Saturday, January 09, 2016

Is this any way to run a transit system? You bet!

Not many cities have books written about their transit system and its impact on the urban environment.  But Boston does.  In the book Street Car Suburbs, The Process of Growth in Boston, Sam Bass Warner explained how the city of Boston grew and prospered between 1870 and 1900 from the interaction between growth of the transit system, creation of new neighborhoods, and expansion of the city.

So, you'd think that the elected leaders of Massachusetts would have a sense of the importance of a properly running--and constantly growing--transist system and their hopes and desires for Boston to remain a world class city.  But that realization seems sorely lacking, and the region often devolves into arguments over routes and fares, "reform," and the like.

Riders of the system suffer from what might be termed "a readiness to be injured." I don't mean physically injured.  I mean a depressed, resentful expectation that service quality will be inconsistent at best and slowly deteriorating at worst.

As I've traveled to other world class cities, I see a different attitude and a different set of expectations.  Transit is a key determinant of growth and a pleasant urban environment.  Service quality, in the form of polite and friendly drivers and other workers, is the norm.

Here's a simple example from Melbourne, Australia, where I am living for a few months.  One of the tram lines was about to experience an upgrade of tracks and construction of a new handicapped accessible platform stop.  No effort was spared in informing the riding public that service would be disrupted on this line, with buses running as substitutes.  Among other things, these hanger cards were hung throughout all the vehicles for several days before the disruptions.  "Please take me," noted the cards on the obverse.  On the back, a succinct and clear explanation of the situation and the transit alternatives available was presented.

And how well did it work? Like a charm. On each day service was disrupted and passengers were to disembark the tram and ride a bus, they were greeted by friendly staff members and shown where to walk, about 100 meters down the street.  To make sure you wouldn't get lost en route, the sidewalks had these adhesive signs.

At the bus stop, there was more clear signage and, again, helpful and friendly people were there to point the way.

I compare this to days on which my local transit line in Boston is out of service and replacement buses are put in place.  That situation is often characterized by poor signage and sour staff members (if any).  Your task as a rider is to figure out what is going on and how to get to work.

I wish there were a way to persuade Massachusetts politicians that excellent transit service quality is not only possible, but essential to the future prosperity of the capital city.  I wish there were a way to help the public understand that resentment and depression are not normal emotional responses to using a transit system. Instead, I see our fair "city upon a hill" falling behind in this essential infrastructure and ever so slowly sinking from its natural place among the firmament of world class cities.


Anonymous said...

It is the same way in Virginia, especially the Metro.

J Palmer said...

there are more and more days when I want to just move to Montreal or Toronto. Transportation, health care, higher education, food safety, etc. etc. Thanks for this. I shared it on FB.

Unknown said...

Hampton Roads Transit, also in Virginia is horrible. They dont even use social media well and no one helps us. Our vehicles are constantly broken as well.