As somebody who loves driving and spends an inordinate amount of time reading online car news, it bums me out to see a steady stream of breathlessly excited posts in my Twitter timeline about the future of personal propulsion being autonomous and electric. But there is one anti-current-cars take I do get behind: Kicking them out of densely urban areas like Paris or Manhattan. And park-and-ride bussing, a system that has been in place for decades, is a great antidote to traffic… specifically, for those of us who occasionally come to a big city from rural surrounding areas.
Park-and-ride exists all over the U.S. and I’m not going to dig into statistics on usage, but for anyone who might not know what I’m talking about the concept is simple: A bus stops at a big parking lot by the highway outside an urban center, letting you leave your car where parking is cheap or free, and getting your butt into town via coach bus.
I spent the last fiveish years living on the West Side of Los Angeles, where I learned to appreciate city buses despite owning a small fleet of (usually functioning) cars myself. Often, if I had to get downtown or to UCLA’s medical center where I was a frequent customer, it was easier to take a local bus from my apartment. And bus fare was always cheaper than parking.
These days I’m posting up in a cabin in the woods about 100 miles north of New York City. NYC, as many people will tell you, absolutely sucks to drive in or to for the same reasons car culture there is so scarce and scattered:
- The traffic never sleeps
- Parking costs are downright comical, see also tolls
- Almost every garage is valet (I hate letting strangers drive my cars)
- Street parking is dangerous (door dings and bumper scrapes more the risk than theft, but still)
- The potholes are so intense you might fall into one and never emerge
But sometimes, you have to get to the big city from a little podunk like the hamlet my cabin is in. Taking a car is suboptimal for all the reasons listed above. A train could work, but building train tracks and a station out to where I’m at? It’s not gonna happen any time soon. This scenario is perfect for park-and-ride which, now that I’ve used it, I’m actually pretty stoked about.
I still had to drive for half an hour to get to the bus lot, but it was 30 minutes of country backroad driving. I parked for free, paid $22 for a bus ticket (each way) on my phone, and spent 90 minutes relaxing with WiFi to get dropped off right in the middle of Manhattan. Tolls alone would have cost me almost $20, let alone gasoline (we’re hanging out around $4.00 a gallon for 93 octane as of this writing). But the biggest bullet I dodged was NYC garage parking, which easily ends up in the $50 or even $70 neighborhood for a full workday.
Park-and-ride is not a long-term solution to traffic everywhere. In fact, I found an old blog post doing the math on it and it’s basically illogical to have free parking around a high-value transit station. But there are always going to be pockets of the population spread out across rural areas, and for those people who aren’t going to get a rail system any time soon, park-and-ride setups are largely superior to schlepping to the big city with your own car.
I’ll never willingly surrender my fleet of cars and I’ll be crestfallen if we ever lose easy access to gasoline. But two rides on a Trailways of New York bus has got me happily giving up on driving to Manhattan. If you live in woods and need to get to town, look for a bus option!
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