The ‘unaffordable’ Public Transport in CA

As I am now settling into the daily routine in CA, I am exploring various ways to move about the place (with two kids in row) using any means of transport than the car. I was very much excited initially, as the city here is offering me alternatives…the bus, the light rail and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train!

The public transport infrastructure here is amazing. All the stations and stops are well designed, accessible within 1 mile walking from any point, with nice shelters where I could stand / sit with my kids. The websites gave excellent schedules and connections that I should take, properly indicated on a map of the city. I also have a hot line number which I can call to access transport related information at any point of time. The buses, the trains were amazingly clean, properly maintained and up and working!

Despite all this and more, I found all the public transport EMPTY..of people! I rode with 2 other persons on the bus and the train stations were deserted to the point of being scary. What cities can afford to maintain this public transport infrastructure without the supportive use by its people? And hence, to t the public transport marginally out of the losses, fares are charged that are unaffordable. With unaffordable, I don’t mean just the actual fares (though I felt some of the journeys had very high actual fares as well), but the supporting required costs as well. I still needed a car to get to the train stations. So as a resident, I cannot do away with the car, I have to own it and maintain it to be able to use the public transport. Secondly, the public transport is not interconnected enough…something we Punekars keep talking of the BRTS routes. Trains and even buses run along specific major roads…there is no way to get to the interiors once you alight at the closest point, but walk. The pedestrian infrastructure is good, but again deserted at the point of being scary!

Well, having made these observations, I come back to the point of USA’s car policy. How can any public transport sustain, if a very obvious lopsided car incentive policy is in place? Large downtown parking locations (I am talking here parking areas for thousands of cars at one time), subsidized fuel costs, no externalities of emission costs and plus the prestige tag to owning a car is making sure that people stay away from public transport here.

At the same time, both India and US have excellent success stories of profitable and sustainable public transport systems in Mumbai and New York, despite the existence of car friendly policies. I wonder, if a city needs to get so congested and undrive-able to get a success story for public transport. If that is the case, Pune is on the verge! Let’s hope that the undrive-ability factor in Pune will prompt and trigger investments in public transport. Lessons that we can draw from the US, is their meticulous planning of the public transport infrastructure and its seamless operation. With even one person on board, the train journey was amazing! Signage was excellent and information was available at finger tips, making the entire experience stress free (leaving aside my two kids running around the entire train-car), pleasant and relaxing! No matter that the exact same journey would have taken me only half the time with a car!

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