Leisure Travel by Public Transit

I’ve written before about tourism by rail, but only in an intercity context, and it’s worthwhile talking about leisure travel by rail at more local and regional scale too. Most travel is local, and this includes leisure travel.

Local neighborhood travel

A trip to dinner in a neighborhood well-known for a specific kind of cuisine is a type of local leisure trip. Ethnic enclaves abound in diverse cities and people routinely go to other neighborhoods to enjoy food; this kind of trip is so common that it’s not even treated as a leisure trip, just as ordinary consumption.

This can be done by car or by public transportation. The advantage of cars is that such trips tend to happen outside rush hour, when there’s less traffic; that of public transport is that usually ethnic business districts are in busy areas, where there’s more traffic, even if they’re not at city center. The best example of a diverse auto-oriented city is Los Angeles, where getting from one region to another takes too long even off-peak, making it cumbersome for a Westsider to have Chinese food in San Gabriel Valley or Vietnamese food in Orange County regularly. New York and London do a lot better on access to such amenities, thanks to their greater centralization of destinations and public transport networks.

Regional travel

Regional travel starts including things people conceive of as leisure trips more regularly. These can include any of the following:

  • Museums, galleries, and other cultural amenities
  • Concerts, sports games, conventions, and other special events
  • Beaches
  • Non-urban outdoor recreation such as hiking and biking trails
  • Historic towns that have fallen into the orbit of a larger city

It is striking, in retrospect, how local such travel is. For example, when I LARPed at Intercon, in 2012-6, I was almost the only person flying in from another country, and a large majority of the attendees were local to the Boston area rather than flying in from far away – and the top locations people were coming in from otherwise were New York and Albany, not Chicago or California. This is equally true of conventions in general, except for a handful of international and national ones like Worldcon or Comic Con.

These are all regional rather than local destinations. If they’re not tethered to a geographic feature like a beach or a mountain, they try to locate based on the transportation network as far as possible, so that the biggest and richest conventions are in city center. New York Comic Con is on the Far West Side, but Dexcon is in Morristown. The upshot is that such events want to be close to public transportation and the issue is then about providing both good transit and sufficient event space in central areas.

The issue of TOD

Transit-oriented development is usually thought of as permitting more residential and commercial buildings near public transport. But this is equally true of leisure destinations. The term TOD did not exist then, but early urban renewal involved building event spaces in or near city centers, for example Lincoln Center.

This is equally true of outdoor places. Of course, TOD can’t create a beach or a suitable hilly region for hiking. But it can promote growth at particular places. Historically, New York had excursion railways to Coney Island, which then became much of the subway in Southern Brooklyn, and the same companies that owned the early railways also developed beachfront hotels. Later, amusement parks developed in the area, back when the main uses of other city waterfront were industrial.

Trails, too, can be served by public transportation if it is there. Germany has patches of forest, rehabilitated in the last 200 years, and some of these patches are near train stations so that people can walk through. The Appalachian Trail has segments accessible by commuter rail from New York, even if the weekend frequency leaves a lot to be desired.

Good transit practices

Leisure travel practically never takes place during commute hours. It peaks on weekends, to the point that in areas close to regional leisure destinations, like the Museum of Natural History or Yankee Stadium or Coney Island, trains have as many riders on weekends as on weekdays or even more.

The point of running regional rail on an all-day, everyday takt is that it facilitates such travel, and not just commuter travel. The same timetable can be used for work trips, errand trips, school trips, intercity trips, and leisure trips, each peaking at a different time. Some trains from Berlin to leisure destinations like the trolleyferry are filled with commuters, others with tourists; either way, they run every 20 minus to Strausberg.

This remains best practice even if there aren’t obvious leisure destinations nearby. A transit city like New York is full of transit users, and providing better suburban service is likely to gradually create transit-oriented leisure in the suburbs catering to these millions of carless city residents. Those can be beaches near convenient train stations, or hiking trails, or historic and cultural places like Sleepy Hollow. But the transit has to be there for any such development to happen.

78 comments

  1. Ernest Tufft

    BART and CalTrain services into San Francisco can be jammed with sport fans and regional tourists on weekends, but return trip home has to be carefully planned else risk of being stranded within city with no cheap hotel rooms to spare. I think LA Metro is working to improve this, but for long time inland city residents couldn’t just head to the beach using rail service.

  2. Phake Nick

    For such holiday destinations it usually make more sense to run buses instead of trains to those place? Especially for many less popular ones

    • wiesmann

      One thing worth mentioning is that public transport has an advantage for forms of leisure where one moves – you don’t need to end where you started. If you are by car, your hike needs to end where it started, where you left your car. The same is true for biking, but also small boat cruises (or using an inflatable boat). This works best if you have a transportation network (i.e. more than one line) and regular frequency – you don’t want to end up stranded after the last bus or train because you were slow in your hike

      Switzerland has a pretty extensive hiking path network, which is anchored on the public transportation network. Paths connect train or bus stops, typically at the center of the village. This has two nice features: it drives customers to the small shops and cafés close to the public transportation stop, and it also encourages towns to have a pedestrian friendly path between the stop and the path outside of town. Something similar is appearing with biking routes.

      Another thing worth mentioning is combined tickets – again very popular in Switzerland – these are tickets which cover both some attraction (concert, exhibit etc), and the public transportation fare, typically with some discount. This allows for the public transportation agency to plan additional capacity in advance and simplifies the life the visitors.

