Podcast 50f: The Bike Tour comes to an end + local transit insights

Some strange twists as a train mishap leaves me walking around Northampton, Mass., and exploring/spending the night in Holyoke, Mass. This episode includes musings on transit with two old advocate friends I bumped into. Then it's off to some new adventures. Spoiler alert: I've been in Colorado since then.

INTRO: In late August I moved out of my apartment in Boston, put about 8 boxes into storage, and took a bus to Brunswick, Maine with my bike and camping gear. By popular request for tour updates, I decided to record a series of brief, daily, mostly unedited episodes to share here. Let me know what you think! More updates still coming...

Podcast 51.2: Free Transit follow-up with listener feedback (Fixed Missing Audio)

Here is some listener feedback on free transit. First I chat with transportation activist Eli Damon from Northampton, MA, who wrote in about free transit and also shares some insight into the transit environment in Western Massachusetts. Then I read a listener email.

UPDATE: Corrected version. The previous file was missing the interview due to an editing error. If you downloaded the show in the first few days, try this one instead. Hopefully the repost will make it appear in iTunes again. Thanks to listener Dan for pointing out the error.

Podcast 51: The Case for FREE Public Transit Everywhere

Despite its tremendous value and egalitarian mission, public transportation remains the only essential public service that charges a fare. The only reason we still collect fares is because we always have, ever since the early days of horse-car transit. Now, user fees make up only a small portion of total revenue yet create a significant barrier to people of all incomes and lifestyles, slow down transit and cost millions to collect -- all without any justification.

I explain why cities and towns everywhere should provide free transit services and debunk the five main arguments for the status quo.

Note: I have come to these "radical" ideas throughout my years of transit service planning and advocacy. Please listen to the episode before sending me hate mail. Thanks! But please do send me your thoughts and I will gladly share them (anonymously if you'd like).

Riders seen waiting in line pay, regardless of weather. Buses spend up to 30% of their travel time waiting to collect fares, depending on the volume of passengers.

Comments? Suggestions? Please visit or email Follow me Twitter @CriticalTransit and follow and support my work in Boston via Your support goes a long way!

CT 49 - MBTA, News, Fares, Solutions & Why Everyone Depends on Transit

Recent MBTA news and advocacy battles encouraged me to record a podcast to counter the dominant narrative. Let's review what's causing this mess and how to stop the bleeding and operate a reliable and effective network.

Why a well functioning and affordable T should matter to everyone, because we all depend on transit even if we never use it (some of the reasons). And right now it's neither.

The population of Boston has increased 10 percent since 2004 and T ridership is up 30 percent on major lines, causing severe overcrowding, yet no significant improvements have been made since at least 2000, and service quality is declining. People cite transit as a primary reason the want to live in big cities.

The MBTA is chronically underfunded, promoting inefficient operating practices such as a reliance on overtime, deferred maintenance and an inability to plan for upgrades. Instead of addressing these problems, the control board has chosen to vilify transit workers.

Rapidly rising rents and declining wages have forced large numbers of people to move to places with slow, infrequent and expensive transit service. We have repeatedly cut service and raised fares on these "low ridership" services, while ignoring others with great potential.

Fares impact everyone, including those most vulnerable to rising costs, middle class riders who are more likely to choose other options, and everyone impacted by increase traffic on our streets (i.e. everyone). Bus, subway and commuter rail fares have more than doubled since 1991, while the gas tax has increased only 3 cents. Like transit, roads and highways are heavily subsidized, yet only transit riders are being asked for more. Governor Baker says a fee is a tax, but apparently not if it's a transit fare.

Finally I discuss several alternatives to raise revenue -- focusing on better and faster service -- without increasing the fee for users. But no efficiencies will fill the $7 Billion budget gap -- and that's just to reliably run what we have, never mind desperately needed upgrades. A transit network is a valuable public service, not a business, and it's time we started treating it like one.

Comments? Suggestions? Please visit, email Follow me on Facebook and especially Twitter @CriticalTransit and follow and support my work in Boston via Your support goes a long way!

Podcast 48: Jeff Wood from The Overhead Wire & The Direct Transfer

Expanding our focus beyond Boston, we speak with Jeff Wood, a San Francisco-based consultant (The Overhead Wire) and operator of The Direct Transfer, a daily news source on transit, cities and urban design. Jeff also hosts Talking Headways, a weekly transportation podcast, and his work includes media, cartography, data analysis and research on transit modes and land use strategies. He also contributed to a new TCRP report on transit and land use connections (PDF).

