« 99% Invisible

388- Missing the Bus

2020-02-04 | 🔗

If you heard that there was a piece of technology that could do away with traffic jams, make cities more equitable, and help us solve climate change, you might think about driverless cars, or hyperloops or any of the other new transportation technologies that get lots of hype these days. But there is a much older, much less sexy piece of machinery that could be the key to making our cities more sustainable, more liveable, and more fair: the humble bus. Steve Higashide is a transit expert, bus champion, and author of a new book called Better Busses Better Cities. And the central thesis of the book is that buses have the power to remake our cities for the better.

Missing the Bus

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars. What, if I told you that There was a piece of technology that to do away with traffic jams make Citys more equitable. Robust, solve climate change, you might think about time. Was cars or hyper loops or any of the other new transportation technologies that get lots of high these days, but asked on the show this week has written a whole book about a much older, much less sex, peaks of machinery, one that he thinks could be the key to making our cities more sustainable, more livable and more fair. Be humble omnibus, It's called bus now Stephen. He does she day is a transit expert bus champion an author of a new book called better buses, better cities and the central thesis of the book is that buses have. The power to remake our cities for the better, but he says if we the bus to reach its potential, we're going,
have to make the experience of writing one a lot more pleasant. Americans take four point: seven billion trips a year. On the bus, but so many those trips are miserable their slow there circuitous here. Standing on the side of the road, sometimes not even with a sidewalk or a shelter so it really a miserable experience and yet public transit is the most efficient way to move people around its essential. If we are going to defeat climate, and so wise. Why is the bus a key to the issue of climate change and in what is it What is its role as an environmental technology as much of the transit Donati, so transportation and is now the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U S, and so that means you know. On the one hand, it does mean that we have to look at electrifying automobiles, but at the.
In time. When you look at climb modeling, whether that's at municipal level, state level or national, you just see that electrification is not going to be enough to meet our climate, cause? And that means we have to build cities and neighbourhoods where people dont have to drive as often and they have to be able to make shorter trips, and so public transit plays a huge role in that and bus
his play a really essential role in that as well. You talk a little bit about how efficient buses can be in terms of moving the most number of people in the city and what are the environmental impacts of of that. So the typical lane of general purpose traffic in the city, the typical car land, can carry perhaps a thousand two thousand people an hour. If you have a bus, only lane that jumps up to four to eight thousand people per day. Our show that far more efficient and if you are giving over more of the street to transit and creating a trans away, now we're talking ten to twenty five thousand people per hour, and it's really that fundamental geometry, which makes transit so
sure to cities, adding when most people think of a future. That's like I'm a more green future. They think of wind farms and solar rays. They don't necessarily think of a bus yeah. I mean the buses very overlooked, but I think that if more people went to cities where by service was convenient, it be pretty eye opening. I personally was rather Eliza by taking the bus in London where it seemed like practically every trip I wanted to make the fastest way to do. It was be a bus and some of them be you know two or even three buses, but the transfers were so convenient. The service was so frequent that I really experienced it as a seamless thing, and you know maybe that's a little bit of the road
colored eyes of someone who is visiting? I'm sure I know more young people in London are gonna. Have their complaints about transit. It's actually really hard to praise transit anywhere, because local people know that there are always ladder problems, but still it was, it was an eye opening experience. You know we don't have a huge number of good examples in the? U S so, as I think it a little hard for Americans to understand but I've had this experience also and some of the buses in Toronto. Where you know I open my to look at whether you know I should buy or take goober or take the bus, and so many the trips there I open my phone up and taking the bus was faster than Goober, which is so different from trying to get around in. U S, cities so Why haven't we embraced the bus in the United States? I think there are a few reasons for that. The first is that
in the? U S, I think. Often there is this obsession with technology, and this idea that we are going to innovate our way out of traffic, and you see that When you see the amount of hype there is for driverless vehicles or hyper loop, you don't. You must proposed hyper loop for Chicago that was went to carry two thousand people and our which is actually much less than you can carry in a regular bus and then a lot of it comes down to political power and the fact that most people who ride buses in the? U S today are lower income. There people of color either folks, who have always been to a large extent, shut out of the political system,
and lie what it takes to make. Transit better involves, organizing those writers and building a new kind of transportation. Politics in in there's also seem to be a bit of an effort to perception like if you watch a movie and something bad happened to a protagonist in they lose job or something bad happened to them. The next thing might be them on a bus and it's like at the feet of housing. In: U S, media there's this real class violence too, but, as you know, in The show Atlanta one of their early scenes is the main protagonist on the basis of complaining that his life, hasn't got in the way that he wanted it. Which is supposed to lose its real associate
