There's a point I've been trying to make. Maybe I haven't been really clear about it. It has to do with transit being in competition with cars, so much so that the real reason most of us care about transit is because it will hopefully get people out of their cars.
There's a thing about competition. When I was a kid I was on a kid baseball team. We sucked, partly because my catching wasn't very good and my batting was worse. But we won some games. Why did we win if we sucked so much? Because sometimes the other team sucked worse.
In competition, it doesn't matter how bad you are, if the other team is worse. It doesn't matter how good you are, if the other team is better. When I posted about the competition facing the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, lots of people wanted to tell me how horrible the VTA is.
Cap'n: The VTA is in competition with roads and parking.
Commenters: But they suck!
Cap'n: Yes, but they're building these roads and parking lots...
Commenters: The shitty routes and they go really slow and curves and...
Cap'n: Yes, and highway widenings and interchange upgrades...
Commenters: and bad zoning and they don't go where you want to go! Sucky trolleys! They suck!
Yes, I believe you. I've never ridden the VTA, but if you say it sucks, I'm prepared to concede that point. But have you been to Santo Domingo, or any of those Third World cities that have humungous transit market share? In most of those places, the transit sucks and they don't even have rail. But people ride it, because the roads and parking lots suck worse. Conversely, I'm sure there's some place where they did all the transit "right" and still lost mode share because the government was building lots of highways at the same time. Certainly that's what happened all over the country in the sixties and seventies.
This is not a defense of sucky transit. I'm all in favor of transit that doesn't suck, and in general I believe that not sucking helps to get people out of their cars. But when there's competition you can't just talk about one side of it. Sometimes you can really suck, but win by default. Other times you can be really good but just get outgunned.