Against my Interest, Curiosity, MaaS


Against my Interest, Curiosity, MaaS

Bloomberg labs has published an article by Eric Jaffe on a study done by a bunch of Italian statisticians concerning folks’ preference to cars over other types of transit, even when it costs more to drive the car than take rapid transit or other types of transportation. Their theory is that drivers are operating irrationally and in opposition to their personal best interest. How can that be?

The problem, as it seems to me, is that Eric and Co. haven’t asked the right questions. It’s not that drivers pay a tad more to drive than take the subway, it’s why do they do so? They comment on the fact that sometimes congestion makes travel times longer when one drives, even though most times driving takes less time than other modes.

Is it remotely possible that folks don’t want to be told when to go, when to arrive, and when to leave? The schedule of trains and buses takes a lot of freedom of movement out of the process. Is it also possible that drivers actually LIKE driving their own property hither and yon? Malcolm Gladwell put it simply, “In spite of everything, and against all logic, I just like to drive.”

I’m sorry to sound cynical, but is it remotely possible that people actually like the freedom private vehicles give them? And they are willing to pay extra for that freedom?

From Barbara Chance:

“But much of the public transit literature about reasons why people don’t ride transit focuses on safety and convenience. Particularly for women, public transit is fraught with difficult situations around the world. I quote some of the studies in the book several of us did with David Feehan. Plus, women with children or who must do household tasks consider transit much less viable, let alone convenient.”)

So, “best interest” to me is in the eye of the beholder.

So, let’s review the bidding –

Scheduling — Freedom to come and go as you wish

Security – Women don’t feel as secure on transit

Convenience – it’s difficult to deal with kids and shopping

Simplicity — I like to drive

If the folks who write the article have an agenda, that’s what the article will say. One person’s “irrational” is another person’s “desire.”


Typically, the first thing I do in the morning is review a bunch of sites with articles of interest. Mostly political commentary, some news. It occurred to me today that I’m not reading them anymore. I just skip over and go to my email.  It turns out they are all the same. Same topics, same complaints, same comments, over and over and over.

I’m certain this isn’t valid only for those articles that agree with my point of view, but the other guys are writing the same stuff, too.

What has happened to creativity? Where are the columnists that come up with new ideas and concepts? Everything is a comment on ‘the other guy.’ I know it’s easier to write about something that is going on, than to write about a new idea. I tell my staff that when they come in with complaints, to also bring solutions. These writers and commentators have so few solutions. Everything is a cutesy comment on some misstep from the other guys, but no real new idea to solve a problem.

The writers hide behind the “observation” balloon. They are making “observations” about the passing scene. They see something that catches their eye and then present their sage “observations”.  The problem is that those “observations” are the same ones, over and over and over. (Yikes, now I’m using the same phrase, over and over and…)

They have reached the point where they quote other columnists who are saying the same thing. They have become the story.

The problem, as I see it, is that the pablum they are foisting on us is surrounded by self-effacement and their own prejudices. There is never a question asked that would provoke thought in the reader. And when they do ask questions, they hurry up with the answers.

Einstein was a bright guy, perhaps the brightest ever. His most famous quotes deal with curiosity. Asking questions. Asking the right questions:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.”

These writers seem to try to educate, rather than to get you to think for yourself.

A colleague noted that she prefers fiction over nonfiction. Nonfiction tells you what’s on the mind of the author, fiction requires you use your imagination and curiosity to fill in the blanks.

Is it possible that there is a good (or even great) idea in each of us, and it only takes the right question to bring it out?

What if, just for a moment, you considered that everything you read or heard in the media was wrong? Not only wrong, but that the exact polar opposite was true. Not just things you disagreed with, but things you agreed with. How would that change your outlook on the world?

No, it’s not scary, it’s curiosity, and it’s fun. You may not like it at first because it will require you to rethink virtually every belief you have. You may keep some, but you will throw out others. In the end, they will be yours, not some airhead’s who barely made it through J school.

Simply put, Mobility as a Service is a concept that makes it easy for folks to use a single credential to access all sorts of transportation in a given area. What if you had an app that allowed you to use rapid transit, buses, uber, scooters, and bike rental. Wouldn’t it make your life easier?

Well, yes. But frankly, you need to want to ride one or more of these before the app will be of interest. And since the vast majority of us (upwards of 85 percent) don’t use any of these services, it seems hard to get excited about such a product.

Around 2010, the ‘smart city’ fad was on everyone’s lips, and as a part of it, MaaS was discussed at every convention and seminar as the end all to bring mobility to the masses. Now, a dozen years later, little seems to have happened.

America’s horizontal cities simply don’t lend themselves to MaaS. As much as civic planners and the like want it to happen, we simply don’t seem to have the political will nor the technology to bring to bear on what is considered a ‘problem.’

John Surico writes in The New York Times that Helsinki is working on a pilot program and many European cities are fighting their way through the MaaS complex. But these places, of course, already have a culture that lends itself to this type of commute. In the U.S., not so much.

If we were unable to develop a MaaS program here after a dozen years, what has gone wrong?

Is it possible that the average commuter simply doesn’t want to be told how to commute? That buses are irregular and dirty, that rapid transit is often dangerous and doesn’t go where you want to go, that scooters and bikes are fun, but don’t really solve the soccer mom issues and longer commute problems that occur during the rain and snow.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the entire transportation issue. In the meantime, don’t sell your parking lot.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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