In most places in the United States, commuting to work using public transportation is not possible or is too difficult to be a viable alternative to driving. Sadly, this is the case where I live. The bus system is excellent, but isn’t extensive enough to take most people to and from work, since it mainly takes people to and from downtown. Riding the buses here worked for awhile when I lived in the city along a bus route, and my daughter’s day care happened to be along the same bus route within walking distance of my office (talk about being dealt a good hand!). Now that I live in suburbia and have two kids that attend two different day cares, I can only dream of using public transportation.
Here’s the problem. Many people who commute to work have families and have to work their commute around school and day care. Everyone driving themselves to work may not be ideal, but it is flexible and allows for you to pick up your kids on the way home from work. I have yet to see a bus or public transportation system address this reality. Until now. Unfortunately, the program got the ax.
Champaign-Urbana has been kicking around a proposal to build a big day care center near their bus hub, which would provide a park and ride alternative for working parents. Since most bus routes go through the hub (and the bus routes serve most of the C-U community), there would be no need to transfer several times to get from home to day care to work. This would make using public transportation efficient and flexible for parents. Hooray!
I miss the excellent bus service in Champaign-Urbana, which I used as a student even while working around the day care issue. The day care proposal isn’t perfect, but it’s good to hear that people are figuring out why many do not use public transportation. Here’s what they are not considering: most people use family members or in-home day care because day care centers are too expensive (day care centers cost roughly twice the amount as in-home day care in CU), and there would be a limited number of children that could be in the day care near the bus hub. Building an expensive day care center that people who would otherwise ride buses cannot afford isn’t going to work. They need to think bigger.
This is a huge opportunity for OR. Buses are a flexible form of transportation compared to, say, the subway. It should work around working parents’ existing schedules. Moving all schools to a central location near a public transportation hub, for example, is ridiculous. Although schools and day cares are spread out, working parents drive in predicable patterns that just might be well-serviced by better routed buses. Questioning existing public transportation paradigms may have big payoffs. I hope someone with the time and means to address this issue thinks outside the box.