Paul Mees has changed the face of urban transit planning. The man is a veritable legend in the field, and his Transport For Suburbia
does not disappoint.
Ever played SimCity? The game certainly has matured (as it were) as a function of time. I remember playing SimCity 2000 back in the day, and I thought that
was complicated. I've made a rule to avoid the current version of the game because I don't want to somehow lose weeks of my life to another online sinkhole.
But as cool as SimCity is, there's one thing it gets very, very wrong: public transportation. Essentially, the game doesn't let the user fine-tune transit routes to a high enough extent. As a result, the game implements what it thinks is the best way of doing public transit—basically, demand-responsive service—regardless of the user's transit preference.
The primary reason I'd buy the new SimCity game would be to fool around with the public transit settings. But demand-responsive transit doesn't really work, and if that's the only option the game gives, then it's not something I'm interested in.
What does this have to do with Transport For Suburbia
? Throughout the book, Paul Mees explains clearly and concisely the central tenets of proper public transit planning and design. Demand-responsive service is not one of them.
What do you think would constitute the most convenient transit service? A system wherein buses come to you and drop you off where you want? One wherein buses operate on central routes with high frequency? One where every street of the city is covered by a bus running once an hour?
The answer's complicated, but one thing's for sure: it's not the first one. If buses catered to every citizen's whim, a city of 100,000 people would need thousands of buses. As the limit approaches that point, buses become isomorphic to cars. That's not a solution; it's a waste of money.
Paul Mees explains how transit planning and route design ought to work. It's not entirely intuitive at first, but once you read his work, you'll realize how right he is. His examples, drawn from personal experience in Melbourne and Toronto, are certainly enlightening. Ultimately, I think public transit boils down to frequency and simplicity. I'm sure one could draw different conclusions from Transport For Suburbia
, but those concepts stuck with me.
Now at a certain point, Mees, Vuchic, Walker and the Hi-Trans authors seem to be parroting each other's views on public transit. Are their ideas then stale and unoriginal? I don't buy it; If anything, it points to the existence and emergence of cogent, implementable public transit theory. It's time to start lobbying public officials to read these books, to move away from the old, out-of-date transit arguments and to radically change the public's opinion of public transit. Paul Mees' work is as good a place as any to start.