We’re still not quite sure what it’s for, yet. Are we trying to get poor people to work on the bus, or are we trying to get rich people to reduce their carbon footprints on light rail? Since the same agencies are pimping us buses and light rail — and claiming both — we don’t really get to debate the point. And wouldn’t you know it: rich folks win again.
Warren from Coyote Blog gives us this datum:
Part of it is incentives – heads of agencies with rail get paid more than bus-only agencies, and unions love the higher-paying rail jobs that never go away (part of the flexibility issues with rail). Part of the explanation is cultural – rail is now hip and edgy and allegedly green and modern. Buses are so last century.
And part of it is social/racial. White upper middle class yuppies wouldn’t be caught dead on buses. They like trains better, particularly when they are successful in running rail routes through middle class commuting routes. If the cost of this forces cut backs on buses that run where the poor need to go, oh well.
Wait, wait: that’s not the datum, it’s the hypothesis. This is the datum:
Portland bus service has been gutted in favor of rail, such that total ridership in the city has dropped despite spending a lot more transit dollars. These maps from the Portland Oregonian show another effect — shifting transit dollars to modes favored by rich white people has… caused Portland to be increasingly white.
I note in passing that Greater Vancouver’s transit authority wants to spend one and a half billion dollars on a new light rail line that parallels a middle-class commuting route.
Over at WCI, Frances Woolley ponders the incentives behind riding the loser cruiser:
People will use public transit if it’s the lowest cost way of getting from point A to point B. Costs have three components.
The first is money costs – the cost of gas or a bus fare or a train ticket.
The second is time costs – the opportunity cost of time spent driving or riding or walking or cycling.
The third is psychic costs or benefits – the satisfaction of putting pedal to metal, the quiet relaxation of sitting on the Skytrain and gazing out over the North Shore mountains and, last but not least….
Time costs and “psychic” costs are far from independent, of course. One of the prime reasons why gazing out over the North Shore mountains whilst riding the Skytrain can be relaxing is that Skytrains are punctual and frequent: you don’t have to worry too much about whether you’ll show up on time, or whether missing your connection at Commercial-Broadway will make you late for work (another train will be along in two or three minutes if you miss the first). Your bus, on the other hand, isn’t guaranteed to show up at all. You don’t just suffer the time cost of being half an hour late once a week or so: you suffer the stress cost of not knowing, every time you stand at a bus stop. I’ve written about this before, as you may have guessed, and I find it hard to credit the idea that status costs dominate people’s decisions not to take the bus to the extent that other costs can safely be neglected.