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Easing Switch to Carpools and Transit

Transportation planners and transit advocates talk about several impediments facing people who want to make the switch from driving alone to transit or carpooling. Among them:

Inertia. Even many people with long drives that keep them from family time, or even seeing their homes in daylight, fall into patterns that are hard to break. Doing something different requires some planning, and people who endure long drives and get limited sleep are often just too tired to change habits.

The unknown. Stepping into a carpool or boarding a bus means learning a lot of new stuff. Carpoolers have their own etiquette. Bus riders know the fare, how to pay it, where to sit, where the route will take them and how to request a stop.

Good example of problem-solving: Arlington County developed an innovative program to encourage young people to ride transit. The idea was to get teenagers used to riding the bus, forming a habit they'd keep into adulthood.

One of the innovations was that the planners decided to ask high school students what was keeping them off the buses and how to fix it. Turned out that the barriers for the students were much the same as those for adults. Does the bus I want really stop at this signpost? Am I going to have to keep everyone else waiting at the farebox while I fumble for exact change? How do I know when I'm approaching my stop?

The Arlington transportation planners came up with the iRide program, which is aimed at young people, but I think would help anybody trying to make the switch to transit and offers a great model for other planners. The key is, it's really, really simple and they explain everything.

If you were on a committee trying to help people get out of their cars in response to gas prices, what would you want to know about carpooling or transit? What would you have the transit planners do to make their services more attractive and inviting?

By Robert Thomson  |  May 27, 2008; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  transit  
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