Transportation: Shift from Cars to Transit Use essay

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There are many economic environmental and social benefits to many communities in U.S. if people shift from use of car to use transit. It is usually argued that for such a change to occur, transit systems would have to approach the same levels of economic, physical and social support as automobiles have had for many years. Financing programs by the government, land use and planning regulations, support from private sector, and individual preferences have contributed to the flourishing of car use. Werner and Adams, suggest that the great shift from use of automobile to transit use ought to be based on an advanced analysis of appropriate behaviors involving their economic, environmental, social, and individual attributes.

            The University of Utah was prompted by recent events to provide important ingredients for a reliable transit system. University of Utah was the host site for the 2002 winter Olympics. During this period, it experienced a prolonged new light-rail transit line, intense shortage of packing space, advocacy for transit from the University leadership, and a media campaign supporting transit. This resulted into pro-transit opportunities and constraints in the social and physical environment which was inline with a transactional perspective.

            The use of cars is deeply supported in the U.S. policies, personal habits and social aspirations, and community design. This cuts across from road and housing programs backed by the federal system (Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1997), to zoning powers for huge setbacks and parking areas (Kunstler, 1993), to  failures to charge car users for car infrastructure. Advertisers use a huge amount of money to promote use of cars by highlighting some of the benefits that accrue from it. These benefits include seclusion, status, freedom and comfort (Kay, 1998). The psychological attachment of the population at University of Utah to cars is underscored by the eagerness of the youths to acquire a driving license and the reluctance of the aged population to surrender theirs (Carp, 1888). It is not surprising the car ownership has now become pervasive. Statistics from U.S. Department of Transportation [DOT], 2001a, vehicle ownership reports and U.S. Census, 2000, population data suggest that,  98% of people aged 15 years and above in Utah own cars, and that close to 9 out of 10 work trips made in U.S. involve motorcycles or cars.

            It is clear that despite the benefits of transit such as less environmental pollution and enhanced health and equity often do not influence change of behavior the way psychological gains can. Heavy reliance on cars has meant poor alternatives for transit systems. This transactional view has lead many design professionals, activists, and scholars to start articulating an alternative vision for building the University community that requires good quality transit systems.

            The psychological processes that contribute to change of behavior include enhancing relationships between behavior and attitudes. This is achieved through use of strategies of regulating behaviors and at the same time emphasizes personal benefits, appreciating the importance of commitment and determination in change of behavior. (Warner and Adams, 2001). At the University of Utah, the Winter Olympics in February, 2002, created a natural opportunity to increase use of transit. This was not only for short-term Olympics season but also potentially for long term use.

Conclusion

The reduced parking demands and the new transit provided two critical supports for the environment that arise from use of transit. The University administration and the authors collaborated on a media campaign to strengthen these environmental supports for use of transit. 

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