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Three transit related items today. 

First, this Slate article on the idea that telework may not be all its cracked up to be makes the very common mistake of just not getting it when it comes to driving. The benefit of telework is not how much the teleworkers drive, its when they do it. Even if teleworkers do drive more overall, they’re off the road during the morning and afternoon peak commuting times. Scaled appropriately, this reduces traffic, which shortens the amount of time people spend commuting and increases their fuel efficiency. Although I haven’t actually done any calculations, I would be willing to bet that the environmental benefits of this far outweigh the additional driving by the teleworkers, if it in fact exists. Environmental impacts aside, shorter commuting times and less traffic make everyone happier. Its a big quality of life issue. 

Next, there was actually something good in the fiscal cliff deal. The transit subsidy for commuters was returned to $240 per month. It had been lowered to $125 last year, while the subsidy for parking remained at $240 then as now. Whatever you think about subsidizing public transportation or parking, it’s perverse to set the parking subsidy at twice the transit subsidy in a program designed to encourage the use of public transportation. It’s even more perverse when you consider the National Capitol Region (fed-speak for DC and the ‘burbs) which features an excellent public transportation network, horrible traffic, and insufficient parking. 

Finally, Amtrak will seek a change to Federal Rail Administration regulations that require it’s trains to be very heavy, for crash safety. The regulations are a major stumbling block to the adoption of high-speed rail service in the US. The increased weight makes trains more expensive to operate, significantly impacts their top speed, and makes them more expensive to purchase in the first place, as the standardized models on the market have to be redesigned to meet the regulations. If you think we need high-speed passenger rail in this country (and you should think that), then this is where you start. 

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Here’s a good example from Seattle of what can be done wrong when your city wants a BRT line. In short: inconvenient payment methods, lack of signal priority, and general bad planning.

Maybe, if the politicians and others that planned transit actually used it, we could do this right. But instead, we’ll spend boatloads of money to turn a bus line into a shinier bus line, with no meaningfully improved service.

Edit: added the link

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Ever since I moved to a city with a good public transit system, I’ve found the topic fascinating. I’ve spoken to several folks that live in the DC area recently that think the DC Metro sucks. They have a host of complaints that typically boil down to it taking too long to reach your destination (relative to driving) or an inconvenient schedule (departures are not frequent enough or trains don’t run late enough). I have to admit this surprised me. I tend to think the Metro is pretty good! I tend to think Philadelphia’s SEPTA is pretty good too, though it often seems like I’m the only one. Hating on SEPTA is almost as much of a pass time in Philly as is hating on the parking authority. They even made a TV show out of that one!

Opinions of transit systems go beyond personal preference, when you consider the policies of a city that relate in some way to its transit system. The way cities grow and develop are shaped by transit, and vice versa. A lot is at stake when designing transit-related policy.

So I’m curious. What are your thoughts on the Metro, or SEPTA, or whatever system you have experience with? What do they do right, and what could be done better?

 

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