Moving Forward.

quartercentury

What should public transportation look like in twenty-five years? I’m not sure I want to even try to make a guess at that. I’m not sure what public transportation should look like in twenty-five months. Somehow my first experience riding a public bus has been lost in a sea of riding buses and other forms of public transportation for, well, a lot longer than twenty-five years.

Or has it? I wouldn’t exactly say I grew up sheltered but I didn’t ride a public bus alone until I was nineteen or twenty and in college. It was the easiest way to get to either of the two malls that were on the other side of town and it took forever for the bus to show up. It should have been more memorable but strangely it wasn’t, except for the time a guy got on and dropped a handful of pennies into the fare machine, but that’s another story.

When I was a kid we stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house in Connecticut and commuted to New York City by train a few times, which absolutely amazed me. We were crossing, well, two states, but having grown up in Tennessee I was unused to crossing state lines in a short period of time. And it was probably comparable to, say, commuting from Clarksville, TN to Nashville, TN, which some people do on a daily basis.

In twenty-five years what will such commutes look like? It doesn’t look like flying cars will ever happen but self-driving cars might.

Being asked to speculate about what the future will be is more than a little daunting. That long ago I didn’t imagine I’d still be living in Nashville now. I assumed I’d be out exploring the world—and I did explore the world and continue to do so. But I’ve also found a lot to explore right here, without even crossing county, let alone state, lines. Transportation—public and private—can be a way not just to get from one place to another but to get to know a place.

What do you think the next twenty-five years will hold?

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13 Comments

  1. Margot

    What I hope they will hold in 25 years is more ride sharing. When I was in Mexico City 30 years ago there was this cool system with taxis called “colectivos.” If a taxi was heading the direction you wanted to go and had room for you it would pull over an let you in. It ended up costing less than a bus fare and was a lot faster.

    I don’t think Americans will ever agree to give up the freedom of personal cars in any significant way. Better public transportation seems to be the obvious solution to so many problems, but it doesn’t appear like we’ll ever embrace it. The last time I commuted on public transportation, which admittedly was 20 years ago, was from San Francisco to Oakland. Should have been easy peasy. It took me almost 3 hours to get to work (normally 35 minutes in the car) and cost $7. There was no coordination (or transfers) between the 2 buses and BART. But when I lived in Chicago it was super easy to get around between buses, the El and an occasional taxi, so it was a no brainer to leave your car at home.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There’s a lot to be said for the freedom of personal cars, and while I’m sure there are exceptions it seems like the more you go from East to West the worse public transportation becomes. Well, also from North to South, and in the middle of the midwest Chicago doesn’t seem like it should have great public transportation, but, hey, obviously there are exceptions.
      What I seem to see generally is the difference between a city like, say, Nashville or even Los Angeles which is very spread out as compared to Chicago or New York which, in spite of being geographically large, remain tied together by good public transportation.
      The “colectivos” of Mexico City sound like a great idea but I could imagine a passenger saying, “Hey, I’m in a hurry!” and objecting to having to ride-share. I think ride-sharing would require a major cultural change.
      Or we could just get a monorail.

      Reply
  2. halfa1000miles

    Today I told someone I did not know what crowder beans are. She found that unbelievable. Maybe also unbelievable — I have to say I have not been in a bus since high school. I would not know how to ride a bus. How much are they?? Are you by default the smartest, prettiest, cleanest person on the bus?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The first time my mother–who grew up in Detroit–cooked okra she boiled it and put cheese sauce over it. It was pretty much a recipe of death. Anyway it just goes to show that different people know different foods depending on where they’re from.
      And I can assure you there are far smarter, prettier, cleaner people on the bus than me.
      As for the cost I work at a place that pays me to ride the bus–at least to and from work–so I had to check. It’s $1.70 one way or $2.25 for an express bus (which has fewer stops). And there’s an all-day pass for $5.25.
      That’s funny. I remember when the all-day pass was $3.40–basically the cost of two rides, so if you were going more than one place it was cheaper to get the pass. I used to get passes all the time and when I was getting off at my final stop I’d hand it off to someone else.

      Reply
  3. Sarah

    The first time I rode a bus was in college, too! I used to take the bus to school, and I could probably have a whole category about busing that describes those rides as well. 🙂 The future of it…hmm. I feel like Europe is a bit ‘futuristic’ in terms of its public transport. Having done it for so long in Buffalo, dealing with a rickety old bus that did or didn’t show up to pick me up, it was refreshing to experience German efficiency. The buses/trams over here are all made by Mercedes Benz. They’re pretty schnazzy. 🙂 On a semi-related note, I’d really like to try Amtrak in the States. I have this (probably very romanticized) idea that it would be so fun to travel cross country on a train. I’ve traveled throughout Europe by train quite a bit and love it. Public transport is so wide-spread and commonly used over here–you could literally get anywhere you want via public transport. There seriously isn’t need for a car. I’ve literally never owned a car before, which is somehow crazy to me. Anyway, as a future goal for American public transport, I’d love to see it all just a bit more interconnected. Just like its citizens.

    Reply
  4. mydangblog

    More subways, I hope. I love subways–you can travel all over Toronto on one. And they`re bendy and fast. Electric underground transportation is what I`d like to see more of.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I love subways too. Something I’ve been meaning to write about is an artist who put a series of slightly different pictures on the New York subway tunnel walls so that when the train sped by people would see a short animated movie from the window. I think that’s been done in subways in other cities too. And being bendy and fast is cool.

      Reply
  5. mydangblog

    After rereading my previous comment, I realize it sounds a little Dr. Suess-ish, but in my defense, I’ve been taking a lot of Demerol.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Nothing wrong with sounding Dr. Seuss-ish but don’t Bogart the Demerol.

      Reply
  6. Michelle

    I miss public transport! I didn’t get my licence until I was 35 and was basically forced into it due to the fact second child wouldn’t fit on my bike. At uni I flatted with a mate clear on the other side of the city from my uni, and there wasn’t even a direct service until my second year. It took at least 1.5hours each way – but I got to read a LOT of books. In Brisbane I took buses and trains too but my favourite were the river ferries. You could sit outside on the deck in the sun and it felt like a cruise! And for only a few bucks.
    Here on the Gold Coast light rail is coming back in a big way – we’ve got the Commonwealth Games in a couple of years so infrastructure is getting a major shake up, and it’s amazing how good planning can improve the quality of someone’s daily commute!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Like you I didn’t get my license until I was 37. I got around a lot on buses but it started to be too much of an inconvenience. The hardest part was finding a driver training class for adults. I took driver training when I was 16, but needed a refresher course. Reading books is one of the huge advantages of public transport.
      Now I wish we had river ferries. There used to be a water taxi service from a major mall to downtown, but they got rid of that before I could ever give it a try.

      Reply
  7. Gilly Maddison

    I would love it if life could go back to when we all used to walk everywhere. The streets in my village are quite deserted really because no one walks anywhere. It would be great to have lots of people passing the time of day on the street like we used to. One question about trains – do you have First Class carriages on your trains in the US or is that just a snobby English thing?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The absence of people walking everywhere is very depressing, especially in an English village. When I was going to school at Harlaxton, near Grantham, walking through the village and meeting people was a wonderful thing, although I met more people (and spent more time in) the local pub. I loved traveling by train too. We don’t have many trains here–I had to check to see whether we had First Class carriages, and it looks like US trains do, although they call it “Business Class”.
      I remember when the English trains got going there was the option to upgrade to First Class for just £3. Being a student I never took advantage of that and in fact couldn’t see the point.

      Reply

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