Recently in the blogosphere there's been some debate about the importance of glamour in promoting transit, cycling and walking. As I wrote yesterday, the doubters do have a point: when it comes to Habits, value beats glamour. A bus that shows up frequently and reliably and gets you there cheaper and faster than driving will have lots of riders. However, when it comes to Investments, glamour will often win out. Because glamour is at its core an escape fantasy, it prompts people to buy impractical cars and houses, take inconvenient jobs and put their kids in awkwardly located schools.
There's an even bigger way that glamour has an outsize impact on mode choice: taxation and subsidies. Many bloggers and authors have pointed out that if transportation were not subsidized at all, transit would have an advantage, or at least the playing field would be a lot more level. It's quite likely that the construction of the "free" Interstates 78, 80 and 280 in New Jersey contributed to the bankruptcy of Transport of New Jersey, not to mention the Erie Lackawanna and Lehigh Valley railroads.
When it comes to subsidies, I've suggested that if transit is more Efficient than driving, if people's Demand for a mode is based on the access it provides, and if the subsidies are based on demand, we would expect a continuous shift to transit. But people's Demand for a mode is based on a lot more than access, or Value, and a lot of that is Glamour.
Social psychologist Harold Mendelsohn seems to be the first to have observed that people "vote their aspirations more than their dispositions." The usually insipid David Brooks popularized the idea in 2003. And what are aspirations if not glamour?
Just as working-class people voted against high taxes for the rich because they hoped that they might some day be rich, many working-class Brooklynites didn't support charging people to drive a car into Manhattan because they hoped that someday they (or their children) would drive cars into Manhattan. They support highway expansion and sprawl-inducing lending practices because they hope that one day they will be driving to the McMansions.
So no, glamour does not directly affect people's Habits. It does, however, affect a single Trip, and more importantly their Investments, and their support for Subsidies. This has important implications for the way that transit, cycling and walking are marketed, and I'll get into those in later posts.