The people who say the bus isn’t romantic are wrong!

The Gothamist features this story about a Yeshiva Student Proposes in a Most Unlikely Place. The bus!

Apparently, she said yes! I hope they have every happiness.

Unfortunately, the New York MTA continues to lumber under it’s $850 million dollar operating deficit, has had to agree to restore 11 bus lines but cut the orange V train.


Transit companies around California are facing some pretty staggering deficits, along with Chicago.

Maybe the trains aren’t faster anywhere

This is a bit dated, but it comes from the Metro Source blog:

The Source » The trains are always faster on the other side – other cities look to Metro for inspiration

What’s the point? Well, if statistics are to be believed, people who commute by transit, even in places where the transit is good, spend more time commuting than do those who own cars. Now, the truth is we don’t necessarily want to make too much of these differentials at low levels: anything below 20 minutes is a bit of a whatever, and I’m not sure people even think about differentials at such low times.

But the kicker with transit commutes, I suspect, is not the average but the standard deviation and the skew in the distribution. The only thing that disrupts a car commute is car trouble or traffic. Transit, from an individual perspective, has these problems plus the uncertainty of your arrival time jiving with the service, etc. And the only thing that vitiates that is service frequency.

Jolly bus design at CyRide

HT to GeoTransExplorer…

CyRide, bless their hearts, always comes off looking like a mini-jewel among transit providers. By using student workers, they keep operating costs and fares relatively low—difficult to do, by contrast, in big-metro systems with unionized shops. They connect town and gown, which gets them ridership, and students ride free. Any college-town transit company that isn’t catering to students is missing important opportunities to serve people and look good in the process.

They also have ticketbooks; unfortunately, they don’t discount them the way they do their pass program (and the way they should).

And they have Charles Grassley, who has been a senator from Iowa since Jesus was a carpenter and who can get them big, sweet chunks of Federal money.

Their latest announcement: they are using federal funding—they just got a huge dollop of ARRA funding—to replace part of their fleet with hybrid buses:

Ames Tribune > Archives > Ames Tribune > News > ‘Cybrid’ CyRide buses on the way

The cool part? Ames residents are being to asked to vote a design. It isn’t often that buses are treated like a real part of the urban aesthetic, so this is a very nice way to market their new buses.

Marketing transit well

The LA MTA takes a lot of criticism—sometimes deserved, sometimes not—about how it runs its show. One of the things that the MTA does very well: in the movie industry spirit of our little berg, the MTA markets its image and services very well. From their nifty little M logo to their nice website*, they have image marketing down really well. Their ads are cute and classy and inclusive, and they deserve more credit for it than they often get.

Beverly Ward drew my attention to this little story about CoolTown Studios. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean by a clear and clever message.

*which needs a better online trip planner, but, hey, I understand. If you don’t, then YOU make an online trip planner with the type of bus coverage and frequency that LA county has and get back to me when y’all get done with it….

New York MTA’s Open Data Policy

HT to Streetsblog New York City » MTA Unveils Open Data Policy, Clearing a Path for NYC Transit Apps

This is an enormously big deal, believe it or not. Opening up their data puts the MTA in a really risky and yet exciting position. They’ve just invited developers in the door, and that means they’ve also opened it to analysts, like me.

Ultimately this is a smart move for them; their system has very little to prove past a certain point.

Transit privatization

The TransportPolitic asks an extremely good question:

If transit isn’t better operated by the private sector, why is it still being privatized?

This essay is a fairly standard description of neoliberalism’s effects on transit policy. I think, however, that the political economy has actually morphed and we have to be thinking a bit differently now. We need a clever political theorist to coin a new term, something better than post-neoliberalism, which is what I think we are experiencing, with Obama and the worldwide recession and the bailouts, etc. Certainly lots of transit companies have gone racing forward for ARRA money, sans private partners.

This is primarily quibbling, however, and the larger point holds: politicians like privatization primarily out of ideology and the desire to demonstrate they have done something–a bit like charging around looking to eliminate political science funding—not because we ever really save real money. What has never been clear to me about privatization is whether it’s not all that cost effective because services like transit, with their comparatively high barriers to entry for anything past jitneys, just do not favor private, for-profit operations versus how much efficiency we just plain lose because we over-regulate and poorly negotiate private contracts. There’s a great deal of politics that run both ways between the right and the left; not all PPPs have been great, and not all have been ineffective. But almost all in transit have.

