The Future of Mass Transportation

I am going to posit right off the bat that American mass transit is irrevocably broken. I’m not pointing any fingers at anyone or any political party when I say that. It is quickly becoming fact. The other thing I am going to put forth is that the car culture that we know now is basically heading in the same direction and we need to get more people to drive less, for a number of reasons.

When you look at the population and its mass transit ridership there is one group that really is not doing more riding and that’s the middle class/business class. There’s probably two really good reasons for this: a) the train or the bus never goes to where they need to go and b) the bus is certainly not as nice and comfy as their car. I don’t blame them. If I had a Lexus, I’d certainly take that over the current buses.

With the cash strapped municipalities unable to add more bus lines or upgrade the buses to a more posh level, it is really time for the private sector to step up as there is money to be made. Take, for example, Bauer’s Limousine Service, and their Wi-Drive system, that caters to the white collars in Palo Alto. They have found a way to get the well-off to ride and probably make a profit at it.

I hope that in the future, we’ll see more of this. I think that there are a number of areas where a tidy profit could be made with a similar business plan as Bauer’s while also serving the world to clean up congestion and maybe the environment.

My first thought is to create ‘commuter flights’ that would take the place of the short hop jet traffic. A similarly equipped bus with routes that travel the small distances that connecting flights take care of would be quite doable. The trick is in the price/time/comfort skewing.

Take for instance a connecting flight from St. Louis to Chicago: that air flight would take 1:15.That’s four times as fast as  driving, right? Factor in the hour check-in/TSA (if you play by the rules) and the half hour it takes to get your bag and out the terminal door and now you’re only two hours apart in time.   A direct shot bus with no stops, like Mega Bus should make the trip in 5:30. A bus would have no doubt more comfy seating, free wi-fi, the same laughable bathroom, at two-thirds the price. Ideally, this bus would make drop offs and pickups at the airports, fitting it in with the current transportation system. I’d think that six hours is probably the max where this trade-off would be considered workable.

The more interesting puzzle to solve is the ‘last mile’ issue of mass transit. While you can get people to park at the park and ride lot, they won’t do it because the bus doesn’t go directly to their destination. People would be happy to NOT sit in gridlock on an arterial but they don’t want to be dropped off six blocks from work. The added difficulty is that a lot of commuting is to office parks in the suburbs where there might be a half mile or more to each campus. I’m not sure what the answer here is. Companies hiring out buses or perhaps hiring a bus for the short trip from campus to drop off point? Perhaps it could be a system of two buses: a long haul and a short haul to get to final destinations.

The whole trick of the thing is that private ventures, once they get involved (or see profitability in a venture) they will be able to offer the amenities that a larger percentage of the driving populace can get behind, then mass transit will finally have the mass appeal we’re looking for  – well in my humble opinion.

*P.s. anyone who takes this plan and runs with, it gimme some free rides!

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