But what if you could ride a BMW everyday?
The Siemens Group recently commissioned BMW’s subsidiary Designworks USA to design a new kind of subway train.
Dubbed the Metro Inspiro, it is a train the likes of which you’ve never seen: Cork floors, adaptive lighting, custom seat trims, door-lit graphics, electronic scheduling iconography and the so-called Light-Tree handrail system all make this one of the most innovative transit vehicles ever designed.
Siemens is taking a big bet that this may be the way of the future in transit and so far they’ve been proven right. The City of Warsaw, Poland has already ordered 35 Inspiros to a total value of 270 million Euros.
While the other features may be nothing more than frill (more on that later), the Light-Tree handrail solves a problem that all subways have, but no one’s taken the time to tackle. People come in a variety of shapes, sizes and heights, yet all subway trains tend to assume otherwise and force riders all to grip onto the same bars and pipes which are oftentimes inaccessible due to crowding.
Instead, the Light-Tree borrows a page from nature and mimics the fractal trunk-and-branch structure of actual trees. In this way, handrails are easily accessible to everyone at whatever level is most comfortable for them.
In the past I’ve argued that transit Form is equally important as transit Function – if not more so. That is, Function is no longer enough. Transit is losing the war to cars at least in part because cars provide a more pleasurable experience than transit. In the future, it’s form, design and an attention to the needs of the rider that will separate the transit winners from the transit losers.
A subway train that makes a man or woman feel dignity, class and wealth has a clear psychological advantage over trains that make one feel lowly, plain and poor. That psychological advantage, one can reasonably assume, should translate into increased ridership.
10 year old Ford Fiesta or a brand new BMW train?
Maybe it’s unbecoming of a planner to say this, but base psychological issues are at the core of how people behave. To ignore the psychology of people invalidates a planners’ models and makes them irrelevant. When we accept the assumption that people are more likely to ride something that makes them feel good, we can begin to tackle the bigger issue of how to get people to stop driving and take transit instead.
When one looks at the Inspiro, one has an immediate I want to ride that now! reaction. Those reactions are rare in transit, but important.
If it takes a BMW to get people to ride transit, I’m all for it.