      • Herbert

        Combined tickets are also common for some types of events in Germany. For example for theater productions or soccer matches.

        Sometimes there is a discount on admission if you can show a same day public transit ticket

    • Henry Miller

      Buses or trains is a matter of what the network is. If the destination is near the train station, then run trains. If the destination is not near a station run buses. As a transport planner your job is to serve the destination, trains and buses are just tools for you to work with.

      Now if you are creating a destination, locating near a train station means that more people can get to/from your destination easily via transport. This may or may not matter to you: you can also put in large parking lots, locate in the airport – in extreme case the difficulty of hiking for a few days might be the attraction of your destination. Each of the above (and more I didn’t bother to mention) has a set of trade offs. I’m planning on writing a larger comment about this, but that will take a few hours, look for it later (If I find a round to-it).

    • borners

      It depends on the scale of the Tourist spot and how much getting a rail connection there adds expense. The most extensive tourist hotspots railnetwork in the world is probably the Keihanshin network where hots springs (Arima onsen), Hiking (everywhere), religious sites (Ise, Koyasan, Heizan), beauty spots (Arashiyama, Yoshino), historic towns (Imaicho), theme parks (Universal Studios Japan) etc etc all have direct rail connections that were deliberately built to access tourist demand in the Interwar years. I could tell a similar story for Tokyo and Nagoya.

      Its obviously patchier outside the major urban areas below say 1 million, in Fukui they have one of the 12 original castles Maruoka, that can’t be accessed directly by train or even the nearest station. Nor can the two craft villages they have set up for ceramics and Washi-paper. But there are private rail connections to the major Awara onsen and its main historic temple Eiheiji. On the sparsely populated west coast of Southern Honshu the only private railway company serves as a tourist shuttle to Izumo Taisha Japan’s no.2 shrine. And in Shikoku the mainstay of its two private railway companies Kotoden and Iyotetsu serving religious pilgrimage temples.

      The caveat is most such connections were built before 1945 and so before motorization. Very few newer build Japanese non-shinkansen lines are built to connect tourist tourist hotspots, partly because most of the connections have already been done. Unless you count the Saitama “Stadium” line which is really just an extension of the Namboku subway line into what had been generic countryside.

      Also its not just about moving the railways to the tourism facilities, its about organising your facilities to make use of rail connections, its difficult given railway station surrounding are more valuable land. Theme parks in Japan do try, partly because a lot of them are operated by railways themselves (Tobu’s Edo wonderland, Seibuen by Seibu, Meiji Mura by meitetsu). Unfortunately for carless museum addicts, LDP exurban patronage politics means municipal museums and even prefectural museums have a tendency to be put out of range of railway access, including Tokyo periphery prefectures like Gunma and Chiba.

    • Herbert

      Why?

      The rail lines were often built in the nineteenth century and in many cases private railroads and leisure activities had a symbiotic relationship for a long time. In a few cases there is even no (good) road link so the rail line is preferable anyway.

      Also: even ceteris paribus people prefer trains over buses.

      • Phake Nick

        bus can more properly cater the demand of going to places with less demand and non-uniform demand than rail.
        You only need a few dozen people to fill a bus versus thousand for trains. You can drive the bus elsewhere outside holidays but the train and track couldn’t be moved. One might argue same applies to the road but road networks are usually more extensive and also useful for other non-passenger-transportation purposes. (Not that trains can’t but those require even more dedicated vehicels)

          • Eric2

            1) I imagine railbuses are incompatible with the safety standards of a mainline railway?
            2) If you through-run them, you take up a track slot that could be taken by a 1000-passenger vehicle – big waste of capacity
            3) If you require a transfer to “real” trains, you pay the transfer penalty
            4) In any case, it’s not worth building new rail lines for such a low capacity mode, so you’re limited to a handful of legacy lines

          • Sassy

            @Eric2

            1) There’s no reason this has to be the case. Many years ago, KiHa 102 railbuses ran on a segment of the Tohoku Main Line.

            2) You would not through run them, maybe except for an off peak weekend service where the capacity might not be needed.

            3) For a leisure trip, the transfer penalty is okay. Mountain leisure railways nearly always have a transfer penalty, and they can run just fine. Having the transfer in an appealing location/facility, can make the transfer a leisure feature in and of itself.

            4) Switzerland has a lot of purely leisure railways built over incredibly difficult terrain. A 2-3 car train that carries 80-240 people is bigger than a railbus, but not by that much. In addition, around the world, transit such as aerial tramways, funiculars, etc., are built for pure leisure trips. So much so that aerial tramways and funiculars are more associated with leisure uses than commute uses.

          • Phake Nick

            How do you redeploy railbus onto weekdays rush hour network for a more efficient use of such capacity outside leisure season?

          • Phake Nick

            Note: Of course you can mechanically do so but the same track slot is usually better used by other, often electrified, long commuter trains

          • Sassy

            @Phake Nick

            You generally wouldn’t redeploy trains running on leisure centric railways to urban railways during the weekdays. Even ignoring the inefficient use of tracks by small trains, they wouldn’t be redeployed for the same reason buses in leisure areas generally don’t get redeployed downtown during weekdays: the benefit of increased vehicle utilization isn’t worth the cost of the logistics involved.

            Also, you need to maintain a useful level of minimum service for the locals who live in tourism towns, year round, so the spare rolling stock that actually could be lent out during the weekdays is likely less than you’d imagine.

