A Problem Of Options

Post by Steven Dale

People don’t ride airplanes because they’re pleasant. They ride them because they have no other real choice. Want proof? Notice how many people are choosing High Speed Rail instead of short haul flights. When there’s choice, people choose.

The problem Public Transit faces is this: It’s not an airplane. There are a huge number of alternative choices to Public Transit that people currently prefer:

  • The Private Automobile
  • Carpooling
  • Electric Bicycles
  • Mopeds or Vespas
  • Rollerblades
  • Skateboarding
  • Cycling
  • Jogging
  • Walking
  • Telecommuting
  • Taxis
  • Car Shares

If they seriously want to convert people to their way of thinking, Public Transit should want to provide a better product. Moral sway won’t work any more than guilt will, yet those are the very tactics transit advocates use.

Public Transit’s current strategy seems to be one of not trying to win now, but to wait until the other guys (read: automobiles) lose sometime in the future. This strategy is only possible given mass government subsidy and I’m not sure it will ever pan out.

The thing is, the other guys aren’t interested in losing now; they’re playing to win. Cars and vespas are smaller than ever; India and China are cranking them out cheaper than the world’s ever seen; electric cars are just around the corner; and bike lanes are (finally) popping up everywhere.

Meanwhile, electric bicycles have reduced the size of vehicles further; Car Shares are eliminating the need for excess parking; and the re-emergence of dense, urban living means that many people simply walk or jog to work.  And walking is still as cheap as it’s ever been.

What has Public Transit done lately?

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. Scott Schumacher
    I tend to agree with you for the most part. Public Transit in general is stuck in an old paradigm. However, I think that there's a small tipping point going on in the City of Minneapolis lately. It was recently made the #1 bicycle city (beating out Portland!) by Bicycle Magazine, and most recently with the introduction of the new downtown stadium for the Minnesota Twins baseball team, it's almost as if baseball fans have gone Transit Crazy here. It's now estimated that over 20% of attendees come to the ballpark via public transit. The ballpark is right at the intersection of the NorthStar Commuter Rail line and the Hiawatha Light Rail Line. Within the next four years, there will be a southwest corridor and a central corridor rail line, and they will all converge. If you come to Minneapolis and look at all the signage at rail stations - MetroTransit and the Twins seem to be almost married. Plus, in the advertisements on the busses now, almost one entire side is devoted to advertising of partnerships between MetroTransit and City Initiatives, non-profit orgs and events, transit/bike initiatives, etc. This is a new thing... and if it keeps up, you'll see Minneapolis topping the list of "best models" for public transit (at least in the US).
  2. Scott, I'm always a little bit hesitant about transit hitching their wagons to a sports team. At least with Baseball, there's 81 home games a season, but Football there's only 8. The two weekday rush hours are likely to always be the major trip generators for a transit system. At the same time, it's great to hear that Minnesota's having success expanding their system. Do you know what the ridership has been like?
  3. From an article here: http://www.metrocouncil.org/newsletter/transit2010/TargetFieldMay10.htm "Twins baseball fans are heeding the advice to take transit to the new Target Field in downtown Minneapolis. For the first nine home games in April, about 20% of fans, or nearly 7,000 people per game, got to Target Field by bus or train. On average, that works out to be 5,250 fans on Hiawatha Line, 1,675 on Northstar and 680 on the Twins Express. Passengers disembarking Northstar commuter rail trains at Target Field. Twins fans pour off Northstar commuter rail trains at Target Field on April 14, the day of the opening home game. By comparison, 10 to 12% of fans took transit to watch the Twins when the team played at the Metrodome."
  4. For some cities in Australia (and I'm sure elsewhere too), they include the cost of the transit fare as part of the ticket. You buy a ticket for the game, you have a ticket to use the transit system to get to the game. For Toronto, even if the Jays (or Argos, or Raptors, or Leafs, or TFC) raised the price of the ticket by $1.50, that would more than cover the net cost to the TTC, as a cost of $1.50 would be assuming that 50% of the people going to the game are taking transit. Even if you don't take transit to get there, you're still subsidizing the system.
  5. And I forgot to include the ride home in that calculation as well, oops. Still, the dollar amount isn't really significant, especially for those people in the premium seats. An extra few dollars on a $100 ticket isn't really something to get upset over.

Leave a comment

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.