Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Selling public transit as a real alternative

The Globe and Mail has been running a great series on traffic and transit in Canadian cities over the last few days, and it's offered some pretty good content to look at for folks interested. On Monday, there was a very cool slideshow-type feature that discussed the "psychological gridlock" that seems to be preventing so many Canadians from really buying in to public and alternative transit as realistic ways to get themselves around the city.

The slideshow dealt with some of the 'best practices' that transit systems in Canada would be well-served to duplicate:
  • Bringing in a no-nonsense, no-apologies transit guru like New York City's Janette Sadik-Khan; she's not without controversy, but Sadik-Khan gets things done.
  • A transit 'smart card' that goes above and beyond, like Hong Kong's 'Octopus Card', which not only simplifies paying for public transit, but simplifies paying for a huge number of city services.
  • Get subways in place, like Madrid, Spain has done; a good choice for funding, when done right, are public-private partnerships, which were how much of the Madrid system was built.
  • Congestion pricing on highways, but carefully: If you're going to force people into public transit, make sure you improve public transit capacity to ensure you can handle the surge in ridership. That's what Stockholm, Sweden did--to great results--in 2006.
  • Spreading demand for transit to times outside peak periods, to increase your capacity without needing to increase the actual fleet size.
Ottawa could use a lot of this. The so-called "O-Card" smart card is in progress-and has been for more than a decade, but remains far off. The subway Ottawa's getting is a start, but is still a long way off, and is a pretty small first step. Congestion pricing on Ottawa highways might cause a massive riot among suburban commuters, but since OC Transpo wouldn't be able to accommodate the increase, it's hard to blame them. And OC Transpo actually used to have 'peak fares' and other fares, but changed that arrangement, likely because it was too complicated (with a smart card, it would be much simpler to have in place).

The story ended with an interesting point:
When Canadians are travelling, their openness to alternative modes of transportation seems to blossom, while back home many cities remain psychologically gridlocked when it comes to how to improve our daily commute. Change also requires the kind of permanent funding that big-city mayors and others believe should be part of a federal urban strategy – and on the table for discussion in the national election campaign.

1 comment:

Eric G said...

I take it that you were less than impressed with the crowd at the "consultation".

I like the part about bulldozing the snarled mess that is our suburbs. Keep it up.