I was talking with a friend of mine today and the topic of transit came up. He asked me if I knew the single most important reason why transit was better in Europe than it was in the United States. I was thinking there are lots of reasons why transit is better in Europe than it is in the United States but asked him which one was top for him.
He said it was the widespread availability of ticket agents and the large number of transit routes that are prepay only so as to speed the bus or tram along.
What are the implications of this comment? One huge one is that it may be much easier to improve transit in the United States than many might think. Instead of spending billions building new rail lines, perhaps the single biggest thing we can do to improve transit is to increase the number of vendors that sell transit tickets enough to enable the elimination of onboard fare payment. I feel this goal is attainable; all it takes is enough manpower devoted to it by the transit agency. One can buy a newspaper in a large number of places, why not transit passes? Of course, it is not enough that a store sells the passes; the public needs to be informed about it. I can almost imagine "Metro" signs in the windows of liquor stores next to the "Budweiser" signs. Maybe they could even be in neon as well...wait, that may be a little much.