Our contemporary financial approach to moving people around a city subsidizes individual automobile use, which leads to more car use and worse mobility for everyone. An easy solution to this problem that’s gaining popularity is to change what mode of transportation get subsidies. The most direct way to stop subsidizing cars is to make public transit truly public by not directly charging for it (and instead charge selfish transport solutions).
The fare-free movement turns that funding model on its head. Advocates believe public transit, like other essential services, should have never been a user-pay system in the first place. After all, we aren’t charged a fee to drive down a city street, walk down a city sidewalk or sit in a city park. Our property taxes pay for those basic amenities.
As Montreal urban planner and social economy expert Jason Price, co-editor of the 2018 book Free Public Transit wrote: “We don’t pay for elevators, do we? And rightly so. The very idea is preposterous. Yet the public transit system plays the same role in the city, only sideways.”
The new mayor or of Boston, Michelle Wu, knows what it takes to improve life in the city. She sees free transit for everyone has a way to increase the liveability of the city, its economic performance, and the city’s climate resilience. The pilot routes of free transit in the city has increased ridership by 48%!
One of the motivating factors for Wu is making the city a better place for families. By offering free transit it provides increased mobility for youth and decreases the costs of living in a city for everyone.
Our plan is to continue demonstrating that this works and that this is an investment where we very quickly see the returns. I have spoken with so many families who have said it’s been life-changing to not have to worry about how to cobble together enough change in your pocket for that day to get to class, and to know that this is a service that is truly available to everyone. So we picked three routes that serve communities of color in our lower-income neighborhoods, but also that connect with planned or already implemented infrastructure improvements. To show that we can deliver faster service that is actually affordable for everyone.
The future of urban transit can be found in the mountains. As we noted back in 2012, gondolas (AKA cable cars) are a very real and practical option to solve urban mobility. The benefits of using cable cars are many and when they are integrated into local fare systems they can function as a vital piece of transit infrastructure. We’ve seen the adoption of gondolas increase globally and hopefully even more cities will utilize this modern form of transit.
Vancouver is currently optioning a cableway, as are multiple cities throughout France. The future is now, and the future is suspended in the sky.
Cableways excel in transporting passengers over geographic obstacles and height differences, crossing rivers, valleys, and harbours, and scaling hills, many times cheaper than building a new road, rail line, tunnel, or bridge. And with a much smaller footprint than tram lines. A kilometre of cableway costs about half as much to install as the same length of tram line, and takes much less time to construct. Once approved, cableway systems can be designed and built in about a year.
With electric motors, cableways use significantly less energy and emit much less CO2 than diesel or hybrid buses, and are much quieter. Their simplicity provides near 100% reliability. In case of electrical outages, lines have an emergency backup generator. Operating costs are also quite low. Even though the Emirates Air Line carries only 10 percent of its capacity, it still generates revenue for TfL, such is the low cost of maintenance and motive electricity required.
The amount of people who want to drive to work is dropping while the people wanting to take transit is increasing. This is happening despite of 100 years of car-focused urban planing in North America. Companies are finding that if they want to attract smart and talented people then they need to locate themselves along transit lines and not highways. This is a very good sign for a future where getting around is more efficient than today’s selfish car culture.
So instead of having 97 percent of McDonald’s corporate employees commuting to work with each of them alone in a car, Malec says, “right now, we have I think around 90 percent of our folks are arriving in a nonautomobile fashion.”
Chicago isn’t the only region experiencing this business boom along transit lines. From Seattle to St. Louis and Minneapolis to Atlanta, studies show that companies are relocating to be near transit lines, as they seek to attract workers, especially millennials, who prefer living in more urban areas and increasingly don’t want the long, driving commutes of their parents’ generation.
“Talent is choosing to ride transit,” says Audrey Wennink, director of transportation at Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council, a regional nonprofit research and advocacy organization on urban issues, and co-author of a new study indicating that more and more businesses want to be located close to rail and bus stations.
Toronto is a city where the car reigns supreme and any suggestion of sharing the road is deemed to be a war on the car. It’s surprising then that last year the city converted one of its busy downtown street from being car-focussed to transit focussed. Like everywhere else that has done this, people love it! More people are being moved around the city at a faster rate. The early data released by the city showed that the project was successful. Now, there’s more research from the project that points out that not only did transit riders benefit, local businesses did too.
It found that 53 per cent of transit users reported visiting shops along King St. W. more often since the pilot was put in place, and that a majority of them visited the shops more than once a week.
Due to increased streetcar reliability, transit users say the area is less stressful and they spend less time commuting and more time in the area to shop, according to the survey.