Waiting for the bus, I often find myself thinking about Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, who we saw when he gave a talk in Chicago in 2006. Lerner is well known for having transformed Curitiba, making it more livable, sustainable, and beautiful, and some of his key points about transit have stuck with me: how important it is that transit service be reliable, frequent, and beautiful. He called for a frequency of one a minute, which Victor and I actually experienced when visiting Mexico City. It was awesome!
The frequency of bus service where we live has declined over the 11 years since we moved to Chicago, though it is certainly better than many other places. Friends visiting from Austin told me few buses run more than once an hour—once every 20 minutes is considered excellent. In Chicago, we have a different standard, and waiting more than 10 minutes feels onerous. If the next bus is anticipated to arrive more than 15 minutes from now, we often make different arrangements—take care of an errand, get in a cab, or summon Uber.
Which is why Lerner called for such high frequency. When transit is not frequent, people tend to abandon it. Fewer riders lead to even less frequency and it becomes a vicious spiral. You need this critical mass of frequency and reliability (and beauty—don’t forget beauty!) to make the system essential to everybody (as the subway is in New York).