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Public transportation ad follies

January 31, 2012

I use public transportation quite a lot. I have to. We don’t have a car, and a bike can only take you so far. And since I have actual, recent experience with buses and trains, most of the advertisements for public transportation drive me nuts.

Public transportation is cheaper. Fair enough. It is cheaper than keeping a car. It’s still more expensive than what I consider it’s worth, but since there are no cheaper alternatives, I keep using it.

Public transportation is environmentally friendly. I wonder. It is probably true that one bus uses less fuel than fifty cars. But for the system to work at all, buses have to run on a somewhat regular schedule, even if that means they don’t get full. Does one bus still use less fuel than five or ten cars? As for trains, I know the Swedish trains run on hydropower, so that’s definitely environmentally friendly. But for the German trains I just don’t know. I have a feeling that if Deutsche Bahn ran on “green” electricity, they would advertise the fact. And since they don’t… well, who knows? Coal? Brown coal? Halfway safe German or French nuclear power? Icky unsafe ex-Soviet Union nuclear power? I’ve no idea. A train still uses decidedly less energy than even a handfull of cars, so there’s that.

Public transportation is much faster than going by car and getting caught in a traffic jam. Well, maybe. If you get caught in a traffic jam in the first place. And the bus doesn’t.  Buses and cars mostly share the same roads, after all. Also, in your own car you can go directly to your goal, whereas in a bus you’re caught making lots of stupid little extra loops into all kinds of little villages and suburbs and industrial areas, so that the bus will be maximally useful for everybody, rather than maximally useful to you. Trains go somewhat straighter, and aren’t affected by the same traffic jams. That doesn’t mean there are no traffic jams for trains. There totally are. Also, for any kind of public transportation, you have to stick to the schedule, which can either mean arriving 15-20 minutes too early and have to wait until whatever-it-is-that-you-were-travelling-to starts, or wanting to go somewhere right away only to have to wait 15-20 minutes for the next bus or train. And that’s in a city. On the countryside, buses may only go once an hour. If you don’t have to switch vehicles, you’re lucky. If you do, that’s more time lost. You also have to factor in the time to get to and from the station. All these things add up. Door to door, public transportation is usually not faster than going by car. Public transportation is usually emphatically slower. The only thing that may tip the scales is if you have to search for a parking spot at your destination, since that also eats time like crazy.

Public transportation is more comfortable than going by car. Excuse me, which planet do you live on? In my own car, I am guaranteed a seat. In my own car, I decide myself when and where I go, instead of having to follow a preexisting schedule. In my own car, there are no people listening to hip-hop on leaky earphones, or worse, on crappy phone loudspeakers. In my own car, I don’t have to deal with other people’s messes, other people’s wailing babies, other people’s yappy dogs, other people’s luggage, or, indeed, other people. True, in my own car I have to drive myself, and for long trips, a train ride might be more relaxing. But short trips? Privacy wins.

Public transportation lets you meet other people. Well, no. It lets you come into close proximity with other people. Sometimes you can overhear funny conversations. But sitting next to each other on a bus is not one of those situations where it’s socially acceptable to approach new people. On the bus or train, you speak only as much as is necessary to not be in the way for each other. If somebody would try to strike up a conversation with me, try to get to know me, I would shut down, stop responding, put in my earphones, get off the bus if I have to. You don’t try to meet new friends on the bus. Only creeps do that. I don’t want to meet a creep.

Public transportation has a long way to go, before it’s nicer and more practical than owning a car. If the private car can ever be beaten on those counts.

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