The Statesman has an interesting story this week, though one that other outlets have also done, where a car races the new commuter rail line from Leander to downtown Austin. I’d seen the train beat the car in another story, but the Statesman’s driver beat the Statesman’s rail rider by 38 minutes.
The reporters do a decent job of putting the race in context–light traffic, low UT commuting, difference in overall costs, etc. What makes the article helpful is that it shines a bright light on the case that transit agencies must still make to the average consumer–that transit is cheaper, more efficient, easier, safer, less annoying, etc. To a transit “purist” like me, if I were facing a Leander-downtown Austin commute, that extra 38 minutes wouldn’t really bother me, but that’s a tall order for most “choice riders.”
What’s missing from the article is a more holistic look at transit vs. single-rider driving. Yes, efficiency and cost are two important considerations for transportation, but what about public health? Sustainability? Productivity? (if you consider that someone can do more while riding transit than while driving a car) Those criteria defy easy quantification, but they are certainly important considerations, particularly in Austin, and it would be nice to understand more about them in this context.
The Statesman also reported on the Capital Metro CEO candidates’ public appearance; it’s interesting that so much of the conversation focused on the needs of disabled riders, which I think points to the need for other groups to step into the fray and advocate for an improved system for all. That should include environmental groups, business groups, and others interested in improvements to the area’s quality of life.