Sarah Goodyear  |

Maybe what transit in the United States needs is a little more joy.

“Joy” and other enticing words such as “freedom,” “fun,” “sexy,” and “seductive” are common parlance in automobile marketing. But when it comes to transit – at least in the United States – not so much.

In a new e-book from Island Press called Making Transit Fun! How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto Their Feet, a Bike, or Bus), urban designer and writer Darrin Nordahl writes that advocates for non-car transportation need to stop trying to appeal to reason and go for the gut instead:

If people behaved entirely rationally, we would have foregone our cars long ago. … Against sound reasons of safety, environmental health, and personal wealth, we still drive. People simply love their cars. And as we all know, love and reason are like oil and water….

What has become very clear in the automotive world is the power positive emotion wields over a person’s choice. While joy seems to be a dominant word in the language of carmakers, the transit industry often focuses on words such as function, usefulness, safety, convenience, and accessibility. These are all important words, no doubt. But what are lacking in the transit vocabulary are nouns of positive emotion: delight, allure, pleasure, exhilaration, and compulsion.
Can we make people look longingly at mass transit? Can we give biking and walking the aura of cool that has long been the province of the automobile? Or are buses doomed to be the butt of jokes, along with the city of Cleveland? {…}