September 23rd, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

An Example and an Aside: Why More People Don't Ride the Damned Bus

Enough people were generous to me last week that I figured that I could afford to catch Corpse Bride, as long as I only paid afternoon matinee price. So I checked the movie listings. The nearest theater to me that's carrying it is the AMC Creve Coeur 12 at Lindbergh and Olive. According to Google Maps, it's 5.6 miles away. By car at 27¢/mile, that's $3.02 round trip, estimated time 10 minutes each way.

By MetroBus, it's the 32 Welston west to Northwest Plaza, then the 49 Lindbergh south. Price including transfers, $4.00 round trip. Estimated time, counting the wait at the theater because the closest arrival time is almost half an hour before: 80 minutes one way. That includes approximately 5 minutes to wait for the #32, 13 minutes on that bus, 10 minutes waiting for the #91, 12 minutes on the #91, 2 minutes to walk from the bus stop to the theater, then a 25 minute wait for the movie. Or to simplify, it works out that I have to be at the bus stop at 1:35pm for a 2:55pm movie. I can probably shave about 10 minutes off of that on the way back. So, round trip time one hundred fifty minutes, versus twenty by car, or more than two hours wasted, about 40 minutes of that standing around or walking outdoors. Fortunately, tomorrow's weather is forecast to be nigh-perfect. Now imagine the same trip in torrential rain, or at 95°F with high humidity, or during a January ice storm.

Oh, but wait, that's the best case scenario. Why? Only one transfer, and a short walk on either side. In general, neither of those conditions apply. Normally it's at least two transfers, and a walk of about a mile on at least one end. So a routine, daily work trip by bus involves standing around, outside in the weather waiting for a bus, for just under an hour each way, plus about 20 minutes of hiking on city streets each way. And does this save money? Not for most people. Given the IRS estimate, including cost of ownership, of 27¢/mile, the bus is 33% more expensive. (One exception: people working downtown, who might have to pay $2/day for parking. Then the bus is cheaper, which is almost the only reason MetroLink gets used at all, really. And on the list of reasons why nobody wants to work downtown.)

If gasoline cost roughly 50% more, the bus would be the same cost as the car ... but would still involve that nearly two hours a day of wasted time outdoors in all weather for this trip, or three hours for most likely routes. So no, people aren't going to use mass transit more just because gasoline is getting more expensive. Who has the time? And who's willing to put themselves through that much weather every day? The only way to get people to ride the bus at all is to make it impossible to own cars.