A couple weeks ago, Engineer Scotty reworked his list of transit values, taking into account the four clusters I suggested: Availability, Value, Amenities and Glamour. In general I like his classification, but I have to disagree with him in a couple of areas.
In this post I'll deal with the notion of amenity as opposed to value. As I wrote in my original post, "This is where most of the individual variation comes in: one person's value is often another's amenity." Scotty takes the opposite position: "Value includes factors that any reasonable user might take into account, and aren't dependent on personal taste or preference. Important value-based factors include cost, timeliness, and safety."
Any salesperson will tell you that some factors matter a lot to some customers, and not at all to other customers. Wealthier people tend to be less sensitive to small variations in price (but they're not always). People who are retired, lazy or just generally more relaxed will care less about timeliness. Tough guys and tough women will care less about safety. To many of these people, low price, timeliness and safety may be amenities, not values. On the other hand, they may really care about onboard wifi, the daily bridge game, or whether they have to stand in the rain.
So why bother distinguishing between amenities and values? The distinction matters on the individual level, but also on the aggregate level, since different communities will value the same factor differently. It's commonly thought that people who live in small towns tend to hurry less than people in big cities.
Communities can also change their values over time. For example, a big selling point of cars used to be that you didn't have to walk as much. But now that people are getting obese, they're starting to reconsider. Weight Watchers dietitians recommend that car drivers who want to lose weight park far from their destinations, and transit riders get off the subway a stop early, to get in extra walking.
Being aware of these community values and how they vary and change helps us to better understand what will get people out of their cars. Of course, there are universal tendencies that lead people to place a lot of value on time and money, but they are not exceptionless. The answer is not to retreat into facile assumptions like "Atlantans really love driving," but to understand what it is they love about driving, and whether it's possible to provide that with transit. Assuming that everyone cares equally about timeliness, price and safety can lead to one-size-fits-all solutions that will not always work.