          • Phake Nick

            @Sassy except buses get used for leisure routes in holidays and weekends do get redeployed onto commuter routes in weekdays rush hours, making them.more efficient use of resources.

          • Sassy

            @Phake Nick

            It gets done when the route uses standard commuter vehicles, and is close to the city. However, that would just be normal transit used for leisure, and trains use the same rolling stock for those routes as well, e.g., the Keiyo Line carries both commuters and Disney guests using the same trains but at different times. An actual leisure centric transit system is typically independent of its nearby city.

            Hakone Tozan buses aren’t redeployed in Tokyo on weekdays. Hakone Tozan 2-car Mountain EMUs aren’t redeployed in Tokyo on weekdays. The leisure-heavy transit system exists by itself up in the mountains, serving those tourist towns (which have non leisure passengers and leisure non peak passengers as well), and accepting lower utilization on weekdays.

          • Henry Miller

            What railbuses are, and what they could be are not the same. Railroads often run regular trucks on mainline track for maintenance purposes. These trucks can run on regular roads as well, they just lift the front wheels up in rail mode, and have rear guide wheels. There is no reason this can’t be done for regular buses thus turning mainline rail into an open brt system. It isn’t a good idea in most cases since why build track if you don’t need more capacity than can fit on a bus, but for limited situations I can see a use.

            In general though, railbus either as it is, or as it said just doesn’t make sense. Run longer trains to take advantage of track.

        • Sassy

          Leisure centric railways aren’t running 10 car metro trains.

          Schynige Platte Bahn has two passenger coaches that fit like 80 people. Hakone Tozan Railway 2 car EMUs fit around 160.

          Even the Berner Oberland Bahn or the Odakyu Limited Express service from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto, that have more non-leisure passengers, still run with rolling stock that tops out at like 500ish people.

          • Sascha Claus

            Depends on its length. 😉
            According to the German Wikipedia, a basic unit consists of five panorama coaches and one restaurant coach. Searching the website yields a PDF with seating plans, showing 3×48 (2nd class) + 36 (1st class) + 30 (1st class with wheelchair) = 210 seats per basic unit.
            These leave Zermatt within 1¼ hour in the morning as four trains, run DIsentis – Chur paired as two trains beyond Chur: one unit to Davos, one attached to a RegioExpress to St. Moritz, and two units remaining paired and travelling alone to St. Moritz. Seasonal variations (fewer trains) during the off-season apply.
            I feel compelled to mention that one Dresden S1 train with four double-deck coaches has more than 500 seats and can take certainly the same amount of standees. Bus most of them disperse on foot into the mountains, as OVPS’s Wanderbusse run a few times a day and would have to meet at least every other train to handle this load.
            Further search on the website will produce a booklet with timetables, important fare information and suggested hiking routes and destinations.

          • Sascha Claus

            Ahhhrrrg …
            “These leave Zermatt within 1¼ hour in the morning as four trains until Disentis, run Disentis – Chur paired as two trains and beyond Chur: …”
            And “But most of them disperse on foot …”

        • Ernest Tufft

          Main problem with pavement and buses is degradation of the surrounding environment generally. Rail through forested areas does not invite so much proliferation of network crossroads that creates additional deforestation and extinction of wildlife, which is why China’s belt and road initiative in Nepal and the DRC is such a bad idea.

  3. Matthew A da Silva

    I know there are whole segments of the regional rail network in the NYC area that serve more weekend leisure trips than they do weekday commute trips. The Upper Hudson Line, Montauk Branch, and Lower Coast Line all have stronger ridership on in-season weekends than they do during the weekday commute.

    IMO – a big missed opportunity in NJ is that NJT does not run weekend trains on the outer M&E to Lake Hopatcong/Schooleys Mountain area or on the outer RVL to the Round Valley/Clinton area.

  4. Tiercelet

    A really important point and yet another way that American rail planners’ monomaniacal focus on suburban commuters has been a massive disservice. We need to think about & promote diverse growth, not just a central commercial district whose population drops 90% after 5 pm & on weekends. Then infrastructural investments (transit, but also water, sewer, buildings generally…) can be paying off 24-7.

    Of course, this also highlights the issue of America’s asinine zoning laws, which are practically designed to ensure that all buildings sit idle for 60% of every day, requiring a hugely wasteful over-use of both natural resources and construction dollars.

    • Ernest Tufft

      This is one area where places like France and Spain are a lot more efficient than USA. The cities do not generally sprawl into the suburbs, although realestate developers have angled to profit on this too, but city is contained and composed of stone and concrete buildings designed to last hundreds of years, not 99 minus years of USA stick construction. So, buildings are fire resistant and can be built against each other. Average height is 8 stories, not NYC height, which allows transit efficient population and business concentration without so much noise and overly complex below ground utilities. First floor is commercial retail space and upper stories mostly residential with office space mixed in. So, most daily errands can be performed on foot with it a radius of a mile, which also includes access to high speed rail station with rental car companies and regional bus lines. So, pedestrians make up most traffic, but cyclists and e-scooters can cut 20 minute journey on foot to 5 minutes or less. Girona, Spain, where I live, is fastidious and constantly cleans streets, sidewalks, and parks, which is easier because of geographical concentration. Garbage trucks use less fuel on shorter routes, and much of clean up is by pedestrian labor, not fancy fuel hog robotics. Routing of everything from pavement and sewer lines, to power and fiber optic must be a lot cheaper because of geographical concentration too. From perspective of California born now retired in Spain, I can’t see how USA can kick car habit and rebuild cities toward greater concentration given American bounty of suburbia. Having said this even within medieval Barri Vell cobblestone streets of Girona, there remains a wealthy politically powerful resident constituency who refuse to discard their cars, as they don’t realize that their car’s ugly parking presence, and heavy vehicle pounding and vibration damages the ancient stone infrastructure. Plus, as more old buildings are restored within this tourist trap neighborhood, the car culture problem only gets worse. Even so, this city seems more aware of disadvantages of car culture than any American city I know of.

