In a comment, Kelly wrote: I’m interested in the communal mindset of those who take public transportation. You should write more about that! It’s something I noticed when The Wife and I were in Toronto recently; we relied on their subways and commuter rail to get around (or driving each day consisted of about fifteen minutes each way from the hotel to a train station), and you can really tell the people who use those services a great deal.
Part of it may be the concern that mass transit is constantly threatened. In an article touting the benefits of it, Britannica noted: “Where the automobile is a major competitor to mass transportation, the use of transit has declined… political support has eroded as well… If the automobile provides superior service for the majority of riders, why not let the market operate without government intervention, perhaps leading to the demise of transit?”
Actively or tacitly, I think many people recognize when a place – I’m talking to YOU, Boston! – doesn’t put adequate resources behind mass transit. I understand from one of my sisters that mass transit in Charlotte, NC, has collapsed.
So, at least some of us have become not just users but advocates for it as a matter of equity and ecology. Britannica: “Some portion of the urban travel market is made up of people who cannot use the automobile to travel because they are handicapped, elderly, or too young to drive…” My daughter goes to work on the bus, and I used to. “If these people are to have the mobility essential for subsistence and satisfaction in their lives, some form of public transportation is necessary.”
“Transit provides a community with a way to move potentially large numbers of people while consuming fewer resources… When it is well utilized, it produces important benefits for the community: air-quality improvements, less land consumption than an auto-dependent transportation system, lower energy requirements, and lower accident costs.” I hear tell there’s some global warming taking place.
So it is incumbent for some of us who use mass transit to make at least a minimal effort to make the experience positive. When someone is trying to catch the bus and is four buildings away, I take my time getting on the vehicle, giving them a chance to catch a ride. Others have done the same for me.
The Capital District Transportation Authority buses have bicycle racks. I’ve gotten off the bus to help someone get their bike attached. In part, it’s because I had trouble figuring it out initially.
Mass transit involves more coordination of schedules, of course. Sundays, in particular, do not have robust mass transit schedules. There is a certain chauvinism among some car drivers who can’t understand not being in their own “steel cocoons.” On the other hand, cars involve far more expenses: maintenance, insurance, fuel, parking, and in some locales, gridlock.
My favorite way to travel intercity is by train. I’ve said more than once that taking the train is the only civilized way of traveling. Since 2010, I’ve traveled twice by plane from Albany, NY: to San Diego, CA, in 2018, and to Paris, France, in 2023.
I’ve found people on the train to be more mellow than airline passengers. Conversations with total strangers are common. I think it’s because fellow travelers are in a club that appreciates seeing the country without being behind the wheel. So they tend to be helpful in a way that disciples of a cause tend to be.
Of course, a half-full train is ecologically more sound than riding on the interstate, though getting to the final destination may be problematic. I love taking the Metro North from Poughkeepsie to Yankee Stadium, which is exceptionally easy.
Kelly, I’m curious about the “tell” from those Toronto commuters. It reminds me of when I’d ride my bicycle in Albany, and another bicyclist would wave or at least give a head nod. We’re part of the club.
Perhaps these commuters are using a part of their brains, negotiating a system that others are not adept at. I haven’t lived in NYC since 1977 and don’t travel there that often. Yet the subway system was astonishingly familiar when I was there in May 2023.
Maybe it’s the same brain cells that prefer paper maps to GPS. That tends to be me, for whom subway/light rail maps are easy. The first time I went to San Diego with its then-new light rail, c. 2003, I negotiated the system quickly. When I was in the car, I knew I couldn’t find my way back to where I started.
I tasted that in France, traveling from the wedding to the reception, a 45-minute trip. The car had GPS, which worked fine. But we had no idea what direction we were traveling, which was disorientating.