Sunday, February 13, 2005

From the "What Else Are You Going to Do?" File

The Post reports that DC area commuters spend an average of 30 minutes commuting each way (about 10% above the national average -that's a noticeable difference added up over the entire year) but still see Metro as inconvenient. "Metro is widely admired but largely bypassed" essentially because of a vague feeling that it's even worse than sitting in traffic. They're not totally wrong. I did an experimental comparison of the cost and time involved in commuting by bus and subway versus by car in the inner and outer suburbs a couple years ago, and found that the public transit was substantially slower for almost any trip (traffic and parking congestion made it more competitive in the inner suburbs)

I think the nonobvious implication here is the importance of public education in planning. Those who use transit know that while it often does take longer than driving, there are tradeoffs. Most importantly, you're not behind the wheel and therefore you can read, work (including making any necessary phone calls, as irritating as it might be to your seatmate) or just bask in the downtime. I know many Metro riders who simply enjoy the people-watching opportunities. They'd hate to be sitting in traffic with nothing to do but listen to the same five CDs they've been meaning to change out for the past week. But you'd never think of those aspects until you try transit, and if you don't live near a Metro station, you probably don't know anyone who could tell you how to make the most of it. This is where education -facilitation, if you prefer- could make a big difference in how we commute, and thus ultimately in how we build in the next 20 years.