As our time here winds down, it’s has been a truly enlightening experience seeing how thoughtful design can positively impact peoples’ lives and create a sustainable way of living.
In the United States, there is a big issue in the transportation world about how to best address the issue of first- and last-mile portions for trips. As transportation planners seek to promote public transit as a viable alternative for many commuters, they struggle to find the missing pieces to completely remove personal vehicles out of the equation. Our history of suburban sprawl has placed many residents more than a ½ mile (i.e. not walking distance) away from bus stops and train stations. Park-and-rides are nice, but they still require huge parcels of land adjacent to a transit stop that would serve the transit system better as higher density transit-oriented development. These facilities are simply remedies to the symptoms of our specific suburban lifestyles, and their subsequent dependence on personal motor vehicles.
It seems to the Dutch that the solution to their problems for first- and last-mile connections was so obvious and right in their faces. When whole trips cannot be made by bike, Dutch transit planners have made it incredibly easy to use them to connect through the rest of the system. Substantial (and free) bike parking was provided at every station we visited. If you needed your bicycle for the other “side” of your trip, bikes can be brought on board GVB metro trains (we saw a few people doing this, though I am not entirely sure if it is allowed by law) and also the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (the national railway company). Seeing that this would not be preferable due to the amount of space bicycles occupy on public spaces, the Dutch have provided for a sure way to get a bike for your last-mile connection through ample bike share facilities.
Dutch perception of public transportation also plays a huge role in how they develop their metrics to performance. Because public transportation is seen as an essential public good that must serve the whole population to the best of its ability, the performance of its system is held to a much higher standard. MARTA defines their on-time performance as having delays no longer than 5 minutes. On the other hand, Vervoerregio, the regional transportation planning arm of Amsterdam, defines on-time performance as having delays no longer than 2 minutes. This allows the Dutch to flood their transit system with a huge fleet of buses, trams, and trains to create ridiculously short headways. Coupled with lines and routes that trunk together, you can find a vehicle going in your desired direction as often as every one minute! This of course incurs higher operating costs, but because the Dutch people perceive the public transportation system as a societal asset and not as a required afterthought, they pay higher taxes that they can expect to go towards funding their system.