Saturday, August 4, 2012

Book advocates greater investment in public transit

Cover: Straphanger by Taras Grescoe

For the past three weeks, my daily commute on Lake Transit has offered me an occasion to read Straphanger by Taras Grescoe (Times Books, 2012).

Grescoe, like me, is a “straphanger,” defined as “somebody who, by choice or necessity, relies on public transport, rather than a privately owned automobile.”

According to Grescoe, for the vast majority of the earth’s population, getting around involves taking buses, ferryboats, commuter trains, streetcars and subways -- and yet public transportation is viewed by many as a “squalid last resort for those with one too many impaired driving charges, too poor to afford insurance, or too decrepit to get behind the wheel of a car.”

Bus pass in ID pouch holder
Hand-made brocade ID pouch
for my Lake Transit monthly pass
In the introduction to his book, which is posted on, Grescoe argues that it doesn’t have to be like this: “Done right, public transport can be faster, more comfortable, and cheaper than the private automobile.”

Grescoe documents the state of public transit -- high-speed rail, bus travel and even bicycle use -- in cities around the world, including North America. His book argues for greater investment in public transportation and less dependence upon automobiles.

Some of the noteworthy statistics I encountered in my reading of this book include the difference in carbon emissions during a 1,000 mile trip depending upon mode of travel: 560 pounds by kerosene-fueled jets, 640 pounds by diesel-powered car and only 160 pounds by electric-powered train.

Another statistic documented the difference in transportation costs by households near public transit versus those that are auto-dependent: only 9 percent of income compared to 25 percent.

While the book documented urban transit, I believe common issues are shared in rural public transit. The same gas prices that cause city residents to consider public transit have their effect in Lake County too. Lake Transit ridership is on the increase, according to official documents for the Lake Transit Authority (LTA).

Bus shelter
Bus shelter at Young Street and Highway 29 in Middletown
The 2011/12 annual report, on the Aug. 8 agenda, states that more people turned to Lake Transit as fuel prices increased: “Passenger boardings by more than 68,000 over the previous year and very nearly reached 400,000 for the year.”

For the first time, according to the report, Lake Transit averaged more than 10 passengers per vehicle hour:
“This is remarkable in a rural county where transit serves sparsely populated areas like Cobb Mountain, travels long distances to neighboring counties, provides curb to curb paratransit services throughout its service area and relies on small cities and unincorporated communities to generate much of its ridership.”
Bicycle use increased so noticeably, according to the report, that “we decided it was time to keep statistical data on the number of bicycles using onboard racks. By the end of the year, we learned that nearly [1,000] bicycles a month are brought on board Lake Transit vehicles.”

The report notes that ridership increased despite the greatest price increase in Lake Transit’s 15-year history: for many riders, an increase in fares by 25 percent or more.

The report also credits partnerships with Konocti Unified School District, Clearlake Rotary Club and Lake County Public Works for major bus stop improvements.

Straphanger can be found through the combined catalog system of our Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma County libraries. Copies are shelved at the Lakeport and Petaluma libraries (388.4 GRESCOE).

The LTA will meet at 9 a.m. Aug. 8 in Lakeport City Council chambers, 225 Park St. Agendas and minutes can be viewed at

Published Aug. 7, 2012 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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