AUTOS, TRANSIT, AND CITIES by John R. & Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez Meyer


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A Twentieth Century Fund Report, by a well-matched pair of Harvard experts--on transportation (Gomez-Ibanez) and city planning (Meyer)--that systematically examines: 1) the urban transportation muddle; 2) potential improvements in mass transit; 3) ways of ""civilizing"" the automobile--which, the authors conclude, won't go away. That acknowledgment, indeed, is the nearest thing to a breakthrough, or a small step forward, here. Otherwise, the text chiefly documents well-known developments--the post-WW II ""shift from public transportation to the private automobile,"" the failure of ""extensive government assistance for urban public transportation in the 1960s and 1970s""--and discusses today's most-favored remedies. Conventional mass transit, Meyer and Gomez-Ibanez point out, is susceptible of improvement in various ways. Productivity, notoriously low, can and should be raised--by computerized routing and scheduling, with continual updates (the BART debacle notwithstanding?); by reallocating surplus drivers to school buses or taxis at off-peak hours (assuming union consent?); by providing fewer but bigger buses (currently at the trial stage), and more express buses (a distinct trend). Routine tasks--such as maintenance and bookkeeping--might profitably be contracted out. To ""civilize"" the automobile, the authors have in mind adjusting its design and use to conform with social requirements (per the recent shift from large to small cars). On energy specifically, they advocate continuing to raise mpg levels by government mandate (this government?), plus more realistic pricing of fuel; on air pollution, they stress the effectiveness of reducing vehicle effluents. Traffic congestion, in turn, can be alleviated (but not eliminated) by using sophisticated engineering and management techniques. Small-car safety calls, above all, for people to be persuaded to wear seat belts. The data will undoubtedly be useful in avoiding past errors and assessing future proposals. But the authors' endorsements of remedies that are sometimes technologically and/or financially problematic, sometimes politically unrealistic, make this more of an exercise than an action-plan. And of truly innovative thinking there is none.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press