Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Inferior Mode of Transit

Last night, I pulled out my Los Angeles edition of the LUXE City Guides, curious as to what words of wisdom it offered travelers. I had to laugh when I read the following:

For the wealthy n’ hip, being seen to be green is critical. They wouldn’t however, be seen dead on public transport

This is so true. If anything in Southern California is valued, it’s the freedom of the private car. It’s not that Californians don’t like public transportation. Many think it’s a great idea…for other people.

In the past, I’ve attended a number of talks given by demographers, urban planners, and transportation analysts, all eagerly searching for a way to encourage people to drive less and ride more. However, public transit is a textbook example of an inferior good. As soon as most people can afford their own cars (and gasoline), it’s “bye-bye” to the noisy, scary-looking, and smelly neighbors.

Apparently, by the time I was a graduate student, everyone had given up on convincing the middles and uppers (i.e., the speakers) to give up traffic. Instead, there was a different agenda: Everything would work out just fine if the Mexican immigrants would continue to take the bus after they began making money. So our task is to find out how to encourage them to do that.

Yes, I recall at least two people actually saying that.

A half decade later, I see that the Metro has a billboard ad campaign, targeting middles and uppers parked on the I-5. It’s a smart move to actively combat the low-life image. Has it been successful? Well, I’d have to try public transit to find out, and everyone knows that demographers don’t do that.