action between the bus and not making it added funny how much that doesn't exist. When you, look at popular media and Asia, or the UK, where the bus is just like a park or a sidewalk there, a lot of scenes with buses that don't seem to have any special significance, because the bus is just part of the ordinary fabric of life. Have some broader connotation and a lot waterways. That's where we need to get in the? U S where you know the buses, just something that lots of people use when it happens to work out for them and because we design buses well, it works out well for people in the much wider set of circumstances would, you think, is the most direct way to improve,
the perception, the bus and make people honour at it. You know the most direct way to improve the perception of buses is just to make the buses themselves better, because you make you make buses better and more people start writing more peoples- are writing that changes the perception of the bus. It creates the political energy to improve the bus even more and is the sort of virtuous cycle, and so I really think it it doesn't start with marketing or communications or some new framing. It starts with actually creating a product that you can sell the p with a straight face. If the way to get more people to ride the bus is to make the bus service better instead planners would do well to read Stevens Book, it's basically a manual for how to improve bus systems. Drawing from it imports from city is around the country where design decisions made right in the bus better. For everyone even says that
the most fundamental things you can do to improve. Bus service is just to make the bus run more frequently, in fact, there's a saying that the transit planner Carol Walker off and uses, which is that frequency is free, damn you now imagine, if you a car and in others like this giant wall behind the car, that only opens once in
as the only time that you can leave your house and go driving? That's basically what it's like if you live near an hourly bus, rude and is not much better. If you live near a half airily bus routes, it's only when you get to the stage where you have service every fifteen minutes every ten minutes, every five minutes that there's a real sense of freedom that you're not planning your life around someone else's schedule anymore. You can just show up whenever you want and feel confident that the bus is going to be their pretty soon, so frequency creates a sort of seamless ness and a kind of freedom that is really important and
that frequency is also really important to make networks. Work is not really possible to give every single person a door to door ride on a bus that sort of the opposite of transit right transit is digging lots of people to from roughly the same place to roughly similar destinations in one of them is that you do that really effectively in a network. Is beer is by creating a grid by creating frequent connections where you have to have the confidence that if you get on a bus and you get off somewhere else to transfer that that's gonna be a pretty seamless transfer it? You don't have to worry that you're gonna have to get off at some intersection and then be standing around for twenty five minutes, and who knows what sort of environment? So that's what makes frequent service so important is that one is just a month, but more frequent. That makes sense, and in the book step too is is also
the intuitive and that to make the bus go faster. Now, obviously, we're not talking about you're, giving the buzzer stronger engine her make sure the bus drivers, experts It didn't stop to stop at you're talking about three in the bus from traffic. So how can planners do that? Yeah, it's actually quite a there's, quite a varied tool kit that cities and travel agencies have when they want to speed up the bus smoke. Very small things like how you place the bus stop makes a big difference. For example, if the bus stop is in front of the traffic light, that is going to tend to slow the bus down, because it's more likely that either buses gonna get caught by a red light, whereas if you put the bus stop after the traffic light, that tends to be faster. Another thing that makes it
big difference is how far apart bus stops are from each other. I, which I think is pretty intuitive and there's even how writers get on the bus. You know the general rule of thumb in the. U S is that people at the line up in this pre longline, often at the front of the bus and board one by one and I'm busy roots what travel agencies should be doing is older boy where you can get on at any door. Maybe you tap your card at a reader on the back of the bus, and that can you know, cut the delay down from five seconds a person to more like two seconds, a person which really adds up when you're talking about you know. Twenty people getting on at a given stop and then you know what we really need in the most congested areas of our cities are
bus, only lanes or even bus, only streets which you're starting to see in places like New York City answer Francisco at Seattle, where, at the busiest times private, automobiles, are more or less band and buses get the right. Where certain terms a buzz only streets. Just recently here in the barrier, San Francisco band private cars on market street, and that's, though, still brand new I know they did something similar in Manhattan. Can you describe that effort? In the last few months and years? City has essentially ban cars on fourteenth street And this is an enormous advertisement for the bus and it's a norm, it's an enormous advertisement for what cities and be like when we prioritize transit. And don't give over every bit of ST space to the private car.
