How does mass transit entice users en mass?

We love examples of thinking that’s different and brings a new perspective to planning and transportation. We came across an article on Slate.com this week that discussed British consultant Charles Leadbeater’s matrix for re-thinking city design and management.

Based on the psychologist Simon Baron-Choen’s work with Asperger’s patients, Leadbeater divided city transportation and management on two axes: ‘system’ (organisation, patterns, attention to detail) and ‘empathy’ (an understanding of the human relationships of a situation). For cities, “system” implied things like infrastructure and institutions, while empathy implied the cultural texture of a place. His underlying question: how can cities be designed and optimised to be high on both measures?

The author of the article on Slate.com, Tom Vanderbilt, explores both options (transport running frequently and on time, versus the pleasure of the ride, and offering a superior ‘ride experience’ to the car – such as free wi-fi), before settling his opinion in favour of ‘systems’, in favour of the quantity over the quality of the experience, on factors such as ease of use, wayfinding, ticketing, connections, price and parking.

It’s certainly an interesting way to look at transport options, and one likely to offer an alternative viewpoint to mainstream transportation planning. We’re of the opinion that getting it right involves equal amounts of both efficiency and empathy. What do you think?

If you’re interested in Charles Leadbeater’s thinking, you may also be interested in a recent talk he delivered at TED on innovation. Watch and enjoy!

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