#218 Cold captive commutes

Dark morning, and chilled air don’t penetrate the damp bus windows. The driver is occasionally visible as she passes under streetlights. Most of the time it’s as dark as night, headlights zoom past thick jackets with reflective strips—security guards heading to work.

A bus stops to pick a commuter from the neighborhood, no shelter, just a haven hissing closer as it pauses and doors open. Taxis aren’t shouting through the silently sleeping neighborhood. Instead they float as quietly as they hunt for the sparse passengers spread between the predictable regulars. Through the darkness, silence and early morning winter chill operators have no time to mourn the 3am call to serve. Captive commuters from afar have no hour to spare or else they risk loosing their already vulnerable sense of security.

They’re called “captive” not because of some vague classist argument. Captive users are commuters who have limited options to get around. Some are captive to their car, others are captive to a specific mode of public or non-motorized transport. It’s the lack of a suitable option that is practically used to describe captive commuters.

So the car owner stuck in traffic, is not only the traffic itself, but they’re also captive— they’re in a cyclical reinforcing loop making other options unviable. The public transport user stuck to bus, taxi or trains without any other possible alternative other than one of them is captive. Locked into the specific mode. Captivity is dangerous: limited options to get around; comfortable operators with limited incentive to grow and improve; and self-reinforcing stereotypes holding change at ransom or gunpoint.

Darker than the barrel itself, silver bullet interventions have been shot in the air for years now. Some punctured white elephants, others draw the line through the stains from wounded stakeholders. Some of the best examples look good on the surface, but once the skin is pierced and the chill creeps in, there’s no escaping the loop. Our job, is to change the tangled class and service issues in a bankable manner. These cold mornings can be different, new options, better service and quality facilities. Where to begin.

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