      • Henry Miller

        Stick built in the US will last longer than concrete. Stick is easy to repair and remodel as things happen. Concrete is not as easy to repair, and it breaks down over time.

        While concrete seems stronger, in fact to an engineer it is weaker in important way. Sticks are strong enough where strength is needed, they flex when needed (all stone and concrete buildings need to be destroyed after an earthquake – which is why Japan never used them). You might be confusing steel buildings with a stone/concrete facade – those are strong, but the strength is the steel not the facade. Also in case of fire, wood is a lot safer than anything else – it gives warning before it fails, while other materials tend to seem perfectly find until the whole collapses.

        Please quit spreading this myth that wood construction is somehow weaker. For buildings under 5 floors wood is one of the best choices we have which is why it is common.

        Sorry, pet peeve of mine that I see repeated all the time on the internet.

        • aL

          This might be a pet peeve of yours, but as a structural engineer with over 25 years design and research experience, mostly in high-seismic regions, your generalities are equally misleading or in some cases wrong

          Stick built wood, mass timber, concrete, steel, masonry, etc can all be designed to meet the structural needs of buildings. Choice of material is typically based on the clear span that is needed (modern office spaces need longer unobstructed spans than say hotel rooms), overall building height, and how much of the structure is simply there to hold up the weight of the structural system itself.

          Concrete structures with adequate maintenance will hold up just as well as a timber structure with adequate maintenance. There is nothing inherent about concrete that “makes it break down over time” as you claim. But both structural types require maintenance! Hidden deterioration, often associated with water ingress, if not corrected will reduce the lifespan. In my experience, since stick built is less expensive for low rise structures, it is often owned by a different collection of owners with different background/experience in recognizing the required maintenance than say a high rise steel structure owner.

          A well designed concrete or masonry building constructed to modern seismic building codes doesn’t automatically need demolition after an earthquake. Some designs may be more difficult to repair. A poorly designed wood frame building that is not designed to modern codes may also need demolition, but since the damage is usually more distributed amongst lots of nailed connections the overall strength deterioration may not be as obvious during casual observation and so may go unrepaired. The consequences of this might only be seen during future extreme loading events. Your point about flexibility…this is a function of both material type and the geometry. It’s easy to design a wood structure that is more brittle than a concrete one while still being code conforming. Steel buildings had well publicized brittle connection failures after the northridge California earthquake in the 90’s, so steel is not inherently better. You need a competent structural engineer to use the materials appropriately. Most of the buildings you see on TV as having failed after earthquakes were either designed before modern seismic codes or are “un-engineered” in certain parts of the world. Also note that building codes are typically life safety focussed; under extreme events matching the design level earthquake, unrepairable damage should be expected as that damage is the result of absorbing the earthquake forces!

          As to fire, codes typically work on a fire rating basis. It’s impossible to generalize which construction material would be more affected since too many parameters are at play. Are there sprinklers? What was the fuel sources and how hot was the fire? What fir encapsulation system was used around the main structural members? The base building may actually be ok or mostly easily repairable after a fire, but damage to all of the non-structural items may make it uneconomic so an owner just starts over.

          • Herbert

            Fachwerkhaus is a tried and tested way to turn wood and whichever fillings are available (including animal dung) into surprisingly durable structures. It blows that American aberration out the water by far

        • Ernest Tufft

          Henry, I don’t know who you claim to be or what your experience is but I have experience with both, and it doesn’t require an engineering degree to see the obvious. Spain’s stone buildings are older than any structures in USA or Japan, stick of otherwise. Floods are easy to mop up after in stone compared stick, that’s for sure. This is not a seismic zone, so buildings last long time, despite full compliment of gear, fire fighters don’t work very hard here compared to USA. Skip the lecture class and make simple observation count.

          • Herbert

            One of the ways one could see how unprecedented the 2021 floodings in Germany were was that they destroyed a ton of Fachwerk buildings which had endured centuries

          • Ernest Tufft

            If you watch the news photography carefully, you notice that most damage by recent floods were among new construction homes built in the modified floodplain. The old medieval city centers are mostly built on rocky high ground, some of them originally fortresses.

      • Phake Nick

        In Japan where buildings are only designed to last like 35-50 years isn’t facing the US problem either so I don’t think that’s relevant

      • Phake Nick

        In Japan where buildings are only designed to last like 35-50 years isn’t facing the US problem either so I don’t think that’s relevant

        • Ernest Tufft

          Japan and California are similar in that seismic stick construction is safer for a lot of buildings. If Japan has spaced out suburban neighborhood of stick and stucco houses, and sidewalks and front yards used to park cars like California, then Japan has infrastructure problem too.