If you walk around Fourteenth street today and see the best way, Then, what's amazing is not only is that hands it fast, but the neighbourhood is so much nicer in so much quieter. Without all the cars you can see ambulances clear, shot and aren't getting stuck in traffic trucks are allowed on. This transit ways was actually very convenient for the businesses that are on this corridor, and people feel safe and empower TAT cross the street basically anywhere because there's so much less traffic. So it's a much more pleasant place to be, and we can create more neighborhoods like that when we do not remove the Carter the margins and have great transit in its
place. Is there always this integra relationship between cars and bus systems? I do think that there has been and will continue to be tension between cars and the city, because is fundamentally, you cannot scale up an automobile basis, more transportation and fitted into a city in and have it work for everyone and Now, in there, in the early twentieth century, I think a lot of people realised that the car was doing great harm to the fabric of cities and there's a lot of important history to read about the ways in which, for example, public opinion was really against
automobiles and the violence that they brought into cities? You know I like I like, I think we have to keep in mind. Sometimes son is Urbanest talk with a little bit of hyperbole about banning cars, which I think is very appropriate right now in specific neighborhoods that we have to reckon with the fact that in a lot of the sprawling US transit just doesn't get you, the aim access to jobs and opportunities that the cars do and the solution that is really scaling up and creating great transit. But I do think that there is some. There is some tension there and we do have to find ways to roll back the dominance of the automobile in our cities. I think it's interesting to think about the entire network that that hooks into the boss and unwanted things you mention is that you also have to make the experience of
getting to and from the bus easier and integrate that into the system that we're talking about. So how does play, a role in creating a vibrant and functional bus system. The walking experience really matters when it comes to transit, I mean most, people are working on at least one end of their trip, and so the pedestrian experience really is
the transit experience and you can provide someone with a bus that is frequent and fast and reliable. But if their experience when they get off the bus is that they have to cross an eight lane road and there's not a sidewalk and there's nowhere to wait. They're not going to experience that as a great transit experience. So this is really important and it also is hard and frustrating because almost always the entity that controls sidewalks and the walking experience is different from the government agency that is providing bus service. So there's a lot of work that has to happen to develop those relationships to create some sort of regular process. Walkability is a huge problem in America. You go to
Stan Nashville Denver. These are all places that have like a billion dollar backlog in sidewalks. It work huge amounts of the street network, don't have sidewalks and even in places like Philadelphia and New York. Are you see these huge losses because, like curb ramps, aren't sufficient for people, so I really think walk ability. Is this urban crisis which we don't talk about, that much a definite has an impact on people, the transit through and another another way to improve but services to make it more equitable and safe. So How do you go about making it so that everyone feels comfortable Ryan? Must I think, I'll lot of times, transit agencies, book survey data showing that you know people people are worried about their personal safety, transit, which is a major reason why people don't ride or major, raise my people, stop writing
but transit agencies see their savings that concern and often very quickly. Policing as the answer- and that is one solution that brought that makes some writers feel safe. But you know it can also make writers feel less safe and you don't want to create an environment where people feel like by getting on transit. You know, could have implications, for you know their immigration status or it could lead to them being embroiled in the criminal justice system, and there are a lot of aspects of safety, whether that's lighting station design, human
presence, which may or may not be law. Enforcement fees are really things that were conversations have to happen at the community level, where you have to have this conversation about what is a community definition of safety and who have not just now assume what the answer is, and then I also think when it comes to equity fares, are really important. How we pay for transit, how much and whether people are really being treated equally. Just give a couple of examples, so a lot of transit agencies. It actually turns out that wealthier transit writers pay less because there's a discount for a month we pass ray. I has low income writers can afford to pay for that monthly pass up front so instead they're paying, you know to fifty every time. Every time they get on at adds up to
