Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Failures’

Post by Steven Dale

Any man who finds himself on a bus over the age of 30 can consider himself a failure in life.

Image by flickr user Renée Turner.

The above quote is generally attributed to former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. And while the exact wording is up for debate, the sentiment remains: The use of public transit represents failure. It is a mode of travel for infants, children and students, nothing more.

The phrase captures almost perfectly the zeitgeist of the Reaganite 1980’s and the aggressive push for deregulation, reduced government and market forces that precluded the collapse of communism in Europe.

I suspect it’s also a sentiment still-shared by much of the western world, akin to renting a home instead of owning one in North America; there’s a stigma attached to it that suggests you’re a loser in the game of life.

It’s not a sentiment I share, but it’s a sentiment that exits.

The question is this: Why does the sentiment exit – indeed, why does it persist? – and how can it be changed? How do we make public transit desirable?

Maybe more important: How do we make public transit something to be coveted rather than something to be scorned?

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  1. I wonder if the this quote, and the ideas to which it connects, are more about buses then transit in general. While I've never been there, its my understanding that in London most everyone rides the tube and there's really no other way to get around the city quickly. A metro can become a ubiquitis part of city life that's just taken for granted, but buses always seem to have a stigma attached to them.
  2. @ Erik, Agreed. But while I can't read the mind of Margaret Thatcher, I have to assume her comment was meant to deride public transit in general.
  3. @Erik There is an extensive bus network in London, there are more than 300 bus routes in the city: http://www.londonbusroutes.net/routes.htm#main & tfl.gov.uk However although there are some bus lanes, they are generally half hearted attempts, and as a result tend to be stuck in traffic. The bus section of my commute to work (fortunately I am still under 30 ;-) ) can take as much as an hour at rush hour, takes only 5-10 minutes late at night when there is no traffic. As a result, The Underground is preferred to buses.
  4. Transit simply has to offer a superior service and "image" in comparison to an automobile. However, that's hard cause people in many places around the world generally view the personal vehicle as the "ultimate form of freedom". There's a growing mentality even in high density places that despite the high availability of transit, it's still viewed as a poor man's way of transport. I.e. getting stuck in traffic on a highway in your personal vehicle while listening to your fav tunes is still 10x better and more comfortable than getting crammed in a subway full of strangers.
  5. My shoulders are wider than half a double bus seat. i.e. buses are too cramped to be comfortable. Buses are jerky and not at all smooth. I can read on a train, but not on a bus without feeling sick. Buses let you on only at the front in a queue behind everyone else. Therefore there are queues to get on a bus. If someone heartless and demented lights up a smoke in the line, because the law is wrong in prohibiting murder in that case, then what do you do? Bus stops are cold and draughty and being next to the road are unpleasantly noisy. Once underway you get stopped in traffic and the services are therefore unreliable. You wait ages and then two come at once. Is it any wonder that sane adults avoid catching buses at just about all costs. Of course when I do actually use a bus, the experience is never quite as bad as all that, and I'm starting to use buses again to get to work, but only because they have extended the train one stop to make it more useful for me, and I need the bus to make a connection. But yep I don't like buses.
  6. The other Thatcher quote applicable to any discussion on transit is "The problem with socialized (transit) is that eventually you run out of other people's money [to spend]." Especially when alternatives exist in the private sector, cable (possibly) being one, PRT definitely being one.
  7. @Dave Good thing there does exist this smart invention called taxes, so that you don't have to run out of other people's money.
  8. Margaret Thatcher almost certainly never said that. It's a misattribution.
  9. I've heard this argument before, but the quote is overwhelmingly attributed to her. If it was "misattributed" no one seems to know whom actually said it. Nevertheless, the point of the post was to discuss how transit riders are viewed as "failures" not whether or not Thatcher said it or not - though again, it is widely attributed to her.

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