Paying for a More Comfortable Transit Ride

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we bring you some reflections on commuter comfort from network member Cap’n Transit.
As he points out in a post called "Many Segments of the Population Are
Too Old for This Shit," a lot of people are put off of certain modes of
transit because of the perception — and often the reality — that they
are crowded and uncomfortable (yes, New York subway, we’re looking at
you).

He points out that higher-priced transit
alternatives, such as commuter rail, can prevent at least some of that
group from opting for the perceived superiority of the automobile:

6855305_b1a936b9a9_m.jpgNot everyone wants to put up with this. Photo by Shira Golding via Flickr.

I
live walking distance from the Woodside LIRR station, and there are
times when I will spring for the $5.75 or whatever it is and be home in
25 minutes (if I’m near Penn Station to begin with). Of course, the
commuter rail lines don’t stop in very many places and they don’t all
have convenient schedules, but when it works out it’s great.

There’s
[another] option: express buses. As I understand it, many routes were
specifically designed to capture some of the market that was leaving
the transit system. There was one time when I needed to read books and
articles and take notes. The subway was impossible: even if I got a
seat, there was nowhere to put the book while I was writing the notes.
I tried taking commuter rail, but it was actually too fast to get
anything done. What worked pretty well, though, were the express buses.
For at least part of every trip I had two seats to myself, and was able
to spread out. Even when I didn’t, the seats were wide enough that I
could manage. And it was quiet: cell phone conversations were kept to a
minimum, nobody was rowdy or intrusive. On the way home in the
evenings, I think half the bus was snoring.

The
commuter trains, of course, are full of people who feel like they’re
well off enough that they don’t want to put up with the noise and dirt
of the city. Some of them were born to it, others strove for it. The
particular express bus route I rode, I noticed, was full of older black
and Puerto Rican women. I never had much of a conversation with them,
but I got the feeling that they had taken the subway when they were
younger, but after twenty or thirty years in whatever office or bank
branch they worked at, they were too old for that. They had earned the
$4 price of the bus ride, and the extra time it took to get to Midtown,
and they needed it to keep their sanity.

Without the express bus
system, these women would be driving cars. Without the commuter trains,
the suburbanites would be driving into Manhattan too. These modes are
helping transit to work for the middle class. They work. Let’s use them
more.

Of course, with operating budgets under
intense pressure around the country, many transit systems are becoming
less comfortable rather than more — and the price of a ride is going
up, to boot. With ridership remaining strong, how are municipalities
going to fund the kind of transit systems we need for the future,
systems that can attract and retain riders who feel that they’ve earned
the right to a comfortable commute?

If you’ve got that figured out, let us know in the comments.

Second Avenue Sagas has this proposal: Use market-rate parking to fund transit.

Plus: M-bike.org has some thoughts about yesterday’s NY Times piece on Detroit’s "potential to become a new bicycle utopia."

  • DJB

    Just doing a cursory search I found a story from 2008 that put Metrolink ridership at an “all time high” of just over 50,000 riders per day during the expensive gasoline of that summer (correct me if you have better figures). http://laist.com/2008/06/20/metrolink_ridership_increases_156_i.php

    So, in the case of Metrolink, the ridership isn’t that impressive despite the relatively spacious and comfortable trains. We all know the problems: the fares are high, the service sucks outside of the weekday peak hours, and it’s not as well linked as it could be to the regular transit system (I’m looking at you, Green Line Norwalk station). Perhaps it needs better park-and-ride facilities as well, I don’t know.

    Also, if you had to guess, how many people in the five-county SCAG area know that Metrolink exists, or for that matter where it goes, and how to ride it? Does Metrolink really connect to enough important job centers for it to be useful as a commuter train? Anyway . . .

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

How Will a New FRA Rule Affect Commuter Rail?

|
Misguided safety rules from the Federal Railroad Administration are cited as the cause for all sorts of problems, from high-construction costs to pedestrian hazards to, ironically, worse safety outcomes. Which helps explain why Jarret Walker at Network blog Human Transit is alarmed about a new rule “requiring two-person train crews… for most main line freight and […]
At Bourg-la-Reine, outside Paris, the rail station is surrounded by dense, mixed-use development and walkable streets. Image: Google Maps
STREETSBLOG USA

What American Commuter Rail Can Learn From Paris, Part 2

|
In Europe it's common for regional rail systems to get ridership comparable to that of the subway in the central city. But in America, this is unheard of. One reason for the discrepancy is land use: American commuter rail stations are typically surrounded by parking, while in the Paris region you see a different pattern with ample development next to suburban train stations.