Wednesday, September 20, 2023

#263 / Streets Without Buses?

I am from Santa Cruz, California, and I really love our "picture buses," one of which you can see above. The buses feature the outstanding and award-winning photography of Frans Lanting. "Whale Buses," for instance, are now zooming around our local streets, urging us to protect whales "One Ride At A Time." There are some other "picture buses," too, celebrating other aspects of our natural world. 

Frans and his partner, Christine Eckstrom, allied with The National Geographic Society, have been helping us to see the wonders of the natural world through their many years of superlative photography and video. Their recent book, Bay of Life, celebrates the environment of the Monterey Bay Area. There is now a "Bay of Life Project," in fact, which accounts for those "picture buses." The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County will gladly accept your donations!

Much as I love the "picture buses," the most common observation that I hear about buses in general is that there isn't anyone, really, riding them! This observation, regretably, is pretty much on target; it's accurate. A friend of mind, who has served on the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission for many years, has always told me that our local transit agency is basically delivering "social services," not "transportation services." The system is really aimed at providing transportation to those lower income persons who can't afford a car. Again, there is some truth to that!

Couldn't we, I have long thought, get more for our money by trying out a different approach? One of my blog postings, back in November 2021, called for "Streets Without Cars." I advanced a specific proposal for a new way of providing transportation services, to help reduce, or even eliminate, the traffic congestion that is so horrendous in my local community. 

My proposal would remove from our streets and highways many of those greenhouse gas-spewing cars that clog them now. Traffic congestion is a big problem for almost everyone, and the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission is trying to combat traffic congestion through highway widening projects. This is, in fact, a self-defeating strategy, because widened highways actually "induce demand" for more automobile trips, and so make the problem worse. 

My proposed solution was to create a public, demand-responsive approach (like Uber or Lyft), so those who needed to get around our local community would end up "sharing" automobile trips. If you'd like to see what I said about that proposal, you should click this "Streets Without Cars" link.

I was surprised to read - in the Sunday, September 17, 2023, edition of my local newspaper, The Santa Cruz Sentinel - that this idea is actually being tried out in Wilson, North Carolina. The article was titled, "What if public transit was like Uber? A small city ended bus service to find out." 

Probably, unless you are a Sentinel subscriber (whose ever-increasing subscription prices are driving long-time subscribers, like me, to terminate their subscriptions), you'll be blocked when you click the link. Thus, I am providing the following "screenshot" image of the story, which I think should expand if you click on it. You can also get essentially the same story, online, from another newspaper, by clicking right here

In our case, here in Santa Cruz, we'd still need buses. LOTS of buses, in fact, because our "City On A Hill" (the UCSC campus) is a major destination for students who either don't own a car or who couldn't afford to park a car on campus. A transit hub, or hubs, could provide direct, express service to the campus. Other trips would utilize the "ride sharing" strategy now being tried out in North Carolina. Financing the system would be one major issue; the newspaper article doesn't really outline that aspect of the system, but there are definitely solutions. 

The big question? Are we willing to share?

I'd like to think so. 

Let's save the whales (and ourselves) "One [Shared] Ride At A Time."

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