As I mentioned in my last post, David and I recently traveled to Austin, Texas. While we were there, a number of people asked me what I thought of the city and how it compared to Sydney. Each time, my answer was pretty much the same – I was astounded by the city’s dependency on cars, the extent to which the ‘city’ sprawled and the awful, awful traffic jams.
Austin is a city with very limited public transport. While there is a bus service, it regularly took over an hour for me to travel the 10 miles into the city centre from where we were staying. When I mentioned to local people that I was using the bus to get around (and walking around 10 or more kilometres per day), a lot of them seemed genuinely shocked – ‘but you’re so brave,‘ said one person.
I’m not brave. I’m accustomed to using public transport as much as possible, because at home it’s often faster, more convenient and less stressful. That’s not to say that Sydney’s public transport is perfect – far from it. But the mentality in Sydney is quite different. Most people that I know take public transport to work, and although there’s traffic congestion, it doesn’t really rate compared to Austin. That’s hardly surprising – one evening, as Dave and I drove to Downtown in heavy traffic, I think I only noticed two cars with any passengers.
The question then, in cities like Austin, is not just how to improve public transport (although that is absolutely important). It’s about creating a complete shift in how people choose to get around. It’s about removing the stigma attached to public transport and the expectation of car ownership.
Things are changing. ZipCar and Car 2 Go both have a presence in Austin. There are bike shops everywhere, especially around the Zilker and South Congress areas, and the city does seem to be working on improving its public transport offerings, with work on an urban rail system expected to start in 2016. All of these things are great, but without a shift in how people choose to get around, they just won’t be that meaningful.
So, I’m curious. How do you get people to change entrenched habits and beliefs about something as integral as how they get around?