Sunday, January 24, 2010

BUS STORY # 168, Part 2 (Means Testing)

Last week’s story featured a somewhat hapless rider who questioned out loud why another rider would take the bus if he could afford to go to Cape Cod. (You can read it here.)

After nearly four years riding the bus, I know the great majority of my co-riders take the bus because it’s their only option. There are absolutely no romantic or idealistic illusions about what they are doing. It’s all they can afford. And if they could get their hands on a car, they’d be off the bus faster than the Rapid can reach the other side of town.

Who’s the witless one? The one who rides and doesn’t have to.

Interestingly, this population shares this same sensibility with the overwhelming majority of the socially adept, well-educated, economically comfortable folks in town: Why would anyone in his or her right mind take the bus if they didn’t have to?

I was one of those people four years ago. The very first bus story I wrote was how I came to give public transportation a try: a concern for the environment pushed into action by the rising cost of gasoline. I crunched the numbers: environmentally responsible behavior had become financially advantageous. I gave it a try.

Along the way, I discovered other benefits: not having to drive in a city of aggressive but unskilled drivers, not having to drive in rain or snow, not having to find parking, time to read, and, of course, collecting bus stories.

I also discovered during commute times that there were others in my socioeconomic niche who took the bus to and from work for many of the same reasons. I’ve even met a few who always take public transportation, in town and out, on principle.

We are a small minority. And like any small minority going against the tide, there is always a nagging suspicion about our kind.

The woman who questioned why someone who could afford to go to Cape Cod would ride the bus was, in essence, suggesting a person who could afford such a trip didn’t belong on the bus. Both what our male co-rider said in response and the force with which he said it confirmed he had not missed the implication.

This got me to imagining a line of boarders having to show their W-2 forms to the driver before being allowed past the fare box.

“Sorry, sir, but your box one is way past the allowable.”

“But, driver, what about line 43 on my 1040?”

“Sorry, sir, I don’t make the rules. Please get off the bus now. I’ve got a schedule to keep.”

AAA estimates the annual cost of owning a car runs somewhere between 6,000-plus and 10,000-plus dollars depending on the size and age of the car, and the number of miles driven.

It is entirely possible for someone living in Albuquerque to get rid of his or her car, use the bus for most transportation needs and augment that with taxi service when necessary, and use the money saved for an annual two-week, stay-where-you-want, eat-where-you-want, buy-what-you-want summer vacation on old Cape Cod.

Could this be how our co-rider was financing his trips to the Cape? I think it’s unlikely, but I really don't know.

What I do know is that I myself would vacation elsewhere. You can’t believe the traffic.


Blogger abqdave said...

Another great post.  Despite my being a strident 'greenie' at work, I still get comments of amazent that I take the bus every day  This reflects the stigma mass transit has, caused because the automobile age transformed it from being the way most people got around to serving primarily those who don't own a car; the old and the poor.

One of the ideas transit agencies have used to get middle class working people to ride the bus again is the 'dump the pump', save money on gas, scheme. This has had only limited success because, I think, gas is a relatively small part of most people's household expenditures and not enough of a savings to get most people to overcome their other objections to riding the bus. And I think it has had the unfortunate unintended consequence of reinforcing the...hey, you can't afford driving, so take the bus, it is cheap..message.

A bettter way to transform the image of mass transit and build ridership long term is to show it is cheaper and smarter to take the bus, instead of just cheaper.

So, how about starting with ABQRide's strength, which is that is a decent system for people who work Monday thru Friday 8 to 5, and target those who have a second car just to drive back and forth to work.    

6:53 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

I'm not sure why Blogger cut off so much of abqdave's response, but I'm going to try and repeat the complete comment here:

Another great post. Despite my being a strident 'greenie' at work, I still get comments of amazent that I take the bus every day This reflects the stigma mass transit has, caused because the automobile age transformed it from being the way most people got around to serving primarily those who don't own a car; the old and the poor.

One of the ideas transit agencies have used to get middle class working people to ride the bus again is the 'dump the pump', save money on gas, scheme. This has had only limited success because, I think, gas is a relatively small part of most people's household expenditures and not enough of a savings to get most people to overcome their other objections to riding the bus. And I think it has had the unfortunate unintended consequence of reinforcing the...hey, you can't afford driving, so take the bus, it is cheap..message.

A bettter way to transform the image of mass transit and build ridership long term is to show it is cheaper and smarter to take the bus, instead of just cheaper.

So, how about starting with ABQRide's strength, which is that is a decent system for people who work Monday thru Friday 8 to 5, and target those who have a second car just to drive back and forth to work.

10:25 PM  

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