Posted by: mystressm | July 1, 2007

Who likes public transit? (Hint – not you)

When it comes to public transit, every level of government agrees on one thing. They want YOU to use it.

All three levels of Canadian governments, Federal, Provincial and Municipal have an ongoing public media campaign to encourage people to use it. Between them they employ a variety of carrots and sticks to get people on those buses.

Here’s a list some of the things that they are doing that I am aware of:

• Eliminating parking slots across the city
• Significantly increasing the number of parking meters, their charges and hours of operation
• Introducing parking lot taxes
• Subsidizing the cost for certain segments of society to utilize the public transit system – i.e. college students or certain business
• Reducing the efficiency of traffic flow by deliberately not coordinating streetlights and introducing traffic calming measures.
• Introducing new priorities that favor pedestrians & bikes over buses, and buses over private vehicles
• Taxes that transfer the costs from one type of transit to another i.e. the gasoline tax which is used to transfer money from vehicle owners to the Vancouver Transit Authority.

In short, Public Transit has every possible advantage to make it work. Any free enterprise business would be wild with envy if they could get that type of leverage to fast track customers into their business.

Monopoly. Strong media advocacy. Government backing. Subsidies. Your competition penalized. What more could a company ask for?

So why isn’t it working?

The lowliest corner store with a marginal fraction of the advertising budget and no other assistance performs like a customer vacuum system on steroids compared to the public transit system.

What’s in it for me?
That’s an important question. People have choices and they will always pick the one that will give them the biggest bang.

That’s how they pick their toothpaste. It will give them the whitest teeth.

That’s how rock concerts get people thronging in wild overnight queues for their outrageously priced tickets. They offer entertainment and cache.

What advantage does the public transit system give me?

I find that’s a difficult question to answer. I find it much easier to answer a different one. What are the disadvantages?

Now the question becomes easy. Let me list them.

1. It’s slow. According to the Vancouver Transit Authority they are doing a great job if they can get you to your destination only 1.5 to 3 times the amount time that it would take you by a car.
2. It’s inconvenient. If you want to take a bus, you have to make sure you have the exact right change. You can’t use a debit card. The fare box can’t make change. The official line is that they can’t afford them. Yeah right. Take a close look at the mechanism that makes change in one of those vending machines. How come the chocolate bar people can afford them?
3. It’s uncomfortable. And getting worse. The new buses have even fewer seats in them so that they can ram more people in. That vastly increases the probability that you will have to stand all the way to your destination. The government hasn’t yet managed to figure out how to massage the concept of being rammed into a bus like a sardine, standing shoulder to shoulder with your fellow commuter into a selling point.
4. It’s unpleasant. Central transfer points are magnets for thieves, gangs and beggars. To get utilize a major transit point, you have to run a gauntlet of unsavory characters that congregate there. I have personally had to get off the skytrain and transfer buses because of meth-heads in the same car as me. I’ve seen gang fights break out on the sea bus where there was no way to exit and escape the mêlée. There is extremely limited security. If you run into problems. You are on your own.
5. It’s unsafe. Transfer points and bus stops are often in out-of-the-way places. It is especially of concern to women who are dropped off in the middle of nowhere and are forced to wait for the next bus in their route or walk several blocks with nothing but street lamps for security.
6. It’s limited. Buses don’t go everywhere. Even in the city. If you want to get to some out-of-the way place, you get as close as you can, then you walk. Want to get somewhere further afeild? No service.
7. No storage. Want to transport your groceries? Your suitcases? Your skis? What about your kids and support gear? Want to have a beach b-b-q? Sound daunting? It is. There is no way to transport any other items except yourself unless you want to endure and inflict extreme inconvenience upon yourself and your fellow passengers.
8. Limited hours. The public transit effectively shuts down at midnight. Want to go out partying? Need to work night shift? The public transit Cinderella’s have to go home early.
9. Reliability. If a bus breaks down, too bad. You have to wait for the next one on the schedual. They don’t have enough back-up buses to cover for that predictable disaster. Public Tansit Strike? You’re on your own for that one too.
10.They don’t use it. The last time there was a big meeting on public transit by the transit officials – most of them used their own cars to get there. Our public transit system wasn’t ‘good’ enough for them.

The last time I took a bus, I got the opportunity to see their “customer service award” plastered all over their window. Yeah, right. Since they are the only fish in town, they must have given it to themselves. I’m impressed.

I wonder what free enterprise could do?

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