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In this unsigned editorial from the Post, the author has a modest proposal for improving the financial health of America’s transit systems.
 
 
[See also: “The Looming Crisis in Mass Transit” from our Jul/Aug 2012 issue.]


April 25, 1959—A transit expert, Henry K. Norton, gave himself a little fun recently by journeying 20,000 miles throughout Europe to look at transit facilities in twelve countries. It was purely a pleasure trip. Mr. Norton is … a former member of the New York City Transit Authority, which runs the subways there. [Editor’s note: Norton is also remembered as an advocate of the monorail.]

On his happy holiday Mr. Norton found a remarkable situation in Madrid. Nearly all transit systems in Europe are publicly owned, but the Madrid system is run by private enterprise. Not only that, but it makes money. If you were a stockholder in the Madrid subway, you would receive a dividend of 8 percent. Naturally Mr. Norton’s eyes opened wide at the news.

He sought the explanation, and he found it. “The real secret of Madrid’s success,” he says, “is the siesta. In New York we have two riding peaks–in the morning and evening rush hours. In Madrid there are four peaks. … The Madrid subway gets four rides a day out of everyone instead of two.”

It is disappointing to note that Mr. Norton, despite his acute intelligence, did not draw the logical conclusion from what he himself had observed. If the siesta is what makes the Madrid subway system prosper, why not introduce the siesta into the United States?

In every American city–from Bangor, Maine, to Honolulu and from Miami to Seattle–everyone who uses public transit to get to work would go home about midday to take a siesta. Instead of a hasty bite in a crowded eating-place, there would be a leisurely lunch, followed by a refreshing nap. Then back to the bus, the streetcar, the subway, the commuter train or the ferry for another ride to the job.

All this would take only two hours for most people, three for those living in the farthest parts of large cities or in the suburbs and four for exurbanites. Isn’t it pleasant to think that such a mild little reform, with such a slight loss of time, would bring back prosperity to the transit companies?

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