Wes Vernon Commentary
So You Arrive By Train at the Station?
Then What? It's one thing to run a train to wherever, but where's the rest of the equation? What if the train goes near, but not near enough, to your destination? If it's not within walking distance, or if you have heavy luggage, how are you going to get there?
Most, if not all, suburban Metro stops in our area are served by taxi stands for the benefit of those without their own automobiles or who lack the patience to wait for a bus connection that runs every half hour (or every hour). Downtown Washington is either walkable or served by taxis or frequent bus connections.
Those who are planning California's huge high-speed rail system are not simply building huge parking lots at every station. And no filling up the garages by 7:30 a.m. with no alternative.
They are proposing to build walkable communities near the HSR stops with mixed residential, office, and commercial uses. Added to that, they are planning frequent connecting light rail and/or bus service.
And as a final resort, for those riders who cannot or don't want to make use of those options, there will be taxi stands conveniently located right outside the station door.
Door to door? Got you covered
The biggest attraction of the private automobile, of course, is in getting you directly from where you are to precisely where you want to go. If transit or inter-city rail operators ignore that requirement for their customers, the system won't work. Most who have the option will just drive.
You will recall there was much fanfare when President Obama and Vice President Biden journeyed to Florida to hail the startup of work on the planned HSR Tampa-Orlando.
The project has more than its share of naysayers - many of them NIMBYs or attached to the rubber tire culture by force of habit.
But some skeptics actually have a point. They notice that there has been no traditional buildup of the rail or transit culture on the line from Tampa to Orlando. So you drop the passengers off in the middle of a community with cars whizzing by on busy streets or highways, but no wheels in sight for you. Then what?
That question was forcefully brought home to Alida and me when we rode Utah's excellent new Frontrunner commuter train October 6.
When we rode the train from Salt Lake City to Ogden, we were hoping to find some conveyance to get us to our ultimate destination. Frontrunner shares a new Ogden station with the Silver Dog (Greyhound). The facility is located a few yards away from the historic Ogden depot that has become a museum. In better times, that place hosted the great transcontinentals (steam and later diesel) when Ogden served as the passenger railroad center for the Rockies, as the lines to/from Chicago, L.A., San Fran, and Montana converged. There was a taxi stand there too.
But this is 2010. In order to enter the new Frontrunner/bus station, it was necessary to bypass the Silver Dog's bus bays. We walked out to the front expecting to find taxis waiting for incoming passengers. Nothing. Just a lot of private autos whizzing by on a busy street.
As I went to the ticket window to inquire as to where a taxi stand was, the agent looked at me as if I had two heads.
The upshot was there was no such animal as a taxi stand, and we were pretty much on our own. We phoned the people whom we had come to visit. They (in their nineties/eighties) came and picked us up.
Not the way to do it
If rail transit is to meet the demands that are predicted for it in the future, it will be necessary not to dump riders in non-pedestrian friendly environments and tell them in effect to get a horse.
Providing a taxi stand, at least as a last resort, for incoming passengers is just one of the things you do. Either that, or the widely anticipated "passenger rail renaissance" will fall flat on its face.