In North America, we tend to ignore or deride public transit. In part, this is the result of experiencing poorly-run and underfunded systems; in part, it is a legacy of one of the more successful PR campaigns in history, which convinced Americans that private cars are safer (they are, actually, more dangerous [PDF]) and classier than public transit.
But transit can, as most regular users know, be a quite pleasant part of urban life. More importantly, there's probably no way to tackle climate change without using more of it, as this short report points out:
Green house gas emissions (GHG) have increased constantly in the transport sector over recent years. This sector is responsible for 31% of energy consumption and 21% of European GHG emissions. This concerns European urban areas where 80% of citizens live. A shift towards environmentally friendly modes of transport is the key solution, and public transport plays a crucial role: it consumes less energy, uses less space and is less damaging to the urban environment.
Transit is a tough one. All over the world, late night or mid-day busses run mostly empty - we've all seen a bus burning two gallons an hour iding with one passenger in the back!
How much worse is that late night train with five people, moving a thousand tons of steel and glass?
I don't know CO2 per passenger mile figures for mass transit systems all over the country, but those of the system in the Roaring Fork Valley were rumored to be around the same as for cars.
Amazing that a PR campaign could convince folks of such a thing, that public transport is less safe than driving your car to work. Here in the Bay Area, I've gotten completely hooked on Muni and BART. Taking the bus isn't bad, either. I guess I'm lucky to have the public transit system we have here in SF. I know it's pathetic or non-existent (basically) in many large areas across the country, e.g., St. Louis or Dallas. When I take the Muni, I get quality reading done. I get to commune with folks. I feel more a part of the urban setting. I grew up in the woods without electricity, homeschooled and raised Quaker. I'm very far from where I came from. I can see how cars can be addicting as heck. But I know the brunt of our problems lie in this issue- in commuting to work via car, day in and day out. What a toll it takes!
One thing that might help:
Equip transit systems with smaller busses. They'd run at night, and on low-traffic routes.
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There's an article in today's "The Oregonian" about a proposed "wine train" linking Portland with Grand Ronde. It would run tourists out to the wineries out that way, along an existing freight line. (Maybe not incidentally, there's a big indian casino in Grand Ronde.)
What's interesting about this is that the proponents are Republicans who wouldn't be caught dead proposing mass transit projects a decade ago.
I live and work in a semi-rural area and would love to use PT more often... there's a train station in our little town, BUT
- the prices are outrageous ($8 Canadian one way for a 30-minute ride) (POOR ADMINISTRATION... how can this compete on a $ basis with a car?)
- one train 7 AM, one train 6.30 PM. If you miss it, you're stuck (it's worse if you miss it on the way home :-) (POOR SCHEDULING)
- the station is a godd 40-min walk from work... narrows the window and is tough in the harsh winters here (POOR CHOICE IN SEMI-RURAL AREAS)
So I drive... sigh...