Some topics include finding and pursuing a vision for transit, urban politics, gentrification and displacement, big project management, and achieving better bus service. Are private transit and taxis good for cities? Is there a transit space race? And an update on San Francisco's implementation of off-board fare payment on trains and buses.

Check out the Transit Matters podcast for more transportation news, analysis and interviews. We're working to build a more reliable and effective transit network in Boston. Visit Transit Matters to learn about our mission and our vision for transit, become a member and get involved.

Follow me @CriticalTransit for more frequent info and thoughts. Share this podcast: tell your friends and colleagues, and subscribe to the RSS feed to be notified of new posts and episodes.

Podcast 47: urban planning, transportation, environment and social justice with Nick Pendergrast

Critical Transit resumes with Nick Pendergrast, sociologist, one-time urban planner and co-host of Progressive Podcast Australia. Nick is a lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

We talk about transportation and urban design, housing, demographics, social and environmental justice, related structural issues, and the importance of connecting public transit and urban planning with other progressive issues. Also, how we might go about solving the housing and transportation crises in our cities, and dealing with anti-development NIMBY types and people fearful of gentrification.

A few links from today's show: Becca Bor (clip on the history and structural issues around car-free transport); animal-only bridges in Germany; Beeliar Wetlands and Roe Highway Development (facebook); and why electric vehicles won’t solve the suburbs' transport woes (covered on Critical Transit episode 38, and we'll revisit this issue soon in the context of self-driving cars). 

Listen also to my interview on episode 114 of Progressive Podcast Australia.

Follow me and my work on Twitter, Facebook and through my local organization TransitMatters.

Subscribe to the blog and podcast to be notified of new episodes and share it around.


Expanding and Replicating the Cape Flyer

Last weekend I finally took my bike on the Cape Flyer train to Cape Cod as part of a camping trip, and it was fantastic.

Now in its third year, the Cape Flyer has made getting to the popular vacation peninsula possible for car-free people (it's wasn't impossible; just not usually worth the hassle) and reasonable for those who aren't interested in the 12-mile traffic backups at the bridge. As a result it is very popular yet could benefit from improvements and potentially be a model for similar services elsewhere.

Where it excels

First off, it exists. The only other car-free options are a bus that sits in the same traffic as cars and a very expensive ferry. I won't even suggest biking because those bridges are possibly the scariest place I've ever tried to bike. Many people in Boston have never been to the Cape because it's just a pain to get there.

Useful connections are available in Buzzards Bay and Hyannis to island ferries and local buses, so you can actually go beyond the station, removing a major barrier to vacationing by transit. Because it's all coordinated, it actually works out and you won't miss the train because a shuttle is stuck in traffic.

The train is reasonably convenient with stops at South Station, Braintree, Brockton and a parking lot in Middleborough. The schedule, while very limited, provides for a Friday evening train and then an 8am outbound train Sat/Sun morning and 6:40pm return train Sat/Sun, which works for a weekend getaway.

An entire coach is dedicated for bikes and there's plenty of room for whatever junk you "need" on your vacation. There's no way I would try fitting my bike and all my camping gear under a bus and risk not being able to get back.
The price is reasonable. There's a cafe car and decent wifi.

Opportunities for Improvement

Frequency: As a weekend vacation oriented service, the limited schedule necessitates careful planning and leaves no room for error (miss the return train and you may be out of luck). There's also no chance of stopping in Buzzards Bay for a few hours to walk or bike the canal path before continuing over the bridge.

The service could be expanded by offering limited weekday service (one round-trip each in the morning and evening) and adding trips on the weekends to permit flexibility in travel plans and create a new option for Cape Cod residents to visit Boston.

Additional stations would offer more options to those traveling by bike and provide more convenient bus and shuttle connections. A station is currently being built under the Bourne Bridge on the south (Cape) side of the canal, which opens up more options and keeps both bikes and shuttle buses from having to use the dangerous bridge. Sandwich and West Barnstable have old train station which could be reactivated.

Travel Time: Once the train reaches the cape it operates with speed restrictions because the track south of the canal is designed for slower freight trains. The 2-hour 20-minute trip could be significantly faster with some track upgrades.

Local Transit: The Cape Flyer ends in Hyannis and cannot easily be extended further east as no rail line exists. While there are useful bus connections at the Hyannis Transportation Center, most are slow local, hourly routes designed more for local residents' needs like work and food shopping than those of visitors. Investments in more frequent connecting local transit service and new express/shuttle service to points east and west would make traveling beyond Hyannis more feasible and give travelers more options. Either way, more information about these transit options should be more readily available on the train and in places riders are likely to be at other times (before planning their trip) like South Station or, uh, the internet.

