Monthly Archives: March 2009

MTA “Doomsday” Budget Passed

But, it looks like help will be coming from Albany, after all. However, it doesn’t sound like a permanent solution, so we’ll be facing these same issues again in what – another year, two years, five years?

Base fare for NYC’s subways and buses will be $2.50 effective May 31. Express bus fares will rise, also. Other MTA operations – Long Island Bus, Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad are expecting fare hikes between 21-28%. All service will be modified in an effort to save money – some bus lines will be cut entirely, as well as subway lines.

Fuzzy MTA Math
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alain-Christian

St. Louis is facing the same problems as the MTA. Unfortunately, the stimulus funds cannot be used for operating existing service, which is pretty idiotic, if you ask me. The major problems with public transit in many places is its hours of operation and frequency of service.

Riders do not want to wait long for a bus or train to come along, especially when it is very hot or very cold. Bus shelters may protect riders from some of the elements, but imagine if there are more riders waiting than the shelter can accommodate and it is raining cats and dogs.

So what is the solution? Planners and community members need to work together to develop solutions to the funding crisis that do not include raising fares again and again,but create reasonable schemes to generate funds through retail, real estate and advertising. Additional savings can be found in streamlining the workforce. While I hate to see anyone lose their job, some personnel cuts will encourage less spending and more efficient operations.

Your thoughts?


How did I get to be a transit advocate

As a kid growing up, you could have never told me that I’d be riding public transit in my 20s (and soon to be 30s). The small town I grew up in was small enough that one could literally walk from one side of town to the other in less than 30 minutes. Given that everyone knew everyone else, it was easy to get a ride if you needed one. There was a taxi service, but I only remember using it once or twice when I was in high school. Otherwise, I walked or caught rides with friends or family. The only bus I rode was the school bus to/from school.

Creative Commons License photo credit: KayVee.INC

When I moved to Jackson, MS for undergraduate studies, I had 3 cousins in school with me, and two of them drove; so I always had a built-in chauffeur to shuttle me to/from the mall or grocery store. Jackson did have a bus system, so I did learn how to take the bus from campus to my job on the other side of town. The only downside was once I was at work, the bus stopped running at 6pm, so I’d have to get someone to drive me back to campus after my shift. At this time, I started thinking about how other people were affected by the bus not running after 6 or 630 p.m., not running on Sundays and limited routes. This question remained in the back of my mind for years.

Ironically, my college boyfriend taught me how to drive, but I never bothered to get a driver’s license until I was 24, after I had lived in Atlanta for a year, then New York City for 2 years. In both cities, I made use of their public transit systems. However, after using New York City’s expansive system (plus SEPTA, NJTransit and MetroNorth), Atlanta’s system seemed to be almost as rudimentary as the transit system in Jackson, Mississippi.

Creative Commons License photo credit: steambadger

I moved back to Atlanta for a year, and worked in Buckhead, a neighborhood just north of Midtown and Downtown Atlanta. My commute was quite complicated – I would take a taxi from home to a local bus transfer center, take a local bus to the Doraville MARTA Station, then ride south to Lindbergh Center, then get on another bus, which would take me a block from my office – then make the same trip at the end of the day. Once express bus service started, I would take a taxi to the mall about 3 miles from our house, then take a south-bound express bus all the way to downtown Atlanta, get on MARTA at Five Points and go north to Lindbergh Center, then get on the bus to go to my office. My average commute was about 2 hours each way, to go about 20 miles. Either way, it was costing me about $200/week.


Then, my mom met someone who was commuting to the same general area, so she’d drive South to our house, then drop me off at the Chamblee Station, where I could ride south to Lindbergh Center and then catch my bus to work. In the afternoons, I would sometimes catch a ride with a coworker who lived “near” me in another suburb.

