Vive le transit libre! -

Vive le transit libre!


Transit and traffic are emerging as major issues in the Toronto mayoral election, with rival candidates unveiling proposals to replace streetcars, build a tunnel under the downtown, extend subways or add bike lanes, almost daily. It might be of interest, then, to know what the great urbanist Jane Jacobs, patron saint of the Annex, thought about it all. Here she is in an absorbing interview with Reason magazine, from June 2001:

Reason: People complain that suburbanites are too dependent on cars. Yet the newest suburbs — the car suburbs, not the trolley suburbs — are so heavily zoned and so carefully laid out. The uses are segregated so much — you live here, you work there, you shop here, you play there, you go to school over here. If you didn’t have a car, you couldn’t possibly live in the suburbs — because of the way they’re laid out.

Jacobs: That’s right. Your children couldn’t get to school. And they couldn’t get to their dancing lessons or whatever else they do. You’re absolutely dependent on a car. It’s very expensive for people, especially if they need a couple of cars. It’s a terrific burden. It costs about — somebody figured it out fairly recently — it costs about $7,000 a year for one car. That’s a lot of money, you know.

Reason: I’m a five-minute drive from all the shopping I need, but I couldn’t walk it.

Jacobs: Sure, you want to defend the car in those cases. It’s a lifeline. It’s as important as your water tap.

Reason: You aren’t anti-car, are you?

Jacobs: No. I do think that we need to have a lot more public transit. But you can’t have public transit in the situation you’re talking about.

Reason: You don’t literally mean publicly owned transit?

Jacobs: No. All forms of transit. It can be taxis, privately run jitneys, whatever. Things that people don’t have to own themselves and can pay a fare for.

Reason: You’re not an enemy of free-market transportation.

Jacobs: No. I wish we had more of it. I wish we didn’t have the notion that you had to have monopoly franchise transit. I wish it were competitive — in the kinds of vehicles that it uses, in the fares that it charges, in the routes that it goes, in the times of day that it goes. I’ve seen this on poor little Caribbean islands. They have good jitney service, because it’s dictated by the users.

I wish we could do more of that. But we have so much history against it, and so many institutional things already in place against it. The idea that you have to use great big behemoths of vehicles, when the service actually would be better in station-wagon size. It shows how unnatural and foolish monopolies are. The only thing that saves the situation is when illegal things begin to break the monopoly.

Gentlemen, start your jitneys.


Vive le transit libre!

  1. I guess Jacobs wasn't quite the hippy socialist caricature we thought she was huh?

    • Jacobs was anti-central planning. There's a difference. The battles she fought were all against a central top-down planning figure(s).

      • From memory, she also referred favourably to Hayek on occasion.

    • The only people who think Jane Jacobs was a hippy socialist are people who haven't actually read her books.

      • Yep, that's why I called it a caricature :D

  2. The free market can indeed work very well for smaller vehicles using existing roadway infrastructure (you do lose a lot of the environmental and gridlock benefits of public transit, and it might not be that much less expensive than owning your own vehicle, depending on your need and use). We have lots of taxis in cities, after all.

    For public transit systems like subways (or fully functional bus systems) that need their own infrastructure? It's not gonna work. The best you could ever do is have highly-regulated competition that is perhaps even less free market style than a monopoly.

    • Why couldn't it? The original NYC, London, Paris, etc subways were all privately built. Urban transit systems only started to become uncompetitive when governments started building free-at-use highways through cities.

      • High way tolls. Everywhere. The way of the future.

      • Yes, won't work under current North American circumstances, with those free highways and our insistence on the use of automobiles.

        Also, far too many people trot out European cities and NY as transit examples, not accounting for the vast population desnity differences between those cities and pretty much every city in North America.

        • Which is why we need to densify our cities, and abandon the idea that we all need a house with a yard. A very hard thing to do, after we've been told for generations that it's the high watermark of personal success and comfort.

          • which would be an even bigger and more publicly invasive project than a bigger, better funded transit system, so we're back ast square one!

          • Not so expensive. It just requires some changes to city planning rules to allow creative infill like back alley addons and multi-unit single lot builds. A 40 by 125 lot with a garge can take 4 or 5 row-house units popped sideways, with below-home parking. The real problem is which comes first…improved transit to carry the additional people, or additional people to justify improved transit?

          • In the second-largest country in the world…that is 90% empty?

            This would require some selling job. LOL

          • Not really. My house, moved 5 km closer to yonge street would double in price. Why? Demand. People want to live where they work. All those downtown condos sprouted up at the same time as Oshawa, Milton and Whitby expanded. But at some point, people do the math and figure a 3 hour commute each day isn't worth the extra yard space. So, a couple of streets over from me, where once was mostly empty light industrial land now sit 800 freshly minted townhomes, all sold. Up the street, about 500 more.

            People arriving in Canada don't move to Sioux Lookout, they go where the services, jobs and opportunities are. That's why that 90% is empty.

          • Yeah, but I hear that's mostly tundra, so there are only so many subdivisions you can put on it.