          • borners

            @Ernest Tufft The only place in Japan I’ve encountered with that description is…run by train company…which advertises for it on its superbusy regional rail trains…..the ads talk about how close it is to Tokyo by high-speed rail….did I mention the train company was the 2nd largest train operator after Chinese HSR company.

  5. Brendan Dawe

    A couple such local instances I can think of are the Richmond Night Market which is located on a large empty lot by Bridgeport Station and runs every summer, with quite large crowds coming by way of the Canada Line and also by car and bus. But it’s not reasonable to presume that this space-intensive seasonal use can long survive when there’s a great many reasons to redevelop or reindustrialize this transit-adjacent waterfront brownfield lot.

    A great example that comes to mind is the boom in brewery crowds in Port Moody that followed the extension of the Millennium Line to Coquitlam. Parking in the area is limited, so it’s likely that a large part of the crowd is either locals or delivered on the train.

    Of the local ski hills, Cypress and Seymour run private shuttles into the City, with Seymour’s shuttle running to Rupert Station and Cypress running to Downtown and several North Shore transit hubs. Grouse Mountain enjoys direct public bus access thanks to having a gondola bringing it’s access point down to the top of the suburbs, and enjoys much more all-year round business and a smaller parking lot (in part thanks to the popularity of the Grouse Grind hiking trail, though that is something of a chicken and egg thing.

  6. Mikel

    Among Spanish cities with Cercanías service, Málaga is the one with the highest farebox recovery, which is interesting because I suspect it’s related to tourism. It has a good line and a bad one:
    ·C-1 starts at city centre, stops at the main station (it’s fare-integrated with AVEs, good for domestic travelers), right under the airport (good for international ones), and then it hits several of Costa del Sol’s main resort towns: Torremolinos, Benalmádena and Fuengirola. It runs on a 20-minute takt most of the day, both on weekdays and weekends.
    ·C-2 runs (or used to) every hour peak and less often off-peak, and it terminates at Álora — which is unfortunate because the next station, El Chorro, is served by just 2 trains per day, despite being within walking distance of El Caminito del Rey, one of the country’s most popular and photogenic trails. The railway even comes within 100 meters of the trail itself at the most scenic point! An all-stops train from Málaga would take ~46 minutes one-way, which would fit within the current schedule. (Thankfully, local politicians have noticed this and recently asked the ministry to fix the problem by extending all trains to El Chorro).

    Also, since the high-speed line opened in 2019, Granada is within just ~1:20 from Málaga — attracting daytrips between both cities seems like a slam dunk to me, and yet even before the pandemic zero effort has been done in that direction. On the other hand, Renfe does break even on the nominally-subsidized Madrid-Toledo trains: Toledo-Madrid-Toledo commuters and Madrid-Toledo-Madrid daytrippers balance each other out and the trains run just full enough during most of the day.

    As a more general note, catering to leisure trips by public transit can require some additional specifications in rolling stock. People doing gastronomic, cultural or shopping trips can use the normal trains just fine, but the more sports-minded will require racks for stuff like bikes, skis or surfboards, depending on the area. (My local buses and trains theoretically allow surfboards but it’s rather cumbersome; if it had a safer storage space I’d gladly take the train to the beach instead of driving!)

    Also re:peakiness, even ithough it’s true that most beach trips happen on weekends, it appears that when the beach is near city centre weekday beachgoers (students and retirees) often ride the inbound trains at more or less the same time office workers fill the outbound ones, so the cost of peak service is reduced.

    • Sascha Claus

      A lot of stuff can be stored in ordinary multipurpose / wheelchair / stroller space, as is found an any new transit vehicle. In times of peak equipment travel demand, additional space can be created by converting seating, if this doesn’t occur during rush hour. Fold-up seats locked in ‘up’ position would be sufficient, and such a converted seating bay should take half a dozen bikes, if wide enough.
      For skis and similar stuff, additional fixtures can be magicked into a converted seating bay with movable poles in a similar fashion. If needed, it could be done by the driver or conductor during the turnaround at the end of the line (although that requires enough turnaround time).

      • Mikel

        Yeah, if there’s a stroller space available (which is not a given) you can use it but then you have to stand there for the entire trip to prevent your equipment from falling over and hurting somebody else. On a recent trip mine was the 15th bycicle on a regional train with racks for just 4, so I had to park it in a narrow passage next to the toilet door and stand there for the 30-minute trip (it was a Sunday with unusually good weather so I assume the four spaces are enough most of the time). Anyway, it might indeed be interesting to have some system allowing to easiliy change between seats for weekday service and racks for weekend service.

  7. Nathan Williams

    For dinner trips, I feel like the drinking aspect needs to be considered. Driving very much limits the safe consumption of at least one person, but this is most likely to manifest in borderline drunk driving.

      • Herbert

        Cleaning a train a bit more thoroughly every once in a while is easier than cleaning corpses off the road…

      • Oreg

        There is a huge difference between having had too much to drive safely and being drunk. After a nice dinner and a bottle of wine shared with a partner, one should not drive a car but is still a long way from staggering about drunkenly and posing a security problem for other passengers.

  8. Herbert

    There’s another advantage of taking transit to a restaurant;

    You don’t have to worry about having a beer or a wine with your meal.

      • Sassy

        A lot of Americans restrain themselves a bit though. An after work drinking event in the US usually involves people drinking a couple beers at most since they’d like to be able to drive home with decent odds of not dying. In Japan, salarymen stumble around barely capable of walking.