In 2005, I purchased a car, and moved 65 miles northeast of Atlanta to Athens, to attend graduate school. There was a local bus system, but I admit, I never used it. I did use the campus bus system, because UGA’s campus was sprawling and by that time, I was too out of shape to walk up and down hill after hill. For about 3 months, I commuted to my office in Buckhead (yes, about 65 miles each way – 2 hours driving each way – 5 days a week) before transferring to our office in Athens. I was so exhausted from the commute. Surprisingly, I had a little driving crew – other commuters going into Atlanta who would leave Athens at the same time as me and we’d drive with each other into Atlanta every day together. We never spoke, we never knew each others’ names, but we knew the cars and where everyone would get off.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tactical Neural Implant

I knew that after graduation, I wanted to move back to the Northeast. New York had gotten in my blood, and I couldn’t get it out. So, I applied to Planning school and moved to New Jersey. My enthusiasm was the highest my first semester of Planning school – here, I felt like I was finally amongst kindred souls – people who felt as strongly as I did that public transit could be the saving grace of American cities of all sizes and types as a solution to congestion and pollution; and to promote a better quality of life for people in all walks of life, no matter their race, income, ethnicity or gender.

As the semesters wore on, I became disillusioned as I found that some people didn’t see transit the same way I did. Some had never taken public transit, or made fun of me for knowing how to get places in the region without a car. I began to feel isolated, despite belonging to transit forums like TransitHell and having a few friends who I could talk to about transit (or would take transit with me).

NJT Multilevel w/ ALP-46
Creative Commons License photo credit: Fußgänger

As I finish my last semester of Planning school, and continue to search for a job, I wonder if I am too idealistic about what positive things more efficient transit – car, bus, train, light rail, bicycle, pedestrian – can do for the quality of life of people in America, despite the sprawl, inefficient land use patterns and love affair with the car. My frustration with my experiences in Planning school, coupled with disappointments on the job search have left me wondering why even bother with transportation planning? Why not just get a job teaching social studies or English and leave my love affair with transit to the weekends?

6 Fare Policy Suggestions

  1. Introduce a Smart Card that works with multiple transit services.
  2. Create bus and schedules that make it clear to riders where the fare zones change, if you are going to work with a zone-based fare system.
  3. Make fare exceptions for people riding from a stop immediately on one side of a fare zone to a stop immediately after the fare zone change.
  4. Speed up bus loading by ending collecting cash fares on the buses; use Smart Cards or Transit Cards.
  5. Make it easier to purchase monthly or weekly fare cards at machines by using more intuitive menus and quick shortcuts to purchasing discounted fare cards.
  6. Create and promote purchase of quarterly, semi-annual and annual bus/rail passes

Stop being a JERK on Public Transit!

I love using public transit, but some of my fellow passengers just don’t understand that public transit is not a private vehicle just for your enjoyment – but instead a shared experience for all of us. So, as a public service, I am going to give a few tips about how to be more polite on transit – and ensure you never get the evil eye from your fellow passengers.

Made It
Creative Commons License photo credit: Seabamirum

Please, leave the heavy perfume and cologne at home. There is no reason in the world that I should smell you from half a train car away. Or half a block away, while I wait at the bus stop. A little dab here and there, and you are fine! I promise! Since we are on the subject of smells, don’t bring smelly food on the bus and devour it like it is your last meal. Seriously, the germs alone will ensure it is your last meal. Also, keep your shoes on your feet – and off of the seats! No one wants dirt and who knows what else on their clothes and/or hands.

Personal hygiene is personal for a reason. Trust me, no one wants to hear you clipping your fingernails or smell your nail polish.  I’ll never forget the day last summer when the lady sitting next to me was clipping her fingernails and the nail landed in my lap. Seriously, what do you do in that situation? Let’s help avoid awkward moments for everyone, and take care of these things at home.

Give up your seat to the elderly, handicapped, pregnant women and people with small children. There’s nothing more coldhearted than seeing an able-bodied teenager or young adult sitting and jamming to their iPod, while someone’s grandma struggles to hold on to the subway pole. In the words of Mays Gilliam, “That ain’t right!”

Move over and let someone sit next to you, rather than letting your bag (or hips) have a seat on the train. As my favorite conductor on NJTransit says, “Did this bag buy a ticket? No? Alright, then move it or pay for the bag to ride, too.” I know it’s hard if you are overweight or tall to get comfortable, but don’t take up 2 or 3 seats. It’s just plain rude.

