Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Can't Get There from Here

Peter Pan bus station, ProvidenceThe Green Miles is on an Amtrak train on the way to Providence for this week's Netroots Nation. I'd been hoping to be able to visit my girlfriend in nearby New Bedford AND go without a car, but limited bus service makes that costly and inconvenient.

Downtown Providence, RI (population: 178,042) and New Bedford, MA (population: 95,072) are 33 miles apart, a 38 minute drive according to Google Maps. But if you don't have a car or want to drive, the only way to get between the two is a Peter Pan bus that only runs every two hours, takes 80 minutes, and costs $33 round-trip. (By comparison, a Megabus round-trip ticket from Providence to New York City costs $28.)

It's a combination of terrible planning, massive public under-investment in regional transportation, and inconvenient state borders. The main Providence bus station is located three miles north of downtown, so you have to take a bus from downtown to the main bus station, then on to New Bedford. SRTA, which serves New Bedford and Fall River, has an annual budget of only $14 million, barely enough to provide minimal intra-city service despite large rider protestsRIPTA only serves Rhode Island and even Massachusetts' next-generation commuter rail plan acts like Rhode Island doesn't exist.

But with a huge swath of Americans 16-34 driving much less and taking transit much more, you have to wonder how long the lonely driver transportation model can hold.

If you're wondering about the title, read this classic Saturday Night Live skit. (Yes, read it. SNL's video archiving sucks worse than NBC's ratings.)

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