Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Month of Metro Midpoint, Musings

SWNID is commuting by bus in September 2009.

The circumstances are immaterial, but the experience is material. We note the following about the experience:

  • In our case, a bus commute roughly quadruples time spent commuting. Circumstances would be different if we were doing what our local bus system is set up to accommodate: commuting from the suburbs to downtown and back again. But the time investment is still greater than driving oneself for nearly every customer.
  • Even owning an automobile, we figure we're saving at least $40 this month in fuel expenses. If we rode regularly and got rid of our hole-in-the-garage-into-which-we throw-money, we'd save a lot more on insurance, depreciation and maintenance.
  • Cincinnati's Metro buses are pleasant enough. Seats are comfortable and, on our route, readily available. Drivers are careful, if sometimes seemingly anxious to accelerate or brake. Despite what some folks think, smells and dirt are minimal.
  • Fellow passengers comprise a friendly assemblage. Folks smile, greet one another, shift their belongings to accommodate riders, hold small children for caregivers, and even supply extra quarters for shorthanded riders.
  • Every person who rides the bus has a story. We aren't anxious to hear them, but someone looking for human-interest material can get it riding the bus.
  • Buses run on time with few exceptions. SWNID has missed zero appointments so far.
  • All this makes commuting by bus a pleasant, stress-free, stimulating experience.
Nevertheless, we expect to return to driving to work when our circumstances allow. Like most Americans, we think our time and freedom are more valuable than the enumerated benefits of bus riding. More amenable to public conveyance than most of our peers, we nevertheless eschew the bus for our private car, not because it's private but because it's much faster and not yet prohibitively expensive.

The only thing that would change our behavior would be a massive increase in the expense of car travel, either in money or in time. The latter is what explains extensive use of public transportation in some of the largest, oldest, most congested American cities. The former is what explains it in gas-taxed Europe. For various immutable reasons, neither situation is likely to obtain widely in our Republic in the foreseeable future.

All of which says something about present initiatives for better public transportation services, specifically the "stimulus" funding of intercity high-speed rail services. SWNID would like nothing better than to take a swift, comfortable train to other cities of the Midwest. Eight billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. But it won't buy actual high speed rail service. It's a down payment on passenger trains that would run at about 80 mph on rail lines shared with freight trains, connecting a few cities. Operational costs would be extra, requiring subsidies to make tickets even remotely competitive.

So the typical intercity passenger will ask why he or she should pay to ride a train to the origin of which he or she will require other transportation and from the destination of which he or she will require other transportation when said train is not substantially faster or cheaper than interstate highways. Everyone will ask why tax dollars are being used to finance such a venture. No one will provide a credible answer (this assumes that reducing CO2 emissions is not a credible answer).

To put it more succinctly: Amtrak.


sadie said...

may i offer a suggestion? PRIUS ...and you do NOT have to be a democrat to drive one.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

But you do have to be wealthy to buy one. At least, wealthier than we.

But we will gladly accept the donation of a Prius to further the cause of this blog. Or any other motorized conveyance.

Christine said...


When I had a long commute, I wanted to take public transit, but when I found out it would be at least twice the travel time and require 2 trains, 2 buses walking several blocks and time spent waiting in a seedy area which would be no fun after dark, I just bought a used Toyota instead. And here at least, the bus ride is still more expensive than the gas for most trips.

Just get a cheap honda or toyota and drive it 'til it dies.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Christine, our Month of Metro is aimed at allowing our progeny to save the modest amount that allows such a purchase while driving our personal vehicle to his new employment.

christine said...

You are a very generous father. I'm guessing alternative transportation is not an option for the kiddo.