Sensible Mass Transit

Sitting in traffic is aggravating because it frustrates freedom of movement. You sit with thousands of other people in an environment walled in by painted lines, concrete and exhaust; an environment where you must be vigilant enough to avoid an accident but are otherwise denied freedom except what is possible within the constraints of limited attention and movement. If you could divert your attention, it would be less frustrating, but you must face forward and wait in line. Traffic is life as tedium.

We should continue to improve mass transit and the highway system, to solve many of the problems with the usual mass transit paradigm:

  1. The right target demographic: With the exception of trains and subways in the Northeast, mass transit is rarely designed with the middle-class in mind. This is why it is seldom successful or popular. It is almost always subsidized with taxes and fares targeted at low-income users. This is a recipe for mediocrity since you will never have an easy time with revenue, quality, or service. The working commuter should be the focus of mass transit. It is always more successful to bring the lower end consumer up than to force the higher end consumer down.
  2. Support commuting, not a car-less lifestyle: Residential bus routes are inefficient and do not make sense for the average commuter. Even with residential routes, you have to walk from your house to the bus stop, which is often inconvenient to anyone but the most desperate or car-less. Greater emphasis should be placed on servicing common junctions where large numbers of residential drivers enter the highways because this is where traffic is congested. High-volume transit stations with adequate parking could be placed along major highways, especially closer to remote suburbs where traffic enters the funnel.
  3. Partnerships with business: We need to get creative with how to fund mass transit, while at the same time adding value for the end-user. For example, take advantage of any wait time by sharing transit stations with businesses focused on the busy commuter. Get coffee or breakfast, leave your car to be washed and lubed while you’re at work, get new tires, buy a newspaper or an iPod, surf the Internet. With just a few businesses it could turn the commute into time well spent.
  4. Demand-based tollways: I’m a big fan of toll roads provided they are managed properly. However, the purpose of the toll system should be convenience, not as a replacement for normal conduits through the city. If I’m on a toll road, I expect there to rarely be traffic. With automated payment systems already in place, tollways should increase tolls automatically as traffic becomes more congested. The goal should be to maintain a 50 mph flow. If this drops, the tolls should go up. Another alternative is to increase tolls during normal rush hours. This will create an added incentive for some people to travel outside these hours. It is silly to have a toll system that is empty most of the time and only heavily used during rush hours.
  5. Promote central density: Tolls should also start out more expensive in the suburbs and decrease as you enter central city areas. This way you pay more the further away you are from the city since these commuters cause the most congestion as they are on the highway longer. This is a good check against the suburban sprawl that afflicts many areas.


  1. Why are all these people commuting downtown?

    Maybe that is the problem to attack.

    Instead of setting up tolls for commuters raise the taxes for those businesses that cause the problem: they are an “attractive nuisance” in zoning terms.

    Instead of buildin “high-volume transit stations with adequate parking could be placed along major highways, especially closer to remote suburbs where traffic enters the funnel” and then operating an enormously expensive transit system, why not just put the office buildings at those locations you suggest, with adequate parking.

    For what it costs to operate the transit system you could give the office space away for free, and with the offices where the parking is you would already be at work so the transit system would be unnecessary. Just think of the resources and wasted time you could save.

  2. Ray,

    You might be right about moving the buildings closer to the source of the traffic, but there are advantages to having businesses in close proximity to one another.