In my last post, I echoed Ben Kabak's criticism of Commissioner Sadik-Khan for the use of the term "surface subway." I think the phrase is dishonest, and if it gets more people to support Select Bus Service, then many of those people are going to be disappointed when they find out that it only brings a 10% reduction in travel time. This could fuel a backlash that could be exploited by status-quo politicians.
But hold on! I've been talking quite a bit about glamour lately. Glamour involves an escape from reality, so it is inherently dishonest to use a glamorous frame to sell something real. Doesn't that mean that I'm telling transit advocates to be dishonest?
To some degree I am. First of all, I think everyone should be aware of glamour, not necessarily that everyone should use it. Secondly, this is politics. Everyone is dishonest in politics. The real question is where honesty fits in our priorities.
I can definitely respect someone who makes honesty their top priority, but I don't think they'll find it very easy to get things done. In any fight you're going to be up against professional liars and dissemblers, and sometimes you need to fight fire with fire.
With glamour in particular, everyone has escape fantasies, and if they're not compatible with your goals they will hinder you. We need to get people fantasizing about high-speed rail so that they stop fantasizing about cross-country road trips.
At some point the reality diverges from the fantasy, and that is where we can draw the line between an honest PR campaign and a scam. If you take away the fantasy, is the person left with something of value? Something that they would agree is valuable?
For a non-transportation example, imagine a woman who is thin because she's on a unsustainable diet. A man notices her and they start dating. She goes off the diet and gains a lot of weight.
If she's a generous, caring person, or fun, or good in bed, and her boyfriend isn't a shallow jerk, he may stick around. He was drawn in by the glamour, but stayed because he saw value in her. On the other hand, if she's mean or crazy or a wet blanket he may dump her. He probably should have figured that out in the first place, of course.
For a transportation example, a lot of the seating on the TGV is cramped, and you can't open the windows. But it still gets you where you want to go quickly at an affordable price. People aren't switching from Ryanair for the glamour.
And now back to Bus Rapid Transit. If Select Bus Service promises a "surface subway" - a 75% reduction in travel time - but only delivers an 11% reduction, people are going to be pissed, or at the very least stay away. But if there is physical separation, bus cameras and/or signal prioritization, the reduction in travel time could be closer to 40%. I think that's substantial value.