A while ago, the D.C. Council was toying with making Metro buses free on D.C. routes. Leaving aside the impulse to treat public services as charity for poor people (as opposed to services that should be functional and for everyone), it really shows how none of them truly appreciate what it’s like to use mass transit. Because this is what a functional system would look like (boldface mine):
American advocacy regarding frequency comes extremely compromised. The sort of frequencies that permit passengers to transfer between buses without timing the connection are single-digit headways, and the digit should probably not be a 9 or even an 8. Nova Xarxa successfully streamlined Barcelona’s bus network as a frequent grid, with buses coming every 3-8 minutes depending on the route. Vancouver and Toronto’s frequent grids are both in the 5-8 minute range.
However, American transit agencies think it’s unrealistic to provide a grid of routes running so frequently. Therefore, they compromise themselves down to a bus every 15 minutes. At 15 minutes, the wait time is too onerous; remember that these are buses that don’t run on a fixed schedule, so a transferring passenger is spending 15 minutes waiting in the average case and 30 minutes in the worst case. These are all city buses, with an in-vehicle trip time in the 15-30 minutes range. A bus system that requires 30 minutes of worst-case wait might as well not exist. If this replaces buses that run every 20 or 30 minutes on a fixed schedule, then this makes things worse…
Every so often, we read about elected officials who try to live on food stamps for a week. To the mayor and the Council, I propose a different challenge: spend two weeks using only bicycles, walking, and mass transit. Not only would they begin to understand the need for more frequent and reliable service, but they would see the city’s geography differently, the way many people do.
Though, like I said, thanks to some very pessimistic budget estimates, nothing will happen anyway.