Glamour & Transit

Happy Dump the Pump Day, everybody.

Dump The Pump Day June 17 2010

Dump the Pump Day is the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) annual promotion to encourage travel on public transit. If you like killing pelicans and destroying fisheries, by all means continue to drive demand for offshore oil. If you like shore birds and shrimp, though, support public transportation.

People who live in areas served by public transportation save 398 million gallons of fuel annually, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. Household residents living within the proximity of public transportation drive an average of 4,400 fewer miles annually compared to those with no access to public transportation.

But what am I saying? We already know guilt and common sense do little to change commute patterns. What we really need is good old fashioned sex appeal, like the city of Arlington, Virginia tried in 2005 with their “Rides In the City” campaign featuring women lying down in short skirts.

Public transportation sex appeal ad

Does sex appeal work? Cap’n Transit asks that question in a series of insightful posts on glamour and public transportation. Glamour is important to get newbies to try transit for the very first time. If the public transit system fails in other aspects though — which Cap’n identifies as Availability, Value and Amenities — that single trip doesn’t become a habit for the trial user.

Cap’n then discusses how Glamour ties into transportation funding. The huge subsidy that single occupant driving receives, for example, is based on the glamour of driving an automobile, versus the very proletarian image of sitting in a subway with the huddled masses. He writes:

Just as working-class people voted against high taxes for the rich because they hoped that they might some day be rich, many working-class Brooklynites didn’t support charging people to drive a car into Manhattan because they hoped that someday they (or their children) would drive cars into Manhattan. They support highway expansion and sprawl-inducing lending practices because they hope that one day they will be driving to the McMansions.

F Trolley

Cap’n gives examples of how his Glamour hypothesis informs the public debate on public transport modes. Santa Clara county planners and voters in California, for example, chose a vastly more expensive BART extension over Caltrain to the East Bay, primarily (in my opinion) because South Bay residents see BART as sexier, cleaner and more convenient than the clunkier Caltrain service. The importance of investing in glamour drives a lot of the debate between transit advocates on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vs light rail vs street cars vs old fashioned buses, as well as gee-whiz technology like Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and motorized zip lines for urban transportation.

Finally, Cap’n notes that importance of backing that glamour investment up with good old fashioned utility. He gives an example:

Imagine a woman who is thin because she’s on a unsustainable diet. A man notices her and they start dating. She goes off the diet and gains a lot of weight.

If she’s a generous, caring person, or fun, or good in bed, and her boyfriend isn’t a shallow jerk, he may stick around. He was drawn in by the glamour, but stayed because he saw value in her. On the other hand, if she’s mean or crazy or a wet blanket he may dump her.

And so it goes with public transportation. Not only that, there’s a real risk of a backlash against public transportation when single trip users who try the service for the first time feel like they’ve been ripped off by the marketing.

What do you think? Have you tried public transportation and found it lacking? Or are you a regular rider who tried it and found it serves your needs? Will we ever see celebrity sightings on public transportation?

If you normally drive to work, did you dump the pump today and try transit? What did you think?


  1. As much as I love public transportation, I have to say that I avoid it in favour of riding my bike whenever possible. When I have my bike, I can leave whenever I want, arrive whenever I want and usually take a more direct route to my destination (which may involve a bus transfer or two). Plus, the bike doesn't have a transfer that expires in 2 hours too, so I can be a lot more flexible without having to buy another ticket (looking for dollar bills or exact change).

    Public transit can be great, but I find it more of an annoyance just because I hate waiting.

    Plus, I just love getting to my destination and someone noticing my helmet and asking if I biked there. Yes, why yes, I did!

  2. San Mateo county though BART was sexy, got into a relationship, was disappointed and broke it off, but is stuck paying child support for the SFO extension.

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