There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Between fantasy and reality

Between my glorious vision of transit as a major player is society's efforts to rein in our environmental degradation and the reality of today's transit system is a chasm so deep and so broad as to defeat all manner of wishful efforts to build a bridge.

For the first three days of the week I've been taking the No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 8:34 a.m. This is not a commuter bus since it isn't scheduled to arrive at the 65th Street light rail station until 9:23 and won't get riders downtown until almost 10 a.m. With Sacramento State still on summer vacation, that leaves this route to serve "the other riders."

Who those riders are was evident on the No. 82 bus today. My fellow riders mirrored almost exactly Sacramento Regional Transit's annual percentage of minority and elderly total route hours, a measure of the populations served. (See this document from the package discussing route cutback proposals.)

The chart on "ethnicity (minority) impact consideration" shows that 95 percent of Regional Transit's existing service covers areas with a higher minority population than the region as a whole. Among age considerations, 70 percent of RT's existing service covers areas with a higher percentage of residents 65 and older in comparison to the district's overall population. Clearly, RT has gone out of its way to serve minorities and the elderly.

When I boarded the bus, an elderly man wearing a sun hat was the lone passenger. The next passenger to board was woman in casual clothes. She was close to, if not over, the 65-plus dividing line. I imagined her as a retiree. At Kaiser Hospital, we picked up a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair.

At Arden, we were joined by a woman clearly over the 65-plus line. She sat across from the elderly gentleman and attempted to pass him a religious flier. He declined.

Next to board was a young black woman. The lady with the pamphlets managed to get one into her hand as she passed in the aisle. "Thank you," she said. She sat in the seat behind the pamphleteer and put the religious tract in her purse unread.

Later, another young woman of color boarded. This time the pamphleteer blocked the new arrival's path with her offering. The woman stopped, considered and decided to accept the pamphlet, obviously annoyed but unwilling to make a federal case of it.

As the pamphleteer departed, a Hispanic woman join us on the bus. She was dressed in clothes that made me imagine her as an office worker.

By the time we arrived at Sacramento State the bus had just four riders. The Hispanic woman and the not-very-elderly woman got off, leaving the middle-aged white guy and the young woman of color in the first row of elevated seats in the back of bus. We were both reading as the bus reached the 65th Street light rail station.

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