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what about busses?

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A while ago my sister and I were discussing all the wonderful movies we grew up watching even though (1) we couldn’t fully understand them at the time and (2) they scared the crap out of us.  Such classics include The Return to Oz, Alice in Wonderland (1985 version with the scary Jabberwocky), and of course Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those movies that I watched again and again, but never fully understood until I watched it as an adult.  The plot comes together at the end: an evil cartoon wants to destroy toontown in order to build the LA freeway.  This, he believes, would jumpstart a booming auto industry from which he could profit.  But building a freeway isn’t enough; people during the 1940’s (when the story took place) loved their public transportation and would not leave it for a simpler alternative.  So the villain had to do one other thing in order to hatch his plan – he had to destroy public transportation.

Does the auto industry aim to destroy public transportation?  I would find it hard to argue that they are not at least competitors, and believe that the auto industry wants public transportation to be an inconvenient alternative.  In fact, I would find it logical to believe that the auto industry tries to ensure that public transportation does not become too convenient.  At the same time, public transportation probably aims to fight the auto industry.  Indeed, it could be argued that as gas prices rise, so does the attractiveness of public transportation, and subsequently, its profitability.

But this is not true.  If someone already has a car, he isn’t going to take a bus when gas prices rise.  The cost of the car and insurance are already sunken costs, so the driver looks at the marginal cost of gas and the time saved and then decides what to do.  In the end, public transportation will almost never win on cost.

But it can win in convenience.  If the state of Israel were to take steps to make public transportation more efficient such creating more “public transportation only” lanes and enforce their rule the rules of the road, more people would flock to public transportation in order to beat traffic.  Traffic would obviously still exist, but as it gets worse and the alternative of public transportation looks better, people will begin making the switch.

Unfortunately, Israel does not really care about public transportation.  Busses stay tied up during rush hour when they should be able to work more efficiently in lanes of their own.  Most of the central bus stations in this country are filthy, outdoor drug dens that are dangerous at night and have no clean public restrooms.  Many busses take extremely long routes that are inefficient for the rider, but are needed in order for the bus company to turn a profit.

It is no shock that only 16% of Israelis commute to work using public transportation.  And trust me, it’s not because they want to.  While Israel’s public transportation is tremendously advanced, even more than most of the US and Europe, its deficiencies are significant and often prohibitive.

A while ago, at a Shabbat meal at Hannah’s house (it should be noted that Hannah is a fantastic cook and a wonderful host, as you would expect from the writer for, Hannah discussed what Israel could be like if suddenly everyone in cities switched to public transportation.  Busses would have to be reconfigured to could get you from anywhere to the center of town in 15 minutes and from there to the major city in another 20.  Busses would zoom, people would probably get to work faster (but would have to switch a couple of busses) and we’d cut down polluting significantly.  A city planner’s dream.

But we’re so far away.  As long we can’t even get clean central bus stations, we will not have a more efficient public transportation system.

The good news is the opportunity for change is now.  Right now we are in the middle of a green tech bubble and counties all over the world are cutting back on emissions (or at least telling their constituents they will.)  We could make it clear to our government that our cities need better public transportation for our economy and our peace of mind.

So start with something simple.  Ask your mayors about fixing up your central bus station.  And while we’re on the subject, I advise you to jump the turnstile and refuse pay-toilets.  Pay toilets are part of the reason there is such horrible public urination in central bus stations.  Tell the mayors we already pay with our taxes.  And if he wants to make people pay for toilets in public places, tell him you want the pay-toilets to be the ones in city hall, not in the central bus station.

In short, if you care about the environment, if you care about the poor, heck, if you care about blatant government corruption, then start making a big deal about public transportation.  We have a small window of opportunity and only with public outcry will we be able to utilize it.

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