In an earlier post, I wrote that transit needs the middle class, because we can't accomplish our pollution, efficiency and safety goals without getting the middle class to shift from cars to transit. To attract the middle class, transit needs to be classy. What might classy transit look like?
In technology fields there is a saying, "Fast, cheap and good. Pick any two." Of course, transportation is nothing if not a technology, and the saying is just as true there as in computers. Yes, you might some day have transportation that's all three, but let's not hold our breath.
The New York subway, which is one of the gold standards by which transit performance is measured, is fast and cheap - in fact, one of the fastest ways to get around town, but there are numerous complaints about the quality. It's gotten a lot better since the 70s, and it's now reasonably reliable, but it's still noisy, dirty and crowded. Cycling is also fast and can be very cheap, but the quality is mixed: some people love the exercise, others hate the sweat and the exposure to the elements, not to mention the abuse.
If you take the subway during rush hour, chances are you'll be standing most of the way. If you manage to get a seat, you'll probably find yourself with somebody's bag, newspaper, ass or belly in your face for at least two stops, and then you'll have to fight to get off the train in time. If you've got a flexible enough schedule so that you don't have to travel during rush hour, you may get a seat, but you'll probably still get bumped, jostled or at least cut off - numerous times as you walk from the entrance to the train. If it's an elevated train, you'll have to put up with somebody's obnoxious cell phone conversation. In any case, you'll probably get some jerk who thinks the whole car needs to hear her gospel tape, or who's got the techno cranked on his leaky earphones. You'll also be subjected to aggressive panhandlers, arrogant preachers, and that woman with the flute thing.
It's much worse for women than for men. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes encounter entitled males leering at them, making comments, and sometimes masturbating in front of or even on them. Many women have personally told me about being groped, pinched or fondled on crowded trains.
I have to say that I love the New York subway. It's my main form of transportation after walking. I've grown up with it and I wouldn't give it up. I'll be taking the subway until I can't climb stairs any more - and maybe after, if I last until they put elevators in all the stations. But sometimes I get tired of it. I'd like to be able to sit down at 8:05, maybe spread out and take some notes on a book I'm reading, and get off at 8:50 without having to push my way through twenty people. I'd like to have the option of quality. I'm at the point in life where I can pay for it, and I'm willing to, at least some of the time. Sometimes I'm also willing to sacrifice speed. But for most places I want to go, transit doesn't offer any quality option.
In future posts I'll talk about some quality options, and how they might be implemented.