image: MARTA stop in Atlanta by pdxjeff via Wikimedia Commons
image: Richard Masener via Wikimedia Commons
An academic team with GPS and cell phone technology in hand went out across Nairobi’s informal network of privately owned buses recently. Their object was to map the routes and see how the network operates, how it might be improved and subjected to a reasonable level of regulation and licensing. A classic response to local needs and resources, fast-growing Nairobi’s Matatu-based public transit evolved into a sometimes chaotic thing, spurred as well by the collapse of a conventional bus system decades previously.
Students and researchers involved with the mapping effort came from the Computing For Development Lab at University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, and MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab. They found the scale and extent of the network is really quite something: a matrix of 120 routes converging on downtown. Could this open source example of transit provision, enhanced by digital technology, be pointing the way for other sprawling, fast-growing cities?
image: matatu via Wikimedia Commons
Free public transit is one of those good ideas that has been buzzing around for ages. Making transit free offers to strengthen cross connections in a community, reduce carbon footprints by cutting down on driving, gives low income people a break and is sought as a healthy and powerful stimulant to local economies.
Until now, only smaller scale or temporary experiments with fare-free transit have been undertaken. The first place to really go big is Tallinn, the capital of Estonia with about 430,000 people. All registered residents of Tallinn have had access to free public transit for a year now.
Critics and enthusiasts of the scheme have both had to temper their initial predictions of what would happen when Tallinna Transport went fare-free. Predictions of everything from the unemployed colonizing buses all day to radical reductions in auto traffic on major arteries were made. The real world effects appear less dramatic but are encouraging to those advocating an enhanced role for public transit. Apparently transit managers and city planners all over the world are beginning to watch this experiment with great interest.
Tallinn free public transport
tallinn.ee – English-language material & links
The Largest Free Mass Transit Experiment in the World
image: composite via Wikimedia Commons
A columnist in the online publication Urban Milwaukee registered concern in December about the findings of a recent report on the general prosperity there. It seems to have become increasingly problematic to link Milwaukee’s working people to suburban employment opportunities via diesel buses.
Major businesses expand out into the sprawl faster than the workers can respond. The result is hyphenated bus trips over long distances – when services are available. The resulting disconnection is a classic cause/symptom feature of suburban poverty.
The Disconnected City. New study shows no way for workers to get to jobs. What are its solutions?
Getting to Work. Opportunities and obstacles to improving transit service to suburban Milwaukee job hubs 47-page .pdf file from Public Policy Forum
image: “30 Downer” bus in Milwaukee by Vincent Desjardins via Wikimedia Commons
Adaptation is expected of the poor at all times. An example thereof was examined by a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News recently. Lacking income and shelter people in social difficulty are hopping on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s #22 bus for cover after hours. It’s the only 24-hour route in the system and this double life as a rolling, diesel-engined night hostel has earned it the nickname Hotel 22. Submitted by a suburban-poverty.com reader this item illustrates too well the housing and transportation issues of those in difficulty in Silicon Valley.
image: AEMoreira042281 via Wikimedia Commons
In his weekly column on TruthDig Chris Hedges shares findings regarding the privatization of public transit in the United States and also in Canada where it is approaching like a bus with a cracked frame, no brakes, and a driver who has fallen asleep because he has to do a hundred hours a week behind the wheel to get by.
The column was read with interest at this blog where public transit fills the view finder as a primary feature of suburban poverty. A feature that is hardly addressed by corporate power and abuse. And how else to describe the accidents, declining service, rising fares, poor wages, long hours and huge profits that are part of a picture of privatized, globally-owned, anti-union bus and transit systems?
image: Pentagon-bound GMC bus in Washington, DC in the 1970s by YR Okamoto via Wikimedia Commons/NARA
The Brookings Institution is never far from these pages, …or our hearts, truth be told. This past summer they came up with another big paper directly related to social difficulty in the suburbs, this one about public transit and the economic health of America’s cities. We see suburbs as, yet again, difficult places for transit and therefore maintaining one’s employment, and generally encouraging job growth and invesment there, is correspondingly tough. The findings of the report are very mixed, in some places as little as six percent of typical jobs are accessible to public transit users. A major investment in public transit could only help the American economy and the people struggling along at the bottom of it we would think. Wouldn’t it help out all manner of business activity, too?
photo: Wikimedia Commons
Guelph is a city of about 120,000 people located an hour’s drive west of the Greater Toronto Area on the Speed River. It’s generally a well thought of example of a small city with a good sense of itself. Statistically, Guelph holds a position many North American communities would deeply envy. Crime is low, incomes are reasonable, the environment is in pretty good shape. A university town, Guelph is situated near good agricultural land. Other employment is found there in retail, government offices, and services along with a certain amount of manufacturing, something that helped build Guelph from the nineteenth century on. Nonetheless, there are some issues. How could there not be. Among them are ones familiar on this blog: growth in inequality, over-emphasis on far-flung and unremarkable suburban development, concerns for the older downtown’s physical and economic well being, declining vacancy rates and public transit and traffic issues. A source of research and perspective is the Guelph & Wellington Task force for Poverty Elimination. We enjoyed their 2010 report on public transit and poverty in Guelph. One of the most consistant findings around here has been in regard to the importance of public transit as a deliberate response to community poverty. In September the task force released findings on housing issues, another big one for suburban-poverty.com.
The Impact of Public Transit Fees on Low Income Families In Guelph
gwpoverty.ca – also other resources
Guelph Community Foundation Vital Signs Report
image: Wikimedia Commons
Taras Grescoe, a Montreal-based writer, is a sensible, optimistic lover of urban life. He couldn’t have been otherwise to undertake a project of visiting fourteen cities in North America, Asia, Europe and South America to check out their public transit systems. Grescoe reports on the history, present state and potential of each place with journalistic guts for the detail in the choices facing these cities.
Sprawl and cars prove inescapable and hateful in Grescoe’s worldview soon enough. Some places, like Beijing, are early on the curve that rises to saturation levels of automobile ownership. Other cities, like Copenhagen, are down the other side of that curve and evolving, not always easily, into something else. Still other places, Toronto for example, are somewhere in-between, on the crest of change. It was important for us to see suburban poverty fully acknowledged as part of a package of miseries waiting for communities unable to adapt. Grescoe doesn’t hide his advocacy of public transit, why should he? What indeed, will happen to cities that do not consciously make themselves over to be more walkable, transit-centric, bikeable and just generally interesting places to be? They will become crowded, unhealthy, unmanageable places that discourage business and culture alike.
But Grescoe’s is not just a mindless reiteration of THE TRUTH ABOUT CITIES as laid down by Jane Jacobs decades ago in her own battles against the American interstate highway system. He acknowledges the difficulty, cost and entrenched resistance transit systems face in the planning stages alone. Strap Hanger points out the global importance of getting this right in an urbanizing world with a growing population, a changing climate, a world increasingly dominated by weird and inequitable economics. Grescoe balances the kind of personal story your well-travelled best friend comes up with over coffee and the big picture of trade offs and economics cities are challenged by. Strongly recommended to students, voters, taxpayers, motorists, politicians, economists, and, of course, those in public transit vehicles everywhere, holding onto straps.
STRAPHANGER: Vancouverism and smart transit planning
excerpts in Spacing Montreal
Cities visited in Strap Hanger are: Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogota, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal. A dozen pages for source information and further reading are included.