Click, click.. stupified.
Creative Commons License photo credit: juicyrai

Is it that hard to exit out of the back of the bus? If riders exit from the back, this gives passengers a chance to load at the front quickly and efficiently, keeping the bus’ idle time down, and keeping the bus on schedule! On that note, don’t block the back doors just because you are getting off 5 stops from now. Move into a place where you are not blocking the exit, so other people can get off quickly!

Do the right thing and allow people to exit the train/subway car before entering. Pushing and shoving never gets much accomplished, and commuting is not supposed to be a contact sport. Waiting 5 seconds for people to exit will probably mean you can snag a seat or at least a comfortable standing position! Also, don’t block the doors. I know it is tempting to hold the doors open because you are only 2/3 the way into the crowded train car, but be a pal – let the doors go and wait on the next train. At rush hour, most subway trains come every 5-10 minutes – which is not long at all.

Take your trash with you! Did you know that most subway fires in the NYC Subway are because of trash like newspapers and food wrappers? I have yet to be to a subway station that doesn’t have trash cans – so find one and deposit your trash there, instead of on the tracks, platform or under your seat. Try to keep your coffee in its mug, versus on the floor of the bus or train. If you do make a spill, let someone know at the next stop, so it can be cleaned up before someone hurts themselves.

Don’t block the aisles with your luggage or strollers. This can be tough if you are short and unable to reach the luggage rack, or it is too difficult to close the stroller, but scout out places on the train or bus where you can be out of the way as much as possible. Or, try to travel at off peak times to reduce the likelihood of annoying other passengers.

Asleep in the bus
Creative Commons License photo credit: jepoirrier

Avoid personal (or confidential) conversations while riding. No one wants to hear about your date last night, who is getting laid off at your job or what the doctor said about that strange rash you have. If you really have to talk to someone, try keeping your voice down, mindful that other passengers might be napping, reading or working. Additionally, keep the profanity to a minimum. Some of us have sensitive dispositions, and cursing makes us very upset.

Be kind to your driver/operator/conductor. Like you, the driver/operator/conductor is a human. Unbelievable, right? Well, being that they are in fact human, we should try to be kind to him or her. Say “Thank you,” or “Good morning”. Let them know you appreciate their being there to serve you. A simple “thank you” goes a long way to brightening someone’s day.

It is so tempting to start singing and/or dancing when your favorite song starts playing on your iPod, but remember, a bus or train is not the place to perfect your American Idol performance. Be mindful that others may not want to hear your (off-key) singing or see your (really lame) dancing.

007 - Febrero 5 de 2009 - Lovely work, nice man, dredfull singing...
Creative Commons License photo credit: kmilamartinezcalle

Do you have a tip you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

10 Tips to Survive the Recession – Transport Style

Man commuting to work via bicycle in Amsterdam

The economy sucks. Whether you are in the US or the UK, you are trying to find ways to save a few dollars and lessen the sting of the recession. Here are my 10 tips to survive the recession – transport style.

  1. Invite your friends over to hang out. You don’t drive, so you save on gas and the frustration of traffic. Better yet, suggest they carpool on their way over.
  2. Dump the gym membership and walk or bicycle to/from local stores. You’ll still get plenty of exercise and you’ll be doing your part to keep a car off of the road.
  3. Don’t drive to the carwash. Instead, stay at home and do it yourself. You’ll get your heart pumping and have a sense of accomplishment once you are done.
  4. Find out how to commute from your home to your office using public transit. Even if you have to drive a few miles to a park and ride, you’ll have a less stressful commute and save money on gas and car maintenance.
  5. Buy monthly passes for transit. Paying the regular base fair will quickly add up. Instead, get a monthly pass, which is usually at a significant discount, and see the savings add up.
  6. Call your insurance company and let them know that you are using public transit or carpooling more, and see if you can get a discount on your auto insurance.
  7. Similarly, let your human resources department know that you are looking into transit alternatives. See if they offer free or discounted transit passes, parking passes or other benefits for using alternative means to get to work.
  8. If you must drive to run errands, see if neighbors would like to carpool and combine trips. You’ll save gas and build a friendship or two.
  9. Find out about low-cost bus carriers between major cities. Instead of driving from DC to NYC, why not try BoltBus for $5 each way?
  10. Ask your employer about working from home 2-3 days a week. Combined with using public transit on the days you go into the office, you’ll see your transportation costs drop dramatically.