        • Ernest Tufft

          Americans showed no restrain until Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) put teeth into drunk driving enforcement, especially following deadly accidents. There remains a chronic death toll in America of pedestrians and cyclists by cars not found in EU. Liability laws in EU favor the non-motorized defenseless, in USA it favors the motorist.

  9. Nathanael

    This is a great piece. Straightforward, perhaps, but nobody has said this so succinctly and clearly. I will point at this in future discussions. The drinking-and-not-driving aspect should, indeed, be emphasized.

  10. ssılqɥɐuoɾ (@jonahbliss)

    I’m not sure your examples hold up to scrutiny, since transit in NY is so balkanized.

    Let’s say you wanted to take transit from Montclair to Flushing. I’m seeing that as 1:47 on transit, to go about 20 miles as the crow flies.

    Conversely, Culver City (Westside LA) to Rosemead (San Gabriel Valey) is also about ~20 miles, is listed as 1:34 on transit, or would take 1:09 to drive now, at 5 pm rush hour. In my own experience it would of course be a good deal quicker if you went closer to dinner time, or on a weekend…

    I would hope the transit example at least holds up better in London…

    • Alon Levy

      You wouldn’t take transit Montclair-Flushing, because you probably wouldn’t travel that O&D pair – destinations are centralized in New York, so you probably would be going to Manhattan.

      • Jess

        Sure you would, if you were living in Montclair and had family or friends in Flushing (or vice versa). Plenty of things happen in the suburbs (or in suburbs on the other side of the city) that people living in the city want to attend. In my 20s, I went to several weddings in NJ that ultimately required a car rental, for example, because NJ Transit runs such terrible off-peak service.
        I’m really surprised that you left family and friends off of the leisure-travel use-cases, it seems to me like it would be one of the most frequent reasons for intraregional travel.

        • Henry Miller

          If the time is more than half an hour it isn’t as critical as that isn’t daily trips. Through history people have been willing to commute about half an hour every day. Hunter-gatherers move the camp if food is farther than that every day. Farmers move to a new village if they can’t find fields closer than that. It doesn’t matter if you are walking, driving, take a HSR, or some mythical sci-fi transport, half an hour is the most people will commute. You can maybe push this up to 35 minutes or so, but 55 minutes is not a daily trip for anyone who can avoid it.

          Though still 1 hour vs 2 is enough to make people think. Though the real advantage of driving over that timeframe is you have a car for convenient short trips once you get there, (which in turn puts the question to how is the parking and driving situation at the destination if it isn’t too bad anyone with a car will drive); combined with the convenience of being able to leave when you want not when the train does.

          So time competitive isn’t required for these trips, but it would be a big help.

          • Oreg

            Half the commutes in Germany exceed 30 minutes, a quarter is longer than 45 minutes. The /average/ is also close to 1/2 h in the U.S. and UK. It makes a huge difference, though, whether one has to spend the time staring at the road or if one can use it productively on a train.

            Few would be willing to spend a total of 4 hours just to get to and from a restaurant.

        • Matthew Hutton

          Correct. I was replying to a post saying “I wonder what it is like in London” and I gave a hopefully equivalent London example.

          If the west coast mainline was better then the public transport would also improve to be fair.

    • borners

      That’s also an unflattering choice of stations since Thameslink exists and eventually Crossrail will give East-West capacity. Central through-running is the great weakness of London’s heavy rail system, everybody knows that, that’s why Crossrail 2 and a Bakerloo extension to Lewisham are TFL’s priorities. Its not a NY style problem, its about the UK inability to build things cheaply and on time.

      If we want to attack the UK more narrowly on underrating leisure, sticking to London, a major theme park Chessington in the Southwest is about 2km from nearest station and its open countryside between it and the station. Thorpe park up the Thames just before the M25 might be worth connecting too but you’d need Crossrail 2 to give capacity. And Legoland in Windsor is such a bad location that’s not worth considering.

      Luckily pre-nationalisation rail operators weren’t anti-commercial idiots, places like Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, Wembley, Wimbledon are well connected and Southern made sure to electrify them. Compare with the Chiltern Line which has Stratford upon Avon, Bicester Village, Oxford, Warwick, Leamington Spa, the Cotswolds, Wemley, a bunch of stately homes and Birmingham, but nobody even talks about electrification. Not that the operators is stupid, they’ve done real good work over the last decade. This isn’t just tourist friendly, the whole region is perhaps the wealthiest part of England outside west London and its also super-remainy so no cookies for you. I’ve wondered if copying Japanese new build “3rd sector” lines profit-to-pay-debt might be a good idea but they’d probably screw it up (they as in my native countrymen).

      • Matthew Hutton

        To be clear though the Chiltern mainline offers massively better service than in the 1980s even though it isn’t yet electrified.

        And the Oxford link was only opened in 2015-2016.

        • borners

          Should have been clearer, but yeah the operator’s done a good job of incremental improvements (e.g. extra platforms). Electrification is too big a job for franchise holder, and until its done I wouldn’t advise doing much infill or building more overtaking platforms. Though I do wonder if they are bit too platform hungry, but that’s maybe just me spending too much time in Japan where some of the two track urban lines with 4 platform termini manage 17 tph at peak time.

          If we were smart, once the East-West/Varsity line is complete they should have Great Western cut its Oxford services down so they can free space for trains to the Southwest, while leaving the transfer option at Didcot.