One of my favorite books on the subject is Elliott Schlar’s You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For. Hiro Iseki at the University of New Orleans has done some interesting work in the topic, as has Tony Gomez Ibanez at Harvard.

DC’s Union Station Bike Facility

Here is rendering–it’s rather hard to find pictures online–you can see the whole plan at the DC DOT’s’ Bicycle Advisory page. My friend Scott brought it up at breakfast this morning, my last day in my beloved DC. The work was done by KGP Design Studio. Don Paine was the lead architect who is quoted in an NPR story as saying “the system to Washington is part of a larger shift toward “dispelling the notion that the car is an essential part of our daily lifestyle.”

The system will require a subscription, and it will be nice: it will have bike parking, lockers, and a repair shop. But it’s meant for 130 bikes at a go. Now, dangit, it’s nice and I’m happy they are putting these out and putting money into high-quality design, but 130 bikes is a 130 people, or a few more with child seats. I don’t mean to be difficult, but that’s a pretty marginal service for the money that went into this thing. The architect then says: ” This is a monumental paradigm shift for the typical American”. But a previous report on bike station users suggests that 30 percent of those users were previously drivers. I can’t find that original report, but at 130 people in DC’s case, that’s 40 people, versus the other 90 who are already bicyclists and receiving a new service. So we shifted 40 people, maybe. Is the planet really going to get cooler at this pace? Or should we be honest about what we are doing: making places nicer for multiple modes for select users? Is that particularly wrong?

Transit fares and impoverished urban residents

I’m still writing furiously on a manuscript and trying not to sound deranged, so here’s another in the “papers I wish I had written” category, there is forthcoming in Evaluation and Planning:

Nuworsoo, Cornelius, Golub, Aaron and Elizabeth Deakin, Analyzing equity impacts of transit fare changes: Case study of Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, California,Evaluation and Program Planning, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 26 June 2009, ISSN 0149-7189, DOI: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2009.06.009.

From the abstract:

Many public transit agencies consider increasing fares when faced with budget shortfalls. This paper analyzes the Alameda–Contra Costa (AC) Transit District’s five alternative fare proposals introduced for public discussion in March 2005. The proposals combined fare hikes, base fare reductions, eliminations of free transfers, and discontinuation of periodic passes. Using the agency’s 2002 on-board survey data, the study assessed the impacts of individual fare proposals on different subsets of riders and evaluated if they were equitable; and estimated potential fare revenues, using alternative price elasticities to estimate changes in ridership due to changes in price. The analysis revealed that proposals that increased the cost of transfers or eliminated unlimited-use passes produced dramatically unequal impacts on certain riders. Proposals for flat fares per ride were found to be least equitable, even when the base fare was lowered, because lower income riders, youth, and minorities made more trips and transferred more frequently than their more affluent counterparts. Proposals that maintained existing pass instruments and allowed transfers for small fees were the most favorable. The paper demonstrates the utility of on-board surveys and details an approach that could be widely used for evaluation of equity in public transit and other areas.

When Transit Works in the Southland

After my moan from yesterday I decided that lest I leave people with their comfortable belief that “transit in LA is terrible, not like Portland or San Francisco or Boston or New York or (insert urbanists’ dreamland utopia here)”, I should also add some posts talking about where transit works in Los Angeles. And it does work: the LA MTA serves over 1.6 million boardings a day. That’s a lot of people, every day, and more than the aforementioned transit utopias save for New York.

So here’s one of my favorite transit spots in LA, or more specificly, Long Beach. I have a fondness for Long Beach anyway, but here I think we have a nice example of a bus-train interface at the termination of the Blue Line in downtown Long Beach. There’s some high-end development going on, but it’s not the hyper-expensive, hyper-pretentious downtown LA sort. This is a relatively affordable place for people to live, it’s a pleasant place to walk, and you have plenty of bus and walking information when you get off the train. You move from one mode to another without having to eat car exhaust, dingy freeway undersides, or an ocean of car parking. It’s not ostentatious, it just does what it is supposed to do: provide a decent place for people to walk around, do some stuff, make a transfer if they have to, or buy/rent a condo.

They could use some more street trees and landscaping, but that’s a pretty easy fix.

And that little Asian kid is just too danged cute for words.