Though time is short until the biggest gift-giving day of the year, I thought I would continue the annual tradition of gift ideas for transit fans. I realize that many of the items on this list would come a bit late if ordered this week, but these make excellent gifts at any time for the transit fan in your life!
In addition to the ideas below, you should also take a look at the lists put together by Jhenifer in 2009 and 2010. She found some incredible items, with the Lego Public Transport Kit my personal favourite (which, incidentally, I saw in stock at a local toy store just yesterday).
Real stuff off the system
For many transit fans, there is something thrilling about owning a real piece of a transit system. And right now you have an opportunity to own a piece of real SkyTrain rail. SkyTrain celebrated its 25th anniversary late last year, and had a unique memento created to commemorate the occasion (pictured at left). Wouldn’t you love to have a real piece of SkyTrain rail gracing your desk at home or at work? If you are interested in purchasing one and can pick up locally, they are available for $50 each – contact me directly for more details.
The San Francisco Cable Car Museum also offers real stuff off of San Francisco cable cars, including a key ring made of authentic cable car cable, a 20 lb Gripman’s Bell and pieces of authentic cable and rail from 1909.
You may have read the Buzzer’s interview with Jarrett Walker last month. His book, Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, was published earlier this month and it would be a thought-provoking and interesting read.
Christopher Niemann’s Subway, is a lovely children’s book about two kids and their dad (drawn as transit-style stick figures) exploring on the New York City subway.
Robert Schwandl, the person behind UrbanRail.Net, a website dedicated to metros, subways and other urban rail transit systems around the world, is also the author of several books about the same topic. One of TransLink’s planners tells me that he really likes Schwandl’s books, though most of them are about European cities – the only North American one is about subways and light rail in the East Coast of the United States.
Mark Ovendon has made the holiday gift list two years in a row, with Transit Maps of the World and Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations, and Design of the Metro. His latest, published in 2011, is Railway Maps of the World, which looks equally gorgeous.
It surprised me to find there are many unique transit-inspired home decor gift ideas out there. For example, the Garvey Chair by Anthropologie, is inspired by New York City stations. (I apologize for breaking with the tradition of including items only available in Canada, but this was too beautiful to pass up.) On the more budget-conscious end of the spectrum, you might like these public transit coasters, not only useful for keeping rings from forming on your end tables, but also for reminding you of the stops on either Philadelphia’s Broad Street Subway or the DC Metro.
When I asked around about transit gift ideas, multiple people suggested roll (or scroll) signs. Remember the days when drivers had to actually scroll through multiple destination signs when they changed routes? That’s what a scroll sign is, and the Trolley Museum Store has all kinds on offer from many places. You can also find some Canadian roll signs (not authentic), or create your own personalized ones. If any of you know where Vancouver roll signs can be sourced, please share because I think they would be a hot item among Vancouver transit fans.
Finally, taking Instagram photos of public transit seems to be a hot trend these days – what about turning your favourite transit photos into StickeyGram magnets?
Accessories and more
Thanks to Etsy, you can find a wide range of jewelry for the transit fan in your life. A simple search shows that subway token earrings, cuff links, bracelets and necklaces abound. My personal – and local – favourite is this In Transit Vancouver Waterfront glass pendant. The seller has three Vancouver transit pendants available, plus a couple from Moscow and Rome.
There are lots of fun ideas out there for transit fans, but let’s not forget the basics. For those in the Metro Vancouver area, you can’t go wrong with a monthly pass. I know from personal experience that the best gift anybody ever gave my (highly practical) mom was a January FareCard - useful, needed and surprising.
Also, remember that with the TransLink mobile site up and running – and improving on a regular basis – the bus rider in your life would probably really appreciate some kind of smartphone they can use to access the site, plan their route and track buses in real time.
Happy gift giving!
I hope this helps with your search for the perfect transit-related gift! Please add your suggestions in the comments, as I’m sure there are many more gift ideas out there than what I’ve included here.
An update (Dec. 20, 2011): Jason Vanderhill has just posted his customized SkyTrain Super Express train set for sale! It made it on the transit fan gift list last year as a DIY project, and it is awesome. It would make a fabulous gift idea for the Vancouver transit fan.