Opportunities for similar services

The Cape Flyer has been a profitable venture so far, aside from one-time capital expenses (new stations, track upgrades, etc.) and could be a model for other experiments in regional rail service. The Berkshires and White Mountains come to mind. It's also a good time to rethinking our "commuter" rail system and how the schedules could better serve all types of regional travel (increased frequency, better stations, shuttles, coordination with local transit, and more).

Transit Tip 14: Beware of useless bike lanes

There's a tendency among bike advocates to champion the delineation of a "bike space" even without any actual space being created. You know, "if there's room for a bike lane" without changing anything else on the street. At best you get no benefit, and at worst you're given a "safe space" that isn't safe at all. This bike lane is almost entirely in the door zone, which is why these users are staying to the far left. But cars will pass too closely (up against the line) so they really should be riding outside the bike lane for safety, but then motorists become arrogant and hostile as they think you're being a jerk.


That's when cars are parked flush against the curb. Even in the summer they often intrude into the bike lane. But in the winter the lane is completely taken away for car parking. Bike lanes in Boston are only open 1/3 of the year. And it's always the bikers and pedestrians who lose out; car drivers get plowed streets and the same ability to park their personal property: who cares if anyone else has trouble getting around?

You can see the city's priorities. They claim to be a "world-class bicycling city" where "the car is no longer king" but what this street design really does is appease some bicycle advocates while maintaining a car dominant streetscape. Fail.

This major business district is also a major transportation corridor. The 39 bus seen here is one of the highest ridership MBTA lines, yet all winter it struggles to pass arrogantly parked cars, often waiting for opposing traffic before it can cross the centerline. Buses often can't pass each other.

In a fairer city, cars that park outside the designated space would be ticketed and towed immediately. Better yet, restrict parking in certain spaces that can be used to store the snow that the city should be removing from sidewalks.

Transit Tip 13: Make a Snow Plan

It's been a day of heavy snow here in Philadelphia. While viewing the city from its trains and buses was quite pleasant, a snow storm presents significant challenges for transit operators. Depending on the timing of the storm, either buses and streetcars will be stuck in heavy traffic or they will be empty and running on time as nobody goes anywhere. SEPTA bus 44 in Ardmore, PA

It makes sense to reduce scheduled service on most lines to match reduced ridership and make more buses (and drivers) available to respond to special needs that will arise - Some lines will require snow routes that add significant time and require an extra bus. Other needs include stalled buses, extra trips, rail replacement shuttles, evacuations and more.

Vehicles take a lot of abuse during a blizzard and that means many may be out of service the following day. Don't run the risk of having to run 70 percent of normal service on several subsequent regular days because you couldn't be bothered making a snow plan.

Plan ahead and communicate. Everything in a snow plan, from route detours to service reductions to plowing busways, can be planned ahead of time and strategically implemented early.  That means employee shifts can be different, supervisors will know what to do and what scenarios to watch for, and customers will know where to find a snow route -- but only if the information is made available in advance, such as in timetables and maps.

Meanwhile, we can look to Hampton Roads Transit for a completely inexcusable three-day bus shutdown as the agency is apparently afraid that someone will slip and fall while boarding a bus.

Episode 45: TRB recap: light rail, design, walking, technology ...

This is the first of several episodes featuring content from TRB Annual Meeting sessions in Washington, DC, starting with the common themes of transport data, automation and the idea that technology will solve more than a few of our problems.  From the sessions, we learn how to successfully insert a light rail transit (LRT) line into a city streetscape dominated by car culture, informed by experience in small French and Spanish cities; why industrial design matters at every stage of a project; and the importance of informal social paths (or, why attempting to corral pedestrians into designated crossing locations makes walking less safe). Do you have thoughts on these topics? Of course you do, so share them with the world! Suggest other viewpoints, new perspectives and ideas for further research, show topics and/or guests, by emailing or using the contact form or those social media tools.

Find me at Planning Camp on February 1 in Philadelphia, at the Human Transit talk in New York on February 6, and otherwise riding trains and buses around the northeast.

Finally, if you enjoy this time dump very useful transit project, please help support my work by sharing it with your friends and colleagues, leaving a review on iTunes and other places, and consider sponsoring an episode if you are able to.