          • Alon Levy

            (Not just Japan – the RER E has a two-track approach tunnel and four platform tracks at Saint-Lazare and turns 16 peak tph, and is at least in theory capable of 18. But the surface line has many tracks, which helps provide track segregation from mainline traffic on the Gare de l’Est network and keep trains on schedule.)

          • borners

            You’ve criticised the UK for being terminal platform happy when it should be looking at improving operations before. I also think that mainline rail services in the UK underrate overtaking platforms.

            But the really horrible stuff is in the cities where you have a central trunk which could do S-bahn service. Edinburgh Waverley has 20 goddam platforms with no local service through running. And the most of the lines are electrified! Instead of building a stupid little tram they could have done the electronics and added some platforms in rural stations to go S-bahn. SNP may aspire to be “Europeans” in theory but by god they are Anglo-Saxon in practice.

            That said I had a look at Chilterns, I may have been a little harsh, with only diesel trains getting 10-12tph isn’t so bad. RER or the Keisei mainline where built as electric systems.

  11. Henry Miller

    This can be either a vicious or virtuous cycle, depending on the quality of transport.

    In this real example I’m going to take Des Moines. A city which has poor transit (infrequent, non clockface, wondering buses – though I will give them credit for running all day). However Stockholm had about the same population in 1950 when they opened their first subway line, so there is no reason the city needs to have this situation it is in.

    A few years ago I knew someone trying to start a children’s museum in the area. The city made a very attractive offer to locate downtown. However a quick look at the likely visitors shows they mostly live in the car-dependent western suburbs. Thus they choose a location in the western suburbs with plenty of free parking. The deal isn’t quite as good, but the inconvenience of driving and parking downtown means that they more than make up worse offer. Even those who live in the car-dependent eastern suburbs prefer this location – while it is a few minutes farther, it is a lot more car friendly, so they are more likely to visit. They do lose out on all the car free people who ride the bus – but that is only people so poor they couldn’t afford to visit anyway (there are not many of them).

    If the transport network in Des Moines was better though, the analysis would change. Downtown would be normal and easy to get to, so the central location would be better for everyone. In turn this would mean the massive parking lot in the suburbs would have been the better location (even if they were the cheapest offer), and so the museum would be downtown. In turn this means more people would be not driving but taking transit, meaning the car infrastructure wouldn’t be as good anywhere and transit would be a better option for everyone.

    Nobody is stuck in their current situation. NYC has had a lot of bad transit management for years (as readers of this blog should know), and while the edge is sprawly parking lots, the core still has a lot more tearing down to build parking lots to get there (if they ever do). In the mean time, Other cities are building up a transit network, if they continue to build a good network (many are not!) they can remake the city over the next 50 years to something where people don’t think about driving.

    • Ernest Tufft

      Des Moines faced same removal of electrical overhead wires and tracks most other American cities faced in 1950’s when GM/Firestone conspiracy systematically tore up streetcar tracks and replaced with inferior gas and diesel bus service of type describe. Goal was to build freeways that destroyed neighborhoods and sell everyone a gas guzzling car running on unsustainable rubber tires prone to breakdown. https://projectdesmoines.dmpl.org/items/show/53

  12. anonymouse observer

    Transit operators can also create new leisure activities to generate off-peak non-commute/leisure traffic like Japanese railways did. ​

    Interurbans built to connect big cities and old/big temples/shrines (e.g. Keikyu and Keisei) altered worship tradition by promoting 初詣 (the first temple/shrine visit of the year) at those old/big temples/shrines along the interurban lines instead of the traditional way of doing so at temples/shrines in each one’s neighborhood:
    https://news.mynavi.jp/article/trivia-286/

    Many railways in Japan built the theme parks and other leisure attractions at the far end of the line from the traditional CBD terminal to draw off-peak passenger traffic. Hankyu did it by building a “new hot spring” on the opposite shore of the river from the old/tranditional hot spring district in Takarazuka, and keep expanding it with new attractions, including Takarazuka Revue and its theaters. Over the time, Takarazuka Revue became the main attraction of Takarazuka area and a genre of theater arts of itself, at least in Japan.

    Also, railways heavily involved in expansion of the Nippon Professional Baseball and help it become “national pastime” by building baseball stadiums for professional teams and owning the baseball teams while generating off-peak traffic and additional revenue for railway business. At one point, there were 8 teams owned by railways with even JNR owning a professional baseball team (Kokutetsu Swallows: now Tokyo Yakult Swallows). With a few exceptions like Osaka Stadium (at Nankai Namba Station; home of former Nankai Braves), most of those baseball stadiums are built away from the traditional CBD partly to draw extra passenger traffic to the railway service (e.g. Nishinomiya for Hanshin Tigers and Hanshin Koshien Stadium and Seibu Dome in a somewhat remote area of Tokorozawa for Saitama Seibu Lions).

    • Herbert

      Or the railroad could reinvent itself.

      Once serving the open pit mine, bringing coal to the power plant, once the mining has stopped and the pit has been flooded, the rail line can take tourists to the new lake…

      • borners

        @Herbert
        Japan has a bunch of these. There two raillines originally built to service dam construction that have become heritage railways, Oikawa in Shizuoka and Chitetsu’s Main’s Line in the mountains of Toyama.
        And the Akita Naiiriku line is a copper freight line that’s actually managed quite well to not loose too much money for its Prefectural government owner by selling its mountainous views.

