Whatai??i??s the Best Way To Get Users To Embrace Mass Transit?

Make it pleasant? Or make it efficient?

An article in Slate magazine


Make it pleasant? Or make it efficient?

by Tom Vanderbilt

A few months ago, at an urban mobility conference in Frankfurt, the British consultant Charles Leadbeater presented a sort of x-y matrix for thinking about how to manage and design cities. The chart was divided into quadrants of ai???systemai??? and ai???empathy,ai??? inspired by the psychologist Simon Baron-Cohenai??i??s work with Aspergerai??i??s patients, who in some cases are quite good at ai???systemizingai??? behavior (e.g., attention to detail, patterns, organization, etc.), but less adept at empathic human relationships.

Vanderbilt is reminded of Leadbeaterai??i??s system/empathy argument in reading Jarrett Walkerai??i??s new book, Human Transit. Walker, a Portland, Ore.-based transit planner who writes a popular blog of the same name, espouses a very ai???systemai???-oriented view of transit: He cares less what trains look likeai??i??or even that theyai??i??re trains to begin withai??i??than that they simply run on time (and take people where they want to go). He has been pitched as a sort of antagonist to another planner, Darrin Nordahl, whose 2009 book My Kind of Transit, argues that the ai???ride experienceai??? is crucial for getting Americans out of their cars and into public transit. Consider their opinions of San Franciscoai??i??s cable cars: Walker (ai???systemai???) thinks theyai??i??re neither efficient nor cost-effective (each car requires two employees) nor very important to getting San Franciscans around; Nordahl (ai???empathyai???) argues theyai??i??re a vital public space, an experience in themselves, part of what makes the city the city.



4 Responses to “Whatai??i??s the Best Way To Get Users To Embrace Mass Transit?”
  1. Evil Eye says:

    Hasn’t anyone in North America ever read “Bus or Light Rail – Making The Right Choice, by Urban Transportation professor Carmen Haas-Klau (2001)? I think not.

    In the study it was found that the overall ambiance of the transit system, ease of ticketing and the seamless or no transfer journey were prime reasons for people taking transit.

  2. John B. says:

    Well I´m a follower of Human Transit blog and I do agree with it´s author about the time argument. It worked for me. I switched from car to train when GO Transit system became more efficient and now I´m traveling faster with them.
    I haven´t read the other book, but talking about traveling experience as something crucial for switching from car to other means of transport is quite weak argument for me. There are certain factors, that may help someone decide whether to go by train, in case of Toronto this final decision can be provided by easy and well working PRESTO Card. If the train is at least trying to be clean (which in the case of Torontian public transport is), I´m not paying attention. I read my book or listen to music. I don´t need wifi connection nor the illusion of modernity to feel comfortable. Maybe others have other perception of this problem, but this is my point of view on this specific debate.

  3. Evil Eye says:

    It is sad that a international study concerning light rail and buses has all but been ignored on this side of the pond and may go a long way to explain the success of new European transit schemes and the extreme mediocrity of North American LRT and the preference for “mass” or heavy rail transit..

    In North America, LRT is becoming, as a previous post indicated, a money pit, where planning bureaucrats and political friends get rich off the backs of taxpayers, but building extremely expensive, yet poorly designed light rail schemes.

  4. Jim says:

    I occasionally need to get to Richmond from Abbotsford. I can do it in my car in 45-50 minutes (I don’t go during rush hour). I tried to plan it using transit, but from what I could work out, it would take close to or more than 3 hours, and I don’t exactly know how to do it. I do not know how to get from the Valley Max system to Translink. I know there is a bus connector to Aldergrove, but I was confused on where and when I could get on it. I should admit, I am not a bus user, but the Valley Max system doesn’t provide very clear maps or schedules for those unfamiliar with it. Trying to combine that with the separate translink system was too much hassle. I think the cost would be all right, but I couldn’t exactly figure out what it would cost me either. But considering I need to make a round trip, I wasn’t about to turn my 1 and a half hour to 1 hour and 40 min trip into a 6 plus hour trip.