In a secluded and idyllic corner of Brooklyn, where South American taco vendors mingle with Fairway-bound foodies, a giant blue box recently opened its doors, and with it came an interesting experiment in public transit.
Just over three weeks ago, the highly-anticipated New York City Ikea opened its doors on the waters of the New York Harbor in Red Hook, New York. Red Hook has escaped the gentrification that has run rampant over the rest of the western sections of Brooklyn largely because the nearest subway stop is a mile away and the buses are never too reliable. But with the Ikea came more public transit options to the area.
As part of their efforts to attract customers while encouraging New Yorkers to avoid driving, Ikea is running free shuttles to various transit-accessible parts of Brooklyn and Water Taxi ferries to and from Lower Manhattan. Well, as New Yorkers — Ikea-bound and otherwise — are rather resourceful people, residents of Brooklyn have taken a liking to the free transit options. Jeff Wilkins of The Daily News explains:
Countless commuters are taking advantage of Ikea’s free bus and ferry – without ever setting foot inside the giant Swedish furniture store that opened last month in the waterfront neighborhood. The posh, coach-style shuttle buses, equipped with footrests, reading lights and music, are quickly becoming popular with travelers tired of shelling out $2 for overcrowded – and, by comparison, uncomfortable – city buses …
The free bus service transports passengers from Red Hook to stops on Court St. and to subway stations at Fourth Ave. and Smith and Ninth Sts. every 15 minutes during store hours.
Thrifty bus riders aren’t the only ones taking advantage of Ikea’s services. City residents are also saving $6 each way and taking the store’s free water taxi to and from Wall Street. “It’s such a nice ride, I’d almost be happy to pay for it,” said Steve Riley, 40, who lives in Park Slope, takes the Ikea bus and then transfers to the Ikea water taxi for his job in SoHo.
Wilkins writes that only eight of the 19 riders on the first shuttle of the day last week were bound for the Swedish furniture store. Two of those folks were employees.
So what does this mean for public transit in New York? Well, at a time when the MTA is increasingly coming under attack from politicians and the public, this news does nothing to bolster the MTA’s case. But is it a call for privatization? Some time this week or next, I’ll have a long post about the future of the MTA, but I’m not sure privatization is ever the way to go. It didn’t work in London; it hasn’t really worked anywhere mainly because public transit doesn’t really turn a profit. The aims of private companies and the goals of public transportation systems are rarely in line with each other.
Rather, the MTA could take a lesson from the comfort and ease of the Ikea Shuttle. Riders want to like their public transit options. They want to be ferried or bused in relative comfort with enough space to sit. They want a reliable and steady schedule, and from the sound of it, they’re willing to pay for that privilege. Perhaps the MTA could use the lessons of the Ikea Shuttle to improve bus service; perhaps the Ikea Shuttle will remain unique among the city’s transit options. Either way, it’s certainly an interesting case study in unintended consequences.
Photo above of the Ikea Shuttle by flickr user the real janelle.