After recently working on a transit mapping project, a lot of which was inspired by transit maps worldwide, I realized that much of the nomenclature we use for transit in North American cities tends to be either misleading or downright inappropriate. Though most of the implications are pretty subtle, the terminology we use can reveal a lot about the sadder limitations of our transit system. Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit, often rails against a lot of the transit vocabulary we use in North America and even has an entire category dedicated to unhelpful words.
One term I’m not crazy about is ‘transfer station’. I know Jarrett has a bone to pick with this kind of nomenclature as well, mostly because of its grammatical connotations. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty like he does, but I will highlight some of the basic implications that our transit literature has on rider behavior. Instead of using “transfer stations,” many transit agencies outside of the US, like Transport for London (PDF), refer to these kinds of stations as “interchange stations.” More below the jump.
Interchange essentially means to ‘change between’ or ‘change to and from.’ That would imply that you can connect easily between all services available at a truly synergistic multi-modal station. A transfer, on the other hand, implies that you can ‘transfer to‘ or ‘transfer from‘ services, but not both. It gives the impression that it’s easier to switch from one mode to another, but not necessarily vice versa. If you want a full discourse on the subject, then I’d recommend you read Jarrett’s post in its entirety.
What disappoints me the most, by far, is the use of the term “park and ride.” Before my foray into transit advocacy, I used to think park and rides were a great thing, particularly for the suburban commuter. Drive to your local P&R, take the bus– save gas, save parking, save money. But aside from the fact that parking lots/garages are just bad land use in themselves, simply using a term like “park and ride” carries fairly transit-unfriendly connotations. The three main problems I see:
1) The most obvious one is that “park and rides” assume car ownership, hence implying you must have a car to drive and park, and only then can you ride the bus/train. From a branding perspective, it’s an incredibly nefarious little mechanism that is biased towards car owners and implies that facilities for connecting cyclists or pedestrians are either non-existent or very limited. Often times that’s not the case, and we end up seeing unused bike racks and/or very few pedestrians around park and rides.
2) The second problem is a subset of the first– “park and rides” encourage only commute trips. The broader idea is that you probably need a car because 1) you live too far away to walk/bike, or 2) you’d never take transit for non-work trips anyway because service is much shoddier outside of peak hours. The “park and ride’s” implication of car ownership is that transit is not good enough for all other non-work trips you might make. While I don’t have empirical evidence for this, I am prepared to bet that transit centers without parking have a much more even ratio of work to non-work trips than park and rides do.
3) The third problem with the term “park and ride” is that if I am encouraged to drive to one only for work trips, then it can be assumed that the area around the “park and ride” probably does not support vibrant all-day pedestrian-friendly land uses, especially with the majority of P&R commuters driving in in the AM and driving out in the PM. Instead, we typically expect “park and rides” to be situated among low-density developments, tracts, office parks, strip malls, etc. In general, transit centers that have parking but aren’t expressly called “park and rides” tend to feature more “exciting” land uses, if you will, despite the fair amount of nearby parking. Northgate and Renton Transit Centers come to mind.
While we obviously cannot fully eliminate park and rides, it’s more appropriate and cost-effective to relabel park-and-rides as transit centers with [P] parking icons that would indicating the availability of parking. Jarrett actually does not like the term “transit center” but I would argue that the implications there are subtle enough as to not give a significantly misleading impression of land uses or rider behavior. At any rate, it’s leaps and bounds better than using “park and ride.”
As I’ve argued before, branding and marketing make up some of most important tools at the disposable of transit agencies. In lieu of costly service hours, small cheap fixes like these that can potentially attract ridership and encourage better land uses & behaviors are always a plus.