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Justin N

And I was riding on a deviated fixed-route (or "flexible", for those speaking buzzwordese) transit route in 6th grade. Innovative...


I wonder if they could try and connect Brunswick with Portland and Lewiston, Maine. Maybe they can charge a $2 fare instead of a $1 fare and gear it towards lower-income people trying to work at say, a factory in one of those cities.

John W

I wouldn't read too much into the article title. Headlines are normally written on the fly by subeditors working under time pressure - and getting a subtle pun in like this is a quick win, without any real concern for the deeper semantics.

That said, I had never heard of the third example mentioned, a sort of transit barter-exchange (though really it's a taxi replacement rather than a new minibus service).

Geofrey Sanders

Thank you - it's refreshing to hear an expert deliver a good solid "you don't know what you're talking about"-ing.

Steve Lax

In the U.S., flex route bus service is one alternative to operating ADA (Americans with Disability Act) shadow service of fixed route services. I developed some flex routes in low utilization areas in the mid-1990s.

While flex routes are not particularly efficient, they are far more cost-effective than operating both a low utilization fixed route and the mandatory ADA shadow service.

Colin Stewart

Great article, Jarrett. It's interesting how the average person thinks they know more about transportation than the transportation experts.


they had jitneys (as they called the private van routes there) in miami when i lived there in the 90's.

Cap'n Transit

Randy, they've had jitneys since at least 1914.


Thank you for making the point about labor costs. While I generally support unions, it bothers me that many transit unions have been unwilling to negotiate away any of their generous pay and benefits in response to the economic downturn. Basically the senior members who know they won't lose their jobs are willing to let newer members lose their jobs, just so those who are left can keep the benefits. It's pretty much the opposite of what unions are supposed to be about.

It looks like TriMet here in Portland might have to do another round of awful service cuts because the union won't accept any health care premiums or pension changes. They also routinely make over $50,000. I think bus drivers should be well-paid, but that's a lot of money for low-skilled work that many other workers would love to do for less pay.

It's great that some cities have so much demand that private transit services can work. I've lived abroad and used those systems, and while they are pretty confusing, they get you where you need to go for less than taxi service.

Tom West

@Zefwanger: Looking at Canadian transit agencies, I've found that drivers' labour costs are about one-third the total operatign costs (total agency costs per revenue hour)... which means that if bus drivers worked for free, you could increase your service hours by 25%. Not trivial, but not huge either.

Bus drivers' wages are high for the skill level required, BUT that's because it's not a job many people want to do. (Irregular/horrible hours, lonely, sometimes dangerous, have to deal with less-than-nice members of the public...).
(Similarly, trash collectors earn high wages for unskilled manual labout, because it's unpleasent and people don't want to do it).


One issue with Canadian transit agencies isn't so much the wages but shift flexibility. I must admit I'm not sure what the situation is now but a few years ago drivers weren't allowed to take split shifts, or shorter shifts during peak demand.


While some transit unions engage in rather obnoxious practices--I'm not at all sympathetic to work rules that mandate overstaffing, for instance; I'm also not sympathetic to the notion that transit problems can or should be solved simply by paying drivers less for the same work. After all, we don't make the same demands of construction companies, design firms, train/bus manufacturers, or other vendors.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Scotty.  I certainly didn't propose that!

Corey Burger

BC Transit runs Community Buses like Tranlink. In both cases, the drivers are paid less because they don't have airbrake certifications and have lesser drivers license. These are easy breakpoints for pay grades, better than an ambiguous skill level description, or any sort of transit route break point.

Another key point is the contract needs to be flexible about when a route's ridership increases and decreases and a different bus type needs to be substituted.


One of the assumptions Margonelli's article that particularly bothered me was that the primary purpose of transit is to serve people like Pam Boucher and for anyone that is physically capable of driving a car and has enough money so it's mathematically possible to afford one, transit is not for you.

While a transit service like the one described, oriented at the disabled, certainly has a role to play in society, it is also important to understand that a service like Pam Boucher's is going to be awful for anyone with any other options.

Some things about that in particular that make me cringe include:
1) The notion that a frequency of once an hour is good enough.
2) The excessive time one would spend on a service like Brunswick's going in and out of parking lots and waiting while the driver provides special attention to mobility challenged users.
3) The unreliability of such a service. The amount of time it takes to detour into and out of a parking lot can be horridly unpredictable depending on traffic conditions. The result is excessive time waiting at bus stops for everyone who uses such a service.
4) The notion of a service that attempts to enumerate the specific set of destinations that people want to visit. Everybody visits different sets of places and in anywhere other than the smallest towns, the number of destinations are way to numerous for a government bureaucracy to enumerate the specific buildings that people want to go to. Corridor-oriented service, which Margonelli seems to dispise, avoids the destination enumeration problem by providing access to everywhere along a major road.
5) The notion that transit is a charity service for the poor and the disabled merely serves to stigmatize transit by making anyone who uses it "feel" poor or disabled. It also greatly limits the amount of money society will be willing to spend to fund such a service because, as much as we would like to believe otherwise, the amount of money people are willing to spend on charity is a tiny fraction of what people are willing to spend on something they believe can benefit themselves.

Great post, Jarett, for exposing the gaping flaws in Margonelli's article.



I'm not suggesting that you are proposing anything--you have an established record of staying away from those sorts of debates.

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