The Future of Public Transportation

My burning interest in public transit comes out partially from a fascination with it when I was younger as depicted in sci-fi movies and the like. I’ve never hidden my nerd tendencies, particularly on this blog. I wear them proudly.

But another reason I’m interested in public transit is because I really do think that investment in a robust, scalable public transit system is the smartest, and most logical progression away from fossil fuel dependence and crappy air quality when it comes to getting around in the Twenty-First century.

But, do the powers-that-be agree with me?

It’s of no surprise to me that there has been a deluge of technological visions out there about how we get people around city centers.  I’m not the only one enamoured of the sci-fi ideas of sleek, clean vehicles that arc their way silently and elegantly overhead and underground in the city of the future.

I love the idea of driverless pod cars delivering commuters from their doors at home into the lobbies of their places of employment, or to the commercial and industrial centers to get to their jobs in those locations.  I love the idea that the technologies of the past – like the use of more fuel-efficient Zeppelins taking the place of commerical jets for short range trips – are informing the strategies of the future, at least in theory.  I love the idea of empowering populations to ride bicycles that they can rent as a part of their transit system, currently in place in London, Barcelona, and even bike transit in Montreal here in Canada.

Thanks to Infrastructure EU, and to blogger Dan Gould of where I first spotted it, here's a wheel of possibility where the future of public transportation is concerned. Some ideas are great, and others, not so sure. Moving sidewalks? Segways? How about shorter city blocks and better use of space, people? Click the image to view it in full.

An emphasis on extensive public transit has certainly been the norm in the infrastructure of European cities, where space for individual cars is at a premium. After all, most of the cities in Europe were built before the idea of highways, and overpasses, and indeed cars, were invented.  In some ways, city planners in London, Paris, Geneva, and even in Berlin (Germany being nation of car lovers if there ever was one), had to invest in affordable and extensive public transit. The dense populations concentrated in those regions made it a logical thing to do.

But, North American cities are newer.  They were more easily planned to incorporate the flow of car traffic without the thought that a fossil fuel driven economy may not be all that sustainable.  As a result, it seems that in many cities in North America, and perhaps more importantly in expanding suburban areas, a vision for the public transit system of the future seems to be a drastically underdeveloped and underfunded concern in the present.

This gets back to the question of financial priorities on the part of governments to support scalable plans for public transportation relative to population growth trends. Despite the wonderful Canada Line built here for the Olympics, I’m not seeing it in many areas where I feel our population is expanding most.

This is a pretty personal issue for me, being car-less at the moment. My daughter and her Mum have moved into an area of the Lower Mainland where bus service is spotty at best, particularly after dusk and on weekends. According to our local transit authority TransLink (who I communicated with last week, and to their credit, responded to my questions right away), their hands are tied as far as improving bus frequency in many of these suburban areas here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, despite new residential developments springing up at a significant rate.

There’s no money to expand services there, denied them by municipalities, and by provincial and federal funding too. This is despite the fact that populations in areas like this all over the country, and in similar places in the United States, are exploding. I can only hope that policy makers can see the trend that is driving what many consider to be a public transportation crisis where funding is concerned, both here in Canada and in the United States where systems are being relied upon by commuters more and more, yet seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to where they sit in annual budgets.

As we are constantly aware, there is no bright future without a diligent present.  I only hope we can work out the present in time.

If you’re concerned about the future of public transit in America and are interested in dialogue about the issues as they affect you, consider following Transport For America on Twitter.



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