Transit: We’ve Been Here Before

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Transit.

There’s nothing like disrupting everyone’s commute to get everyone in a whipped up, frothing mad, blood-boiling rant about getting around.

I’m going to chip in.

I live in a town where the new ‘monorail’ is bus rapid transit (BRT).  You know:  the system where they chew up all of the roads for many years, create dedicated lanes for buses and then keep their fingers crossed that someone will want to swap privacy and singing out load for an hour wait at the corner for a 20 minute drive.

BRT is the new ‘shovel in the ground’ flavour of the day, just after massive swimming pools that leak everywhere and skateboard parks that get shut down after too many lawsuits against the city that built them.

The people in the town where I live show no inclination towards changing their car-driven habits.  They will not convert.

And the students – who are the majority users where I live – might use the bus more often.

Unfortunately, they’re not the ones footing the bill for this infrastructure extravaganza, nor will they ever see the result of the effort after they pack their books away and head to the big city that has real transit and solid intensification plans.

Finally, there’s an assumption prevalent with BRT proponents that relies heavily on the idea that technological advances will come grinding to a complete halt and things like renewable vehicles, car swapping, HOV efficiencies, efficient planning to ensure buses don’t drive around empty, automated cars and other innovations will never materialize.

Even though they’re already here.

And BRT will come to stand for Big Ridiculous (Transit) Tax that no one wants.

Stepping Back …

Let’s step back for a second.

Waaaay back.  Say, about 100 years.

Back at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, there were no cars.

In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs clearly traces the transition from rail transit that existed in nearly EVERY North American city to highway traffic dominated by cars.  Buses became the only option and substitute for the highly efficient rail system.

Why?  Because the bus companies were owned by auto manufacturers like GM and Ford and they were substantially more profitable than cars.

And – the double whammy – getting rid of rail also pushed people into the more private experience of car ownership.

With cars and flexibility with choice of where you could live, sprawl was invented.

Back to the Future …

I’m a fan of the following, ideally in the order presented:

  1. Intensification
  2. Beautification of cities, especially the downtown core (1 & 2 really have to happen at the same time)
  3. Accommodation for other modes of transit (walking, cycling, high occupancy / car pooling)
  4. Tax breaks for businesses that setup shop downtown; taxes on businesses outside the core area.
  5. Public transit – subways
  6. Public transit – light rail
  7. Public transit – buses

Today, I counted 7 – SEVEN – empty buses meandering around the downtown core where I live within a few feet of each other.  Of course, there were many more on other streets, but the distinguishing feature for these 7 buses is that they were all empty or nearly empty.

You’re not going to sell me on ripping up our roads if you can’t sell people on using public transit in the first place.

Some Words of Advice …

Hey, I’m not a public transit expert, nor am I a city planner.

I don’t even ride the bus any more.  I walk everywhere because I live downtown and have everything I need.

But what I do is pay taxes.  And I don’t want my taxes going to the latest flash in the pan, must-have municipal boondoggle that everyone else is throwing billions at.

Buses are not the answer.  Not now, not before and not moving forward.

BUT … if you want to sell me on public transit, that’s easy.  I’m a supporter of the idea, but let’s get the country’s municipalities and planners together and agree on these steps when it comes to investing in transit:

  1. Show us your strategy to LIMIT sprawl.  For example, no apartment towers outside a certain radius of town.
  2. Show us your plan for each of the growth stages below and how you’ve already started to expropriate land and negotiate easements.
  3. Approved plans for intensification will get ‘seed’ rounds of funding when they reach specific population sizes.  Examples:  100,000 people = x number of buses.  500,000 = Light rail transit investment with a set range of coverage.  1,000,000 = investment in subway, again for specific corridors of population.

No plans = no money from the province or feds.

Again, my ideas and thoughts may not be perfect, but let’s not sacrifice our downtown areas at the altar of shitty tech and shiny budgets.

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