          • True (I should point out I said invasive, rather than expensive).

            we've seen how riled up gun owners can get when they have to fill out a form. Can you imagine the heyday taht could be made out of "the government doesn't want you to have a backyard!!!"

          • Who's saying that? If anything, the government is saying you HAVE to have a backyard. How invasive!

          • How would it be invasive to let existing neighbourhoods develop organically over time, in response to demand, rather than stunting or even preventing their growth through land-use and planning policies that are frozen in the decade when the neighbourhood was first built?

          • this is it Dirty. now we just need a practical and politically sellable plan as how we are going to do it. we def need it and we def need to dispel some myths about how 'bad' it is.

  3. Jacobs was never a socialist and anyone who thought her so was not familiar with her work.

    Mississuaga would directly benefit from jitneys.

    Lot's of cities have competition betwen bus companies.

  4. The free market should play a greater role in transportation, and not just public transit. Roadways are hugely subsidized, but people freak out if you try to put market forces into play -e.g. tolls. Here in Ottawa people complain that there aren't enough bridges over the river between Ontario and Quebec, but can't stand the idea of a toll bridge. Why should tax dollars subsidize your decision to live on one side of a river and work on the other? When I go to the states I hate paying tolls as much as the next person, but it just makes sense.

    • Not only can they not stand the idea of a toll bridge, they can't stand the idea of a bridge… at least not in their own neighbourhood. But everyone in Ottawa and Hull have all kinds of ideas about the neighbourhoods which would be ideal to run a bridge and six-lane highway through. Coincidentally, no one lives in that neighbourhood.

  5. Gentlemen, start your jitneys.

    And what should the ladies start? *grins*

    • Silly LynnTo. Women don't read Macleans. Back to the Chatelaine forum boards with us! (I hear they've posted a new recipe that's whipped up some furious debate: Boston Cream – pie, or cake?)

      • Marge Simpson taught me that I can influence politics through the food that I bake. Blinky for everyone!

  6. The idea that you have to use great big behemoths of vehicles, when the service actually would be better in station-wagon size.

    So, wait, a station wagon every minute instead of a bus every five? I don't know what buses other people are riding on, but on my route the problem isn't "there's too much vehicle". Hell, yesterday (first day of classes at U of T) I had to watch two buses go by me while I waited because they were too full to let anyone else on at my stop. I'm just imagining now how I'd have felt about that if instead of watching two overcrowded buses go by and having to wait for the third (which was also pretty darned full!) if I'd had to wait for 20 station wagons to pass me by, waiting for a free seat in the 21st.

    I don't know where this "war on cars" is. Every time I read about public transit in Toronto and the post-Miller backlash against Transit City I'm absolutely convinced that the powers that be want to FORCE ME to get a car. I think there's a lot more pressure being put on me to abandon public transit and start driving everywhere like a "normal person" than there is on anyone else to stop driving everywhere they go.

    • But you forget that if it transit planning was more decentralized, you'd have somebody with a more direct interest seeing that more buses were needed. Jane was referring to those big behemoths running empty in places like Bridle Path which only exists to keep some kind of top-down transit grid consistent. If individuals or companies were allowed to run their own buses, they'd be financing more if people were being left by the curb. The issue is we have a one size-fits-all solution. In your case there'd be articulated or double-decker buses every 2 minutes instead of 1 ever 5 that somebody in davisville decided was needed (or all politicians would fund).

  7. What's this? TWO references to Reason in the same week? Who is going to count all the exploded heads around here?

  8. I like this entry. I feel free market proponents spend way too much time on the macroeconomic explanations/arguments.

    Capitalism is good for the taxi driver, and for the food stand guy, etc.

    • Although, free Individuals competing against those with no freedom is a rigged game – tell me how it ain't so.I would like to hear a your argument about that; minus the common argument that eventually those without freedom (with increaased living standards) willl demand it – what happens in the meantime?

  9. So there I was, stuck in the usual GTA traffic and listening to 680 news. Bam! I hear someone saying that toll roads could be the answer to our traffic headache. my jaw drops, my blood pressure rises and I can feel the frustration already starting to bubble up.

    So Andrew, what cities have you lived in where this has worked? I just returned to Toronto after 10 years in Berlin, a city with a very equal size and population. No toll roads and no inter city traffic problems.
    I don't really understand what difference toll roads would do besides make a few wealthy people even wealthier. Discouraging people from using their cars ONLY works if they are given a viable alternative and we can't offer anyone in the GTA that.

    If I were to take public transit from my home in Richmond Hill to my job in north Scarborough it would take roughly 2.5 hours, the car takes 45 minutes. London, where inter city tolls were introduced a few years ago, has a terrific, affordable public transit system, so leaving the car at home works.

    Berlin's system whisks you across the whole city in less than one hour, that's like living in Oakville and working in Newmarket. Try doing that here and see how long and costly it is.

    The point is, most of us can't walk, bike, taxi or bus it to work…so how would toll roads help us?

    Simple..they can't, not one little bit ( we will just be poorer in an already overpriced city)

    Back in T.O.