much more than the costs of the monthly pass. Over times, though, one thing that a few transit agencies have started doing is something called fear: capping where if you're paying by the ride once you get to that level where I, whereas at the same levels, monthly pass all your rights are free for the rest of the month after that. So it's like no one ends up paying more than the cost of that monthly pass. You mentioned me, What things about the frequencies at one getting on all the doors available, and I think this leads- people think about fair evasion and. Is very vision, really a problem part. My brain thinks that this cannot possibly be. Really costs that much causes that big of a problem. What what did you take on that and how it fits in with the stuff you been thinking about her? I mean
I think it's really important to take a customer focused approach to fair evasion. When you look at bus fare evasion, you have to confront the fact that in most places its actually kind of hard to pay for the bus, if you pay in cash and some systems, you have to pay via exact change, it can be very unclear where to buy a transit pass. When researchers looked at this in Washington DC, they found that the neighborhoods, where rates of fair evasion where the highest were places where there was a lot of poverty and also know store where transit passes, were sold. This really tells us a couple things first, that if you criminalize fair evasion to some extent your criminalizing poverty, which is an equitable, and you also
often times are punishing people for the shortcomings of your own user. Experience should be the case that if you want to load your transit pass, it should be really obvious where to do that, whether that's on an app whether that's at a convenience store, it should be really obvious, but in most places it is in, and I think you have to ask yourself, you know if people aren't paying the fair, because they literally cap afforded it's not like travel agencies are missing out on huge amounts of revenue right. If you crack down that, just me people are going to ride and it means that you know they're not going to get to work or the healthcare or make the trips that they need to make
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innovation, that is needed is innovation in governance or innovation in the public process, so that we can build the transit projects much more quickly. One of the things that I write about in the book is the unfortunate ACT, that a lot of Busslin projects are designed in a way that is like a highway mega projects with multiple rounds of design and dozens of public meetings, and you end up with a situation where it can take six or eight, or in some cases, even ten years to put a Busslin on the street- and we just don't have that time. If we want our cities to be sustainable,
so there's a lot of innovation that can happen in the public process to make these products happen more quickly and, in fact, cities like Ah and now Washington, DC and other places are adopting something called tactical transit where they will put some cones on the street or just paint the street and test out a Busslin and measure the actual performance and survey writers and the whole process takes. You know maybe a few weeks or a few months, instead of couple years, you, as seems to be like one of the great advantages of the bus- is that as a design solution. It's quite flexible like it. Not on rails, it is condemned, it means it has all the good things so the transit system- as it has lots of capacity for people. But you know if you need it too
turned the corner one block before the route, the route that you ve done for the past ten years, you can just knew the drivers turns the It's a matter of just turned telling the driver to do it. You know and let it go right. Seems is seems like a designers dream to have that type of ability to reiterate and be flexible. Yes, I went on a lot of what we have to do in cities is actually realise that promise. You no manners talk about the bus being flexible, but then you look at Columbus, not redesigning the bus network in forty years, and you ask yourself what writers and the whole process takes you know, maybe a few weeks or a few months instead of multiple years, you seem to be like one of the great advantages of the bus. Is that
and what they mean is that they want a street car or some things and then, when you actually go and look at world class transit networks, its robust bus service. That, then, that then does feed into rail, but buses are short of, like the capillaries of the transit system, reaching out to every place what It is the cost of us not investing in the bus. As you know, the the cost of cities not investing in buses is deepening. Equality in New Orleans, for example, for for folks who live in New Orleans and have access to a car. You can access eighty to ninety percent of jobs in the city within a half hour. If you.
