Elon Musk created a stir, when he pooh-poohed the rider experience of transit. As quoted in the Guardian:
The billionaire entrepreneur had expressed disdain for the inconvenience and cramped confines of mass transit – along with the potential proximity to “serial killers” – in response to an audience member’s question about public transport and urban sprawl at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Long Beach, California, last week.
“I think public transport is painful. It sucks,” he said. “Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time …
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Musk concluded. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer – OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualised transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”
This prompted people on twitter to respond with reports of all the great things that happen on transit. For example:
The response prompted Brent Toderian, a Vancouver-based city planner and urbanist, to appeal for people’s stories of “great things that happened on transit” on Twitter – and Twitter came to transit’s defence.
“I expected a response, but the size and inspirational power of the response blew away my expectations,” Toderian told Guardian Cities.
People from around the world shared their stories of births and marriages, surprise reconnections, strangers’ kindnesses, and appropriately festive cheer that had occurred on public transport.
It’s understandable that people want to push back against Musk’s overwrought portrayal of transit. Transit does in fact have many great qualities, and you don’t get threatened by serial killers. For me, it gets me where I want to go quickly and cheaply in most cases. It’s great to not have to own a car in the city.
However, those of us who do like transit need to be honest with ourselves that there are many negative experiential aspects of transit ridership, and that a lot of people put a greater weight on them than we do.
A while back Copenhagenize pushed back against this car company ad from Portugal:
The thing is, anybody who has ridden subways any period of time has probably run into most of those scenarios. While to someone like me, these “life in the big city” moments are just part of deal you make to live here, that’s not true for everybody. I know women even here in New York who have felt threatened and unsafe on the train because of mentally ill people accosting them.
While Musk is off the rails here, there are a lot of negative quality of experience points on transit (just as there are for cars). These need to be admitted, not least of which so that there can be a focus on mitigating them.