15 August 2008

Boston Should be More like Budapest: Part I

I love Boston, it's one of my Top 5 favorite cities. I love that it still has neighborhoods with individual character, that it's a public transport-oriented city, that it is filled with students and academics, and I am even charmed by many of the quirky provincial/puritanical vestiges in our laws and customs. But I love Budapest more. Budapest is my Number One city and I think there are so many things we could learn from them to make our own city better.

The first is how to handle your bankrupt public transportation system. While the MBTA is experiencing record numbers in terms of ridership, their hands are tied and they can make no improvements to service (As an aside, if they just didn't waste all that money on the quickly aborted Radio T and the GPS tracking that doesn't actually accomplish anything, they could probably manage to add a couple more drivers/buses to routes 1, 86, 66 and 39, where they are desperately needed). All the T can seem to do is make excuses, predict fare hikes, and beg for a bailout. In fairness to the T, when I ride the subway, I tend to get where I am going in a reasonable amount of time with only minimal frustration. The bus system is a lot worse, but I am still grateful that this isn't LA and I have the bus option.

In contrast, the Budapest transport agency (BKV) is in pretty dire financial straits, but appears to actually be improving service. It definitely helped that the government offered a bailout, but the BKV didn't just sit back and continue business as usual. They have been selling off non-core parts of the business (such as a tourist funicular), selling older trams and trolleys to collectors, and working to cut down on fare dodging. Back in April, they announced there would also be service cuts & changes rolled out in September, and the details of this plan were announced today. As I began reading the document, I rolled my eyes at what I assumed was euphemistic language about "harmonizing" and "efficiency" But then I read the details of the changes. In some cases, yes, routes were cut back or combined to result in less service than before, but on the subways and major buss/tram lines, there seem to be only improvements, including:

  • Subways running from earlier in the day through later at night
  • Schedules for intersecting routes have been aligned to cut down on transfer waiting times (and, as the BKV actually uses its GPS system, this isn't just hot air)
  • Many major tram routes running more frequently
Why can't the MBTA do this sort of thing?