Friday, December 1, 2006

Transit Service is Inconvenient

Halifax NS - A news story out of Halifax, Nova Scotia is a telling story that all transit systems need to acknowledge.

Public transit has become inconvenient. Plain and simple. Most public transit systems in North America have the same problem as Halifax and it's not just because of the love affair with automobiles.

The problem has been that public transit has been too slow to respond to population shifts. Routes are run on historical routings, some of which date back more than a century. Little attempt has been made to deal with urban sprawl or move service from one area to another area.

Many suburbanites will ride public transit willingly if the service was there. Instead what occurs is the public agencies hang onto low patronage routes, many being low patronage historical routes. While those historical routings once carried many, today many of the routes barely warrant a motorcycle with a sidecar running twice a day and suburbanites are left to their own devices for transporting themselves.

Public transit needs to wake up to the fact that it needs to seriously consider reverse commuting. Not all jobs are in the city center anymore. They also need to get tough, trim out the under performing routes and transfer that service to areas that want and need it.

Too often I have read, been told of or experienced personally attempts of a suburban community trying to get some bus service. The canned response from transit agencies is "We don't have the money or resources to serve your area".

This same excuse is also used when people try to get transit agencies to start service to an employment center that is outside of the central business district.

Let's face facts. Urban sprawl will not be eliminated. You can't consolidate the sprawl back into the urban areas. These suburban areas do need transportation alternatives besides a 20 space park and ride lot which is filled up by 6 AM and served by a bus that runs once or twice a day.

To start improving transit service, transit agencies need to stop catering to the urban core. Urban areas that have service that isn't being used need to lose that service so that it can be placed where it will be used. Urban areas that have numerous routes can afford to lose a few trips in the area without adversely effecting the area. Transit agencies also need to deal with the reality of jobs being outside of the city center.

Many of the initial improvements that public transit needs can be done without large capital or operating costs. Much of it is simply shifting service from one place to another. Starting with small changes that don't cost much can go a long way to making public transit a success.

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