transit into a place that cannot support it in hopes that people will someday move to that place puts transit operators at risk of financial loss. If the bet you placed comes through, great! But what if it doesn’t? When you build transit where you suspect people will be rather than where people actually are, you’re engaged in speculation, not planning.
  3. Familiar. I want to see the same drivers, attendants and ticket takers working at the same place at the same time. This way, when I’m using the service, I’m being taken care of by the same people all the time. I want them to be familiar to me and me familiar to them. Over time, I’d like us to know each other by first name. Anyone whose a regular customer of a specific restaurant or bar knows the positive impact this causes.
  4. Automated. It’s easy to blame drivers and operators for the ineffectiveness of transit. But traffic and people are complex things not prone to follow rules and schedules. So instead of trying to legislate around the problem, let’s eliminate it entirely and switch to automated methods. That way, employees are freed of the hassle of driving and can focus on providing service.
  5. Fun & Comfortable. Many drivers drive because they enjoy the act of doing it. To get drivers to switch from the private automobile to public transit, operators must provide a means of travel that is more pleasant, comfortable and fun to ride than the private automobile. Start from there.
  6. Accepting of Humans. Transit should be designed around the needs and limitations of humans, not the other way around.
  7. Proud. People will take pride in their transit when they’re given a reason to be proud of it. It’s either a vicious circle or a beneficent circle, and its the service providers’ choice as to which it will be.
  8. Stylish & Attractive. For the obvious reason that what we ride to work every day has a direct impact on our emotional and psychological well-being as a population. Transit should make us feel better about ourselves, not worse.

There are so many things transit should be yet isn’t. What do you want transit to be?

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. I have to disagree with free transit. People do not value things which are free. Many people buy bottled water even in countries where the tap water has the same or even better quality than bottled water. Free transit means: I would have to listen and watch to advertisements all the time i am at stations or vehicles. Transit routes would make detours to the sponsors shopping mall, maybe forcing passengers to transfer to another vehicle there. Station would not be but as efficient as possible but to move people past as many shops as possible. So a trip on a free transit would take longer at would be more troublesome than a usual transit. There would be monopolies within a transit system so only one company could sell fastfood, coffee, groceries, etc. It would also attract some unwanted passengers, who ride free transit to have a warm place to stay. I rather have a high quality transit and pay for it. It's still less than commuting with a car.
  2. Matthias, All fair points, and none that I disagree with. I myself am torn on the free transit issue, which is why I added "or close to it." I'm honestly not sure. There's significant evidence to suggest free transit works, but at the same time I respect the idea that people will only take care of something if they pay for it. At the same time, how many western public transit systems are for pay but are an absolute disaster? I honestly don't know. It's a conversation more of us should engage in.
  3. #1 really isn't realistic. We already have advertisements in the buses, trains, train stations, and on the outside of buses for all those captive in their cars sitting in traffic, but it still requires fare and tax revenue; I really don't think the fare can be eliminated without further tax increases. Public transit should have a core that is fast, frequent, and comprehensible as a system. 1) fast -- because most people wish their commutes were shorter. 2) comprehensible as a system -- meaning, you can put it on a map and hand it to a tourist and they can figure out a good way to get to where they want to go. Tourists can be sold on such a system if it is also perceived as nice to use -- it's cheaper than a taxi or car rental. But it's also good for locals, because a network can connect you to more places than a line can. 3) regular -- because otherwise it doesn't really work for #2 -- you need to be able to trust that you won't wait half an hour for your transfer, and it becomes far more complex to plan a route if you really need time tables for them all too. A couple of general site comments to leave you with: 1) I find your placement of the comments link confusing -- most blogs have it at the bottom of the thread, about where you have the comments link for the following thread 2) Take more video. 3) I'd be interested if you did posts on how detachable gondolas accelerate/decelerate off-cable at stations, any examples of systems with track switching, especially in 3S systems, and also what determines the top speeds of the various technologies.
  4. @matthias: I couldn't disagree more. Frankly, advertising could only foot a portion of the costs, and no advertiser wants to be "crowded" in the advertising space. They'd pay more for a greater share of the attention — but that would plateau. Frankly, none of us swipe a credit card before we take a dump or turn on the faucet. And few of us pay on a per-use basis for the roads we drive. Transit is infrastructure — and it should be funded as other infrastructure is: "free" for users at the point of consumption. @eric: see above. Also, I think the three points you bring up — ESPECIALLY #2 — are crucial. Most transit systems in the US require PhD in "bus" to use. It's mind-numbing. And I wouldn't mind sacrificing a little "fast" for a LOT more "comprehensible".
  5. Eric, 1) I find the placement of comments confusing as well. I'm working on this. I'm hoping to have a new version of the site live by the end of April (fingers crossed). 2) I've actually started taking more video. Despite the Medellin/Caracas series being a photo essay, I've got hours of video of those systems. It's my hope to have video of those systems up soon. Currently I've relied upon youtube videos, but those are kind of a roll of the dice. 3) I can do a piece on how deceleration/acceleration occurs. It's really not that complicated, but I suppose for some people it might be a bit obscure. I've gotten a bit away from explanation lately, and I should get back to that.
  6. I pay for water,electricity,communication which all is infrastructure. I do not think its possible to give them away for free. And at the end we still have to pay for it whether trough taxes, hidden cost in goods and services or directly on a per use base. The direct payment is the most fair one. Who use transit more has to pay more. Cars also have to be paid on a per use base, every time you stop at the petrol station. And roadpricing is going to increase sharply in future. For transit its important that the ticketing system is simple and easy to use. A single ticket must cover all modes and all operators.

Leave a comment

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.