Imagine being able to get around conveniently and timely without ever having to drive a car. This is the general goal of public transportation, however this has hardly been achieved in the United States, thanks to our pro-sprawl, individualistic “American dream.” Public transportation used to thrive in America, with compact cities and streetcar lines in just about every city with a couple thousand or more. But starting with the auto boom in the early 1900s, and then interstate highway construction and suburbanization of the ’50s and ’60s, public transportation declined significantly in the U.S. during the 20th Century.
Today most communities have bus-only systems (see GM streetcar buyout) and operate on subsidies, drawing minimal revenue from passenger fares. Low ridership plagues many systems because most people who can afford a car, drive themselves. This has created a mentality among the public that transit is only for poor and disabled citizens and it is considered a misfortune to have to ride. Truthfully, it is a misfortune since low ridership and sprawling communities make it difficult to provide convenient and efficient service to those who do ride.
Back at school in Ames I began a new part time job in February as a transit driver for CyRide. It is one of the largest bus system in the state of Iowa with a fleet of over 60 buses. Operating in the fairly small city of Ames it is actually quite comprehensive. With no less than half-hourly service and running till midnight or later seven days a week, it is almost comparable to the convenience of driving a car, especially for Iowa State students like myself, who ride for free. Most fixed routes go through campus and circulator routes are operated on school days so it is not unusual to see five to ten buses pass by while walking (or riding) to class. Obviously, most of CyRide’s 4 million plus annual riders are students, but the system benefits city residents alike. Many professors have monthly passes and take CyRide to work regularly.
In contrast to CyRide, Cedar Rapids’ transit system (EAGL) does not provide that same comprehensive service, with less frequent service that ends before 7pm and no service Sunday. Growing up in Cedar Rapids, I very rarely rode the bus and never viewed it as a viable transportation alternative for errands or entertainment. This summer I plan to buy a bus pass and ride Route 3 to and from work. This should allow me better insight into the system and how good or bad it actually is for a regular rider. Look for another post on this in the future.
Image taken from CyRide website.