Who are walking and taking transit that declines to ten percent fifteen percent. Twenty percent is such a smaller life, and if cities don't invest in buses, if they don't invest in transit, they really are pushing particularly low income households into this really hard place where they feel compelled to buy a car because, as the only way to get access to, unity, but that car it ends up being a financial trap of its own. We are at a point in the: U S where automobile debt is at the highest levels recorded in history and it just not financially sustainable. So there are better ways and The bus is a huge part of it and even to the extent that, because the bus
me so limited? It limits people's ability. To participate in democracy. So in the book I cite some work. That's been done by the by professor carefully Otto. Kill at the City University of New York and he relates this story where he was talking with the votes on the bus and other Hudson Valley here in New York. And there are these plans to change the bus system. There and focus on the bus are talking amongst themselves, asked whether the changes are gonna, be good for them, and is this really rich gosh. So the bus driver says how you guys really has some good ideas. You know you should go the city hall and let them know why you have to say, and the bus writers just dismiss this immediately, because the buses stop running at a time where
if they go, the city hall and testify they're not gonna, be able to get back home because the bus not running any more, and so it's not just access to jobs that we have to think about its access to civic participation, its access to food, its access to church, its access to libraries, its access to all the things that we really need to live our full lie. Is that really what is at stake here? Only talk about buses and public transit to want to finish up by talking about used in one of the cities you profile in the book in which struck me about this case study is that the city really dreamed big, and Billy, went for it. Can you describe Houston's approach and how?
First, from the way cities usually do things shore solid, typical way that bus routes change is sort of a tweak here and a tweak there, which would have adds up over the years sometimes into these routes that squiggles all over the place and there's not a single person who can really tell you why? What is really really radical about the approach taken in Houston, which has been emulated in many. Other cities at this point is that they designed the network from scratch. They sort of realised that the bus network had become less and less relevant to people and in and ways hadn't fundamentally changed in decades, so really something that was worth building on, so instead they ask
if we were designing this from scratch basis no today about how demographics are changing about where the job centres are in Houston today. What would that system look like, and so The drew it that way and the result was a system that put a million additional jobs and a million additional households within walking distance of frequent transit is really quite an accomplishment. That seems, exists and accomplishment that more people should know about it, but all I tend to read about in terms of transportation stories are new fancy things you just new technologies. I think that there's a secret reason: why a lot of people in the transportation space focus on technological innovation and that's because
there. He shying away from their own responsibility in their hoping that the private market is going to solve the problem, but what private transportation companies have given us are boutique services for the well off and what we need is affordable, widespread transit, and that requires public champions. And also requires required TIM champions and also acceptance that it's never done like. I feel there's this idea that there's this technical logical. Holy GRAIL, which will solve them album and therefore, and then the problem solved. Whereas this does doesn't this isn't a problem like that? This is just a problem of like maintenance and air and thinking about the city and where you can
citron ca is it. It seems like it's a different mindset, then the Silicon Valley mindset yeah. I think that's a great point. You know City I mean cities are changing and transit systems have to adapt to meet that and I think a lot of what I write about in the book. A lot of, what's really important, is actually the role of the Public sector and creating public agencies that are strong and responsive and have the capacity the be able to do something like build a pipeline of projects or to plan and implement bus priority projects across the city, or to do
public engagement in a way that is real and not check the box and work very closely with neighbourhood based organisations. These all require hiring people and hiring people with skills and on doing this following out of the public sector that I think exists in a lot of places. I think we have to be open to what might seem to some to be radical but which you know, I don't think it radical at all to call for tripling the amount of bus service quadrupling the amount of bus, a risk that we provide in most cities? I think the experience elsewhere shows that We could do that and people would use it Stephen, he does you days book- is called better buses, better cities
Ninety nine percent, invisible was bruises week by Emmett Fitzgerald makes intact production by refusing music, by shown Rio kidding, is the senior producer. Kirk Hallstatt is the digital director ferocity senior odor Delaney Hall Avery travelling crisper, Ruby, Vivian, lay Sophia Clatter Joe Rosenberg, and me roman Mars We are products, many one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco and produced on radio row in beautiful, downtown, Oakland, California, ninety nine percent, invisible as a member of Radio Tokyo from PR acts, are fiercely independent, collective of the most innovative shows in all of podcasting, buying them all a red utopia diver you can find a show in joint discussions about shown facebooking twenty me at Roman Mars and show it ninety nine p. I orthe run Instagram and read it to, but you can board the express bust. Ninety nine percent of visible at nine ip I dot, Org
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.