8.2.17

THE RIGHT TO RIDE ANYWHERE ON THE BUS ...

I forget where I first saw the lament that the Civil Rights era desegregated the buses just when Fordism plus lots of public money for roads rendered the bus the mode of transportation almost exclusively for the poor.  In the cities, the buses became property of municipal transportation authorities, all too often the unglamorous stable-mates of the shiny streetcars.  Deregulation led to lower fares for the intercity bus services, but that also meant the withdrawal of Greyhound, Trailways, and the rest of the cross-country network as we once knew it, and today's cut-rate intercity services handle ticketing and itineraries online, not exactly convenient for the down-on-your-luck drifter who has a few bucks and wants to go to someplace more promising sometime today.

But the in-migration of upscale types into the big cities might also be leading to yet another fracture in that urban Democrat coalition of the trendy and the downtrodden.
Business leaders: I know you really want a transit system that a more diverse group of people will use, but you can’t promote transit while insulting the people who use it now.  It doesn’t make sense.  Nobody will choose to join a category of people, “transit riders,” that you’re marking as unimportant or even despised.

In the course of my transit planning work in several US cities, I’ve been quietly taken aside by a downtown business leader and told that of course those ugly buses have to be gotten off of the main street, and put out on some back street where the loading docks are.  And sadly, I have sometimes been told the same by advocates of public space, often credentialed New Urbanists, who insist that their aesthetic disapproval of the bus should outweigh people’s need for useful, reliable transit service.  Most of these latter group don’t really understand the impact of those comments, but I see the effects: remote, unsafe and/or inoperable bus facilities hidden from the public eye.

Now and then someone makes the class-segregation narrative explicit.  For example, in one US city where I worked years ago, a downtown business leader explained to me that “those people” waiting for buses on the main street were deterring customers from visiting businesses, and “making people feel unsafe.”  The candor was refreshing: the problem isn’t the buses. The problem is unwanted people who do not deserve to be respected by the design of the city — including, of course, many of the business community’s own employees.
Some of what the essayist mentions is a variation on the canard that extensions of the transit authority's network, whether with additional busses, or with the shiny full size Lionel toys, simply facilitate the mobility of burglars and muggers.  But that "aesthetic disapproval?"  The Fatal Conceit of Credentialed Experts (and their public radio, and their wine, and their tax-subsidized galleries) in a nutshell.  Run the busses in the alleys!  Put the bus stops at the employee entrances!  Keep the pedestrian malls neat and pretty!  (That's the same logic by which some cruise line operators maintain fenced compounds with the resorts and the beaches on otherwise impoverished Caribbean islands ... only contact with vetted employees in proper uniform.)

Market tests matter.
Welcome the buses and their passengers.  Not every business will thrive, but that’s capitalism.  In the long run, you’ll have a city where people want to be.
That might not be what the Chamber of Commerce types want to hear, but how often does an advocate of competition in the abstract want protection for his line of business codified?

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