Thoughts on public transit from Spain

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If you haven’t already figured it out, I’ve been hanging in Valencia, Spain for the last few days. It’s part of a month-long trip that Jen and I are taking in October. We’re spending the first two weeks here and working remotely. The last two weeks we’ll spend doing legit vacay in Budapest, Prague, Bratislava and Vienna. The perk of being able to work remotely the first two weeks is somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that I won’t be getting paid during the last two.

A few things on transportation here in Valencia, which is very similar in population to Austin (780,000 city/1.7 million metro area).

First off, there are quite a few electric scooters around, although they all appear to be privately-owned or rented. It’s not straight-up dockless ride-sharing. Same thing goes for the many different private bike-sharing operations around town. There is no Uber/Lyft but there are a lot of taxis.

Public transit is beyond what is imaginable in Austin. The bus system includes more than 50 routes and at least 30 of them offer frequency of at least every 15 minutes during peak hours (between about 7 am and 10 pm). Many of those routes offer far greater frequency –– between 5-8 minutes. All of the major boulevards appear to have dedicated lanes reserved for buses and taxis.

On top of that there are nine metro lines that carry over 65 million passengers a year; they are largely geared towards commuters coming in and out of the suburbs.

What is the downside? None! Well, unless you’re determined to drive a car. In the historic city center where I’m staying you can’t exceed 30 kmh (19 mph). Then there’s very little parking. And the parking that exists isn’t exactly Escalade-friendly. The cafe I’m at? No parking. The restaurant next door? No parking. The government building across the street: not a parking stall in sight.

I’ve spent good chunks of my life relying heavily on public transit, but I never gave much thought to the matter until recently. For instance, between age 10-14, I lived  in Paris, France. As a kid I walked or took the metro everywhere I wanted to go, which granted me much greater freedom of movement during my middle school years than I think the average tweens and teens in Austin have until and unless they have access to a car. I walked or took the metro to school everyday. I didn’t need a ride from mom to go to the mall; almost every weekend I took the metro to the Champs Élysées to look at CDs at the Virgin Megastore (RIP).

As I look forward to parenthood, I hope that my kid(s) will not grow up dependent on adults with automobiles to get around. While the steep decline in the number of kids walking/biking to school is no doubt partially the result of a cultural shift in favor of helicopter parenting, it is also the logical result of a car-based transportation system. The more that cities are oriented toward cars, the more dangerous it becomes for kids to get around without their parents.

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