Why Don’t We Ride?

Why don’t more people ride the bus? That’s a question Otis White took up in this week’s episode of Smart City, for which he is a regular contributor. You can find the piece about 22 minutes into the show (MP3, 19.3M).

White covers some of the class issues (middle class people ride rail but not buses – thankfully not completely true here in Portland). But he also cites an interesting study by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris from UCLA about why women don’t ride: lots of bus stops feel unsafe.

Here’s a website from Berkeley that discusses the report (PDF, 2.7M).

The report’s conclusions would also seem to indicate that the same issues would depress women traveling as pedestrians. The suggested mitigations:

  • Better maintain built environment (the “broken windows” theory)
  • Lighting
  • Get more “eyes on the street”
  • Remove negative land uses (adult book stores, etc. – more of a challenge in Oregon

4 responses to “Why Don’t We Ride?”

  1. (Caution: This comment is a disgusting diatribe on disgusting bus riders.)

    I ride the bus one-way into downtown daily, but walk home.

    I can tell you in one all encompassing word why anyone with a protective sense of personal well-being would NOT ride the bus in either direction:

    Hygiene. Or, more accurately, the LACK of hygiene.

    I have been exposed to more infectious agents in the bus than any other environment. It is worse than a plane, an elevator, even a public toilet.

    Sneezing and coughing occur with wild abandon – respiratory mists and snot flying in all directions. Nose picking and wiping is engaged with exuberance. Filthy hands wipe down every hand hold thoroughly.

    To add insult to injury, smokers marinated in nicotine stink like wet ashtrays. Filthy riders reeking of rotten nastiness of body and clothing ride without a whit of care. Office workers soaked in Chanel almost, but not quite overwhelm these bearers of filth. Folks who rarely floss, or brush, or even rinse their infected mandibles exhale the air of putrid flesh with every breath.

    I have personally witnessed and been the recipient of some of the most disgusting acts a human, or any animal, can engage in while riding the bus. It is all I can do ride to work very early before the crowds, and impossible in all but illness or the worst storms to ride home with a full load of my sister and fellow humans.

    I have no idea what can be done in this microcosm of society to fix any of these issues, but any improvement would make riding the bus a much easier endeavor.

  2. Thanks for the info, Chris.

    As everyone realizes, improvements to infrastructure which make things easier for disabled folks (like ramps and wheelchair access to sidewalks) also make things nicer for people who aren’t disabled. I think the same is true about the bus stops: make women feel safer and everyone will. The big question is how do you go about improving the built environment? Where do you get the money or people to do it?

    One possibility is to get folks to do it as community service. Back in high school a group from the school spent a friday doing landscaping at a bus stop in Beaverton. Our payment was lunch and treats from the nearby businesses (which also bought the landscaping materials I believe). Perhaps something similar could be done elsewhere.

  3. Michael, I want to follow up on your perspective. As a frequent rider, I’ve experienced many of the same things, but I guess I don’t find them so frequent or offensive that they keep me off the bus. On the other hand they bother my partner to the extent that she seldom uses the bus even though she has door-to-door service from home to office.

    So is this a matter of how different people perceive the experience?

    And do you have the same perceptions about MAX and Streetcar, or do you feel like there is a difference (at the risk of playing the ‘class’ card)?

  4. It is hard for me to fairly compare the bus to other modes as I rarely use them. My few trips to PDX on Max or Pearl on the streetcar felt cleaner and safer than the bus.

    It is odd how we might attribute poor hygiene to a lessor class of citizen. Or is it the other way around? Either way, there seems to be an association that is unfair and probably unrealistic.

    I have seen well-dressed folks sneeze in their hands then place that body fluid damp hand on the community hand rail. I have seen very poor people dressed in impeccably clean and pressed clothing.

    The issue of hygiene needs to be kept simple and away from complicating social stratus issues.

    In all public life, on mass transit, or in a crowded store, or other congested and shared spaces, we all need to learn to take better care of ourselves and the people around us, with the greatest of respect for everyone. Many of the ills of modern life are, at the root, errors in the respect and care of other human beings, in this case hygiene – certainly one of the fundamentals of a civil society.

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