In the years preceding our move from Greater Lansing to Traverse City, there were lengthy discussions on developing some form of enhanced transit along the primary corridor in the region – Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) Route 1 which extends from the State Capital in Lansing along Michigan Avenue to downtown East Lansing, past Michigan State University and to Meridian Mall in Okemos. By enhanced transit, I mean three options – light rail, modern trolley, and bus rapid transit.
Through many public forums, charrettes, and work sessions the process determined that bus rapid transit was the most probable and viable option at the time. Unfortunately, as planning progressed further, an element of the suburban population began to argue vehemently against bus rapid transit. The reasons cited were most often cost effectiveness, need, disruption of traffic patterns, safety and the like. But, under much of this commentary were subtle undercurrent of elitism and worse. These undercurrent became evident in comments which included phrases like “those people.”
What is most surprising is that well over a million riders a year use Route 1 already – many of whom are inner city residents and MSU students traveling outbound to shop, dine, work. So what difference does a few minutes shaved off their commutes make?
In the end, I think there are two factors at play – aside from the elitism and subtle bigotry against folks from the city and campus, I believe there is the same attitude towards “buses.” It seems that no matter how much you dress up a bus, there are still people who feel they are simply a vehicle for transporting the poor, elderly, and the underprivileged. As one who has ridden transit buses in a number of cities, this is grossly incorrect.
Unfortunately, it is a hard impression to break here in the states. And sadly, the underlying attitudes associated with transit snobbery are often used as a pretext for poor decision-making that ending up hurting more people than it helps.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has observed this phenomenon as thew following articles show:
The following quote from the Atlantic’s CityLab article perfectly sums up the attitudes that must be overcome when trying to encourage the public to use buses, whether they are intra-city, inter-city, bus rapid transit, airport shuttle, or supersonic buses:
“I felt like I was too good for the bus,” Carr told the Los Angeles Times of the origins of her “snobbish” take. “I think there’s a social understanding and a construction around that if you take the bus, you take it because you don’t have money. There’s a social standard. Obviously I had bought into that.”
How does a transit system overcome such attitudes? That’s a tough one. All I know, is the many times I have used public buses, I have almost always felt they were clean, safe, maintained, and used by folks from all socioeconomic and demographic strata. And perhaps that is all that is necessary – get people on the bus so they can see their preconceived notions are out of date of flat-out wrong.
The best way I see doing this is offering free or steeply discounted service for special events. Here in Traverse City, our local transit system (BATA) offers such shuttle services for the National Cherry Festival. This is immensely easier that trying to negotiate the traffic by car. I am positive other cities do this too, but perhaps such a service needs to be provided more often at more events until the public catches on. I am not sure once-a-year is enough.
Other ideas include:
- Get more young people, including those in middle school and high school to ride public transit – perhaps a free ride for each ‘A’ on their report card. It was young people who swayed their parents towards recycling – the same can be done with bus transit.
- Require school bus ridership for elementary and middle school students along bus routes – not only will this better acquaint them with bus riding in general, but also will reduce parent valet traffic jams at schools.
- More heavily promote Smart Commute and Clean Commute weeks.
- Encourage city/town/township/county/state officials to ride the bus on a regular basis.
- Offer music, poetry, and book readings on buses.
- Start a bus riders book club.
- Link route timing with theater schedules (both before and after shows/movies/plays).
- Offer more express commutes in the morning and evening.
- Be sure to have bike racks on every bus.
- Incorporate a public transit center in the airport design that does not require going being subjected to rain or snow and time bus schedules with flight arrivals and departures at the airport. The airport transit center could be the focal point for bus transit, taxis, shuttles, and rail service if it is available.
- Utilize energy-efficient and clean operating buses – no smelly diesel allowed.
Any other suggestions are most welcome. Peace!