Category Archives: commuter rail

Do you have a backup plan?

I started a new job this week, and I’ve been commuting about an hour and a half via subway to my job. As a survivor of the 2003 Northeast Blackout, I can’t help but wonder how I will go about getting home in case of another blackout or subway outages. I work about 16 miles from home. Walking would take about 5 hours on a good day, so what should I do?

us_overflight 2003 blackout

My first plan is to stay put at my office. It might be the safest place to be, especially since I have snacks in my desk. If this is not possible for whatever reason, then I will try to get buses home, which might take up to 5 hours, too. The masses of people trying to get home would block streets and bridges, but at least I would be able to make it home if I absolutely had to.

During the Northeast Blackout of 2003, I was fortunate enough to pair up with some people in my office who found a rental car with a 1/4 tank of gas and made it home to Jamaica, Queens. However, I may not be as lucky this time as I work in Brooklyn and live in Harlem. Most of my neighbors don’t have cars and none of my coworkers live near me.

What’s your plan if the transit system shuts down or some emergency prevents you from getting home car-free?

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World Carfree Day – September 22

carfree

World Carfree Day is September 22. Do you have any special plans? If so, add your event online at: World Carfree Day And join the World Carfree Day Page on Facebook!

World Carfree Day is an annual celebration of cities and public life, free from the noise, stress and pollution of cars. Each year on September 22, people around the world organize events of all sizes to showcase alternatives to the automobile. World Carfree Network invites organisations and individuals everywhere to join!

Every September 22, people from around the world get together in the streets, intersections, and neighbourhood blocks to remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated society. 2009 should be no different.

10 Tips to Getting Started Living Car Free

Gingerbread Man Rides the Subway
Image by Seth W.

So, you’ve made the decision – or seriously considering Living Car Free. It can be liberating and feel like imprisonment at the same time. These 10 tips will help you get started. If you think of more things, let us know in the comments!

  1. Commit to being car free. If you aren’t ready to give up your car, try being car free once a week. Then every few weeks add another day. Use transit for pleasure trips or commuting. Have reasons for becoming car free – are you conscious about the costs of car ownership, the environment or just want to try something new? Knowing why you are doing something makes it easier to commit.
  2. Get some maps and schedules. Find transit maps, websites that can help you build transit directions and ask car free friends for suggestions on the best ways to travel in your area. Make up schedules for going to work, play, entertainment, school, etc. Print these directions, schedules and information out, or keep in a Moleskine or other notebook.
  3. Remember the weekends and holidays. Most transit operators change the schedules on the weekends and holidays, so make sure to make travel schedules around these anticipated changes to the schedule. There’s NOTHING like showing up for your bus on a Saturday or holiday and waiting for an hour because you forgot to take into account weekend or holiday schedules!
  4. Buy a monthly transit pass. Make the investment in a monthly transit pass. It is a discounted pass that typically allows you unlimited transit trips on your preferred method. Check your transit agency’s website for information on costs, when and where to buy and how to purchase. No one likes to give away money, so this will be an additional incentive to make trips on transit.
  5. Pack your bags carefully. Being car free, you can’t drag along everything you had in your car with you on your daily transit trips. Even if you have a backpack, you will find the heavier it is, the less motivated you are to walk up two flights of stairs out of a subway station or ride your bike 5 miles to work. Get rid of the things you really don’t need – just stick to the basics.
  6. Consider your social life. In some cities, transit stops running at late night hours, which can put a damper on your social life. Make sure you have contingency plans for when you go out on the town with your friends. Also consider how you will get to a friend’s home for Superbowl Sunday or just to hang out after work.
  7. Come up with a contingency plan. In case of emergency, how will you get home? I was unprepared for having to find an alternative way home from work when the 2004 Northeast blackout happened. The subways weren’t running and no one had cars. What would you do? Sleep in the park? Walk home? Wait at a transit terminal? Hitchhike?
  8. Be flexible. Sometimes, the bus will be late. Or a sick passenger will be on the train. Plan for minor delays and have plans in place at work or school for days when you are late. Leave extra early if you have a major meeting or test. Learn alternate routes to/from your destination – if the trains are down, what buses could you use? Or vice versa.
  9. Learn transit etiquette. How do other riders behave? What are your transit system’s rules of conduct for passengers? Check out my post “Stop being a JERK on Public Transit!” for more dos and don’ts for transit. Some of the major don’ts are preventing passengers from getting off before you get on, eating or drinking, or smoking.
  10. Prepare for the weather. Now that you are no longer protected by two tons of steel, you will need to be prepared for the weather. Keep an extra change of clothes at work, think about wearing sneakers instead of nice dress shoes on your commute, always carry an umbrella, think about buying some rainboots or a raincoat – you get the hint.

Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Why Ca$h for Clunkers won’t work

It’s the economy, stupid!

The economy is not in full recovery mode, yet, so we can’t expect Cash for Clunkers – the government program to provide up to $4500 off the purchase of a new car if it is more fuel efficient than the old car – to work the way it was designed. Frankly, how many people do YOU know are going out and buying new cars in these uncertain economic times?

Clunker

The program is funded for $1 billion dollars – which could help a transit agency upgrade its equiptment, close a budget gap and prevent fare hikes, or ensure preventative maintenance continues on rail lines or buses. I’d rather see the federal government begin funding sustainable, more economical transit than keep throwing money behind Detroit, which seems bent on producing cars with dismal gas mileage, instead of buses, light rail vehicles or train cars. I’m not anti-car at all, but instead looking at the bigger picture. Oil will not last forever, and we have not made significant inroads in alternative fuels to be used mass-market – so we need to get back to what we know will work in the meantime – public transportation and alternative modes of transportation.

Perhaps it will take a partnership between a transit agency and a big 3 automaker to make some major changes in how transportation is funded and thought of in America, so in the meantime, I will be waiting and watching the success (or failure) of the Cash for Clunkers program, which runs from July 1 to November 1, 2009.

Doomsday is coming for many transit agencies

While I have mentioned a few times that New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is facing a May 31 doomsday of budget cuts and fare and service hikes, there are other transit agencies facing the same types of issues. Whether the issues are caused by lack of funding from the local and state levels, poor management of the agency or unforeseen budget problems, transit cuts are going to happen, whether we want them or not.

Sacramento Regional Transit 220 CAF 2004
Creative Commons License photo credit: jacksnell

The current economic crisis has made it difficult to guarantee funding for transit agencies. However, if the United States is ready to invest heavily in its future, let’s guarantee funding for transit agencies capital projects AND operations! With transit ridership at record levels, let’s continue that trend.

It goes without saying that transit is a more sustainable option for transportation than continuing to build roads, parking spaces, interchanges, etc. for personal vehicles. Other countries have fantastic public transportation systems – and so should we! Spain has a high speed train network that is rivaling France’s and Japan’s, most European countries ensure their citizens live within hundreds of meters of transit stops, and yet America only has public transportation in limited locales throughout our expansive countryside. Some cities have transit that is so unattractive, it has a hard time attracting riders other than the poorest of the poor.

I told a classmate a few days ago that transit can be a great class equalizer AND serve as a way to invigorate the economy. Jobs can be created in developing, building and operating transit and planning and building new transit oriented developments. The time is now – is America ready for a new future beyond doomsday?

Living Car Free is not as hard as it seems

I have been living car free for most of my life, with an exception of about 3 years when I had a car. Living Car Free really isn’t that difficult, even if you live in a place with a hodgepodge of transit options.

All you really need in order to be successful at being car free is to have the desire to make living car free work for you – whether it is going to work on weekdays, or just for fun on the weekends.

First, you need to make the commitment to being car free. Promise yourself to give it a fair shot, and move on to the next steps.

Second, gather up the supplies you need to make livng car free a relaity. This includes transit maps and timetables, Google Transit and a friend who can help you navigate the system.

Now, here comes the easy part – check out the maps and timetables and fashion a few trial runs of getting to-from work or your destination. I don’t know about you, but it is so much easier to get a bus to/from the mall than to deal with the traffic and parking issues!

Okay, so we have our schedule set, so let’s do it! Get up and out, and try your trip. You might miss a connection here and there if you aren’t familiar with transferring from one mode of transit to another, or one bus to another, so give yourself plenty of time to transfer. Make notes about where the best places to sit and exit are, and continue to improve your experience. Notice where other peopele sit and exit, which exists have escalators (if you don’t like stairs) or how long the average wait is for an elevator, how long it takes to get up the stairs, etc.

If you continuously tweak your commute or transit trips for a few weeks, you will hit that “sweet spot” and be in a position to live car free without a lot of hassle AND have some more free time to read, listen to music and simply enjoy life!

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