        And a number of lines are basically hot spring resort feeders these days, Tobu/Aigan railway system, the Takayama line in Gifu and indeed Hankyu’s original Minoo line etc. And JR East built its own skiing resort in Niigata which has its own Shinkansen line branch!

        The thing is that I do wonder that Japanese railway by necessity overload on tourist gimmicks. You can have too many heritage railways. You can only have so many hot spring resorts, trains with popular anime characters on them.

        • Jack Lichten

          I was curious and took a look at the Oikawa, and amazingly enough, at least in 2018 it was still running a profit – and it seems it has better daily service than some US commuter railroads, at least on the lower third (though that’s not saying much) http://oigawa-railway.co.jp/ft/timetable

          I live relatively close to the Nagareyama line, a cute little thing with anime mascots and a huge operating deficit (plugged by the company’s sizable real estate assets) but which runs 3~5 trains per hour so it’s more like a real regional rail line despite its size. The website definitely feels like that for a heritage line, and downtown Nagareyama feels like a tourist site at times despite the fact that Nagareyama is Japan’s fastest growing city (growth all along the TX line, completely disconnected from what I’m describing). I’m surprised this dinky has never been a) shut down completely, or b) better integrated with the rest of the city/region.

          • borners

            Oikawa was built as an electric rail road and links to the Tokaido main line. If you’ve got the infrastructure built EMU’s are cheaper to operate than buses. And they’ve done a great job developing the resort. If JR Central weren’t a bunch of Imperialist twats they could be running 1 seat rides to Shinkansen connections.

            Oh Ryutetsu (that’s the proper name) is just a badly run railway. Its a single track line awkwardly sharing the local transit market with three monsters the Musashino line, Tsukuba Express and the Joban line, only 2 of its 5 stations are viable connections. You would never build this line now, but at the time the TX wasn’t even built, and Nagareyama was a Mirin and vegetable garden for Tokyo hence the Mabashi connect. But this is urban Japan so an electric railway with usable connections to Tokyo is going to have a healthy ridership. The problem isn’t ridership its operating costs, each of its five stations usually has 2 people who collect paper tickets like its the goddam 1950’s. You can’t even use an IC card! Peak times theres even more! And the train formations are only 2 cars! And yes it is gearing towards tourism, Densha Otaku lots of Densha Otaku on weekends because its such cute railway. I presume that’s one of the reason its private shareholders accept it…but they really should streamline things, its business is mostly locals and commuters. It shouldn’t be closed, its perfectly viable. Think of it as a high-capacity bus route.

            As for why it isn’t better connected. The Musashino line was built after this line and rightly prioritised a Joban connection, and so the TX faced a similar choice when it chose the site of the Minami-nagareyama station.

          • anonymouse observer

            You cannot blame lack of through running to JR Central on decline of Oigawa Railway (not “Oikawa”, FYI). The main causes of the decline are depopulation in area along the line (especially high school students and younger adults) and decrease of Oigawa Railway’s popularity among more casual foamers in Greater Tokyo region over years. Back in days, Oigawa Railway was only railway operating steam locomotives on mainline within reasonable distance from Tokyo, but now there are other options in much close by (e.g. Chichibu Railway, Moka Railway, and even Tobu started running steam locomotive in Kunugawa area).

            Also, the main source of revenue and ridership on Oigawa Railway’s steam locomotive runs weren’t individuals like it has been recently after they started painting locomotives to Thomas the Engine scheme. The main source was the group tour from Greater Tokyo region using chartered buses to ride the steam locomotive. With regulation change on driver requirement for “tour bus”, chartered bus operators can no longer run the buses from Tokyo area to Shin-Kanaya with only one bus driver because it’s located outside of single-driver range (increased bus operations cost and charter price). This further took Oigawa Railway’s advantage and revenue source.

            This blog entry below summarizes issues Oigawa Railway is facing even in the “Leisure” operations:
            https://katamachi.hatenablog.com/entry/20080123/1201092950

            It seems like Ryutetsu is similar to Kishu Railway in terms of ownership structure and ownership’s goals and objections for railway business: owned by an entity which has no connection to passenger railway just to get “railway” in their name and obtain trust from general public while the ownership has no intention making money from passenger railway. Ryutetsu used to be majority owned by now defunct Heiwa Sogo Bank, which was rumored for very deep and strong connections with politicians and right-wing activists, and the family which used to own Heiwa Sogo Bank still owns Ryutetsu and sends the president of the company. I guess they do what they do in the way they do no matter what their “private shareholders accept it” or not.

            You should read this blog entry below to see why Ryutetsu’s ran that way:
            http://kakuyodo.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2015/08/10-81d5.html

  13. Desmond BLIEK (@desmondbliek)

    Any thought on how dachas or their equivalents in various countries play into the viability of transit for leisure travel relative to other scenarios and configurations where second homes are more remote?

    • Oreg

      Switzerland might be an interesting example. Many Swiss have vacation homes in the mountains that they visit frequently. Train connections there tend to be as frequent on the weekends as on workdays. When the weather is nice those trains are packed.

    • Chaz

      Michigan is looking into a train from Ann Arbor to Traverse City, where lots of Southeast Michigan residents have vacation homes. Of course since it’s Michigan which is ruled by the auto lobby so this train will probably never happen, but I can see the merits of this project, especially if the train itself becomes a tourist attraction.

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