Tim Haab at Environmental Economics relates an anecdote about a car-loving friend switching to a form of mass transit:
“There’s a luxury coach service that has a park and ride stop 6 miles from my house. The bus is equipped with laptop hook-ups and comfortable seats. It takes 45 minutes to get downtown and it drops me off at the door to my office. And it only cost $5 roundtrip. Also I’m working at home 2 days a week.”
So now I’m doing the math. That’s a savings of $16.50 a commuting day ($5 in fare plus $2 in gas). He’s saving $96.50 a week. $4,439 a year.
This is somebody with a pretty tremendous commute, making the trip at increasingly staggering expense. And still, it’s the luxury coach service that gets him onto the bus.
You shouldn’t make public policy based on anecdotes (even if that’s what politicians do all the time), but there’s plenty of history to suggest that it’s this kind of service that’s most likely to get drivers out of their cars — not a crowded, hot, smelly old bus where they might even have to stand for much of the trip, but a pleasant luxury coach, if not an even more comfortable train. The premium people are willing to pay for comfort is very significant. With the rising cost of gasoline, more people are butting up against their limits, but it’s still not a choice based on pure financial rationalism.
So that’s the challenge for cities and regional authorities hoping to save road money, make planning more efficient, and clean up their air: they’re not just in the business of making transit available, they’re in the business of making it desirable. And in that regard, they’ve got an awful lot to learn from the private sector.