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Cut Transit Amenities, Not Service

It's important for transit to look and feel nice, if only to resurrect its deeply tarnished image in the United States. But ridership depends on good service, not good aesthetics.
May 16, 2016, 8am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

For transit riders, beautiful stations and convenient amenities are very welcome. But Yonah Freemark makes an important point about bloated costs. "Anyone who has ever ridden the [New York] Subway knows first hand that its success has nothing to do with aesthetics or access to luxury amenities. Stations are hardly in good shape, trains are packed, and cell service is spotty at best. People ride the Subway in spite of these things; they ride it because it's fast, it's frequent, and it's (relatively) reliable."

When decision-makers favor sleek 21st-century monumentalism, costs soar and service doesn't necessarily improve. "New York's own $4 billion World Trade Center Transportation Hub—perhaps the world's single-most expensive station—is evidence of that; rather than improve service frequency or speed, officials chose to direct public funds to a white monument that does nothing to actually ease the lives of daily commuters."

Freemark cites a recent proposal by Boston's MBTA to cut expenses for its Green Line extension. Simple measures to reduce station sizes and cut out excess canopies and escalators save an impressive $300 million. Other tactics could increase that figure substantially.

Regardless, says Freemark, American transit agencies have been unable to reduce build costs to international standards. Until we can do that, perhaps we should focus on what commuters really care about. 

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Published on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in the transport politic
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