Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

transit-1937-ford-busIt’s said the road to hell is paved with good intentions; but these days you could pretty much pick any road.

Given the dominance of motorized transport in our world, I’ve always wondered why we can’t find something better than fantasy and good intention to design how we move about in cities.

Some way of thinking that has an actual chance of real world success.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the current mish-mash of broken dreams and failed potential is a mess. And not being good at dialectics we focus more intently on waiting for our chance to swerve into the next lane because we know it’s always faster …Utopia awaits, or so say the visionaries, preachers and hucksters alike.

Mad Max was a guy in a similar fix. His answer? “Hope is a dangerous fantasy to pin your life on …You have a better chance if you fix the problems you already have”.

So, I say “I’m in, where do we start?”

When I was a kid in the 60’s, all cars had speedometer with ridiculous speeds on them. They still do.

Like duh …what’s up with that? There are no public road that will ever let you drive that fast? But I was missing the point.

That speedometer gives us the room and power to take on the world and always come out number one. It shows we own a monster. A mighty engine capable of crushing, passing and intimidating anything in our path. It’s our visible proof. And like the other tricks we’re prey to; that speedometer convinces us that if called upon – we’re better, stronger and more skilled than anyone else.

We watch movies about it. The magic day arrives. Finally we are let loose to battle to the death, triumph and rise the victor. Winner takes all. And all this possible with our car. The most potent dream of power and freedom we’ll ever set our hands on. It’s no accident we like calling our roads a ‘snarl’ and continue to put up with it.

And it’s no wonder we pay so much for them. In comparison it’s no wonder that public transport is so hard to sell.

When it comes to transport; the thought of abandoning the disaster we confuse as individual freedom seems like madness. And coming up with cohesive ways to integrate our daily travel isn’t on anyone’s books.  Resistance is futile!

But there’s got to be another way. There always is.

Public transit like garbage is one of those areas where people come in direct contact with their government. A place you get to feel the effects of political, administrative and planning decisions in a forceful way. A mistake made here is clear and the consequences are deeply felt.

The basis of most bureaucratic, administrative and political work for the past fifty years has been grounded in an ability to personally avoid the consequences of decisions. And we all can sense the result has been a complete disaster.

Regardless, we’re not going to change any time soon but that is no reason to avoid thinking about better scenarios.

I often try to imagine the impact of small, simple, and no cost changes that could radically change our lives and politics for the better. It’s fun and a challenge. Sitting in traffic this morning I came up with a good one.

Imagine if the law required that every Mayor, Councillor, person who sits on a board or committee involved with transportation, every transport planner and designer, and every manager and executive in the city’s transport division had to use public transport exclusively for a one month period every year. And that failure to do so would be grounds for dismissal.

Just to make it a little more interesting; imagine it applied to their immediate family as well. Their spouses and children would have the same requirement as well. Their failure to ride the buses would put their jobs on the line as well. Hell, we could even afford to give them all free passes just for making the effort.

And to give it a little kick, let’s say this month had to February.  And like bike to work month we could celebrate city wide! They could be required to wear a ribbon month and take the pledge. Only this time it would have teeth. I can hear the heartfelt conversations around every dinner table about the crappy state of affairs.

How long do you think before the current state of public transit changed? What kind of changes do you think we’d see?

Personally, I believe people don’t use things because they don’t work.

Forcing people to use things that they’ve created and are responsible for seems like a sensible idea yah? Especially when they have both tools and power to fix it when it doesn’t work.  Just sayin’.

All of a sudden these people would have a superpower ability called insight. And they could use it to find practical and useful solutions in a way that has been the norm for most of human history . A month taking public transit and living with people who used it and you might be tempted to develop realistic solutions AND implement them.

The sooner we allow people who use things to take control of them and give them the ability to fix them instead of leaving it all to experts, the sooner we can get drop our stupid fantasy solutions and get on with real life.

In fact this could be a new kind of goal for civic institutions, but maybe that’s asking too much :P

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