What makes transit feel convenient?

If you’re like me, you’re most likely to ride the bus into the office on days you can expect to return home at a normal hour. For me, on those days, DART is my preferred means of transportation because I don’t have to think about driving and I get in a little reading time. When I know I’ll be staying late, though, or if I have errands to run after work, then I am more likely to use my car.In short, the way I feel about using DART varies depending on the type of travel.

Riders’ feelings, as unquantifiable as they may seem, are nevertheless important in building a successful transit system. This is especially true in a market like the Des Moines region where so many of the potential customers are “choice riders,” people who could chose to drive their car instead.

Public transit blogger Zach Shaner got me thinking about this with his recent and very interesting post about his experience moving from Seattle, Wash., to Vancouver, B.C. While Seattle has far more public transit than Vancouver does, he was surprised to notice he felt Vancouver’s system was far easier to use. He writes:

I really feel like I can go car-free, put on my backpack, and walk anywhere I want and take transit anywhere I want without planning any of my journeys.  The routes are intuitive, frequent, and they just work.  In Seattle, even though I know I’m surrounded by options, they somehow seem indecipherable.

He has some great insights as to why that is. The one I think is the most applicable to the Des Moines region has to do with frequency. Like Seattle, Des Moines has a lot of service during peak hours, and significantly less service during off-peak hours. If Des Moines were more like Vancouver, with fewer routes with more frequent service all day long, I doubt I have to think a minute about driving-vs.-riding. Taking the bus would be a no-brainer.

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