I hate to burst Toronto’s sense of complacency, but Bucharest’s Metro system seems to offer much more than ours.
The picture shows one of about five lines, heading into the downtown at about 9.30 am earlier today. The people sitting in the large quiet cars are all intently staring at their smartphones, because of course all the cars come equipped with WiFi, and not just in the stations.
Fares are only about $1 a ride. Stations are spacious. Most impressive of all, the construction continues. They are building two new lines, one through the downtown and another up to the international airport.
Now, I wouldn’t want to suggest that Bucharest has it all figured out in terms of urban transportation. For Bucharest’s (car) traffic situation is quite critically awful. Rush hours are nasty, brutish and long-lasting. Mixed in with a healthy disregard for the finer points of traffic signals and a fairly aggressive driving style, and you have one of the reasons that Romania has been called the ‘Wild East.’
I wouldn’t want to pretend to be an urban planner, but it just appears to me that too many people take their cars into the downtown. Thirty years ago, the shortage of consumer goods and petrol kept the traffic volume down. But the number of cars has mushroomed in the last decade especially.
You would hope that the availability of transit would lure people out of their cars. But it appears that the tramway system is lightly used, and neither are the subways at capacity. It’s just too easy to dump their cars for free roadside or even on sidewalks. The streets are a jumble of cars strewn in every direction.
It seems to this observer that there are two sides to taming the traffic beast. A great subway system is part one of the solution, and Bucharest is ahead of Toronto here. But the second part involves making it less possible for cars to dominate the downtown, starting with some meters and parking enforcement. Toll roads/congestion charges and pedestrian-only sections of the city would be more controversial tools towards that goal.
No easy solutions. In the meantime, I’ll just write this blog and send it, while I’m heading back out of town on the Metro. Toronto had better get with the program.