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

Friday, November 30, 2007

Your tax dollars at work. Do you care?

"Is this unusual, or is this how these things usually go?"

I smiled in response to the lady's question as I packed up my stuff.

"I have never been to one of these before," I told her. "I just came to see what happens."

Less than a half-hour after it started, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments public hearing to discuss the SACOG TMP 2035 plan and its EIR was over. At issue was a plan that seeks to map the transportation future of a six county region and in the process allocate $42 billion over 28 years.

That $42 billion represents about $13,000 for every man, woman and child who is expected to be living in the region by 2035. (More than 3.2 million people are expected to call the region home in 2030.)

So, with that much at stake, it was just a little surprising that the SACOG board couldn't muster enough members to satisfy quorum requirements. Of course, since only four people signed up to speak to the board it probably was just as well.

SACOG is in the middle of its "comment" period for this plan. The comment period opened Nov. 5 and runs through Dec. 20. Considering what's at stake, it would seem prudent for more people to pay attention. You can find out more about this planning effort and what has been proposed at

I had taken the bus from work to the meeting, and afterward I walked to J Street to wait for the next No. 30. Waiting with me was the lady who had asked me about the speedy meeting. In chatting with her, I learned that she had been afraid to ride buses until she took a class at Sacramento State on alternative modes of transportation. The class apparently included tips and tricks for riding buses. For instance, she learned it is faster to go downtown and then out again than it is to try to go across town.

The lady is still not at ease on the buses, especially at night. When the No. 30 finally arrived we boarded and she told the driver she wanted to get off at 29th Street.

This was one of the older buses where the driver has to call out the stops, and this was a driver who didn't feel that calling out the stops was necessary. I could see that with each passing stop, the lady was getting more nervous. Finally, she moved to the front of the bus and sat across from the driver.

"It's hard to see the intersections after it's dark," she told the driver. She then reminded him that she wanted to get off at 29th Street.

In the back of the bus, reading my book, I have never cared if the driver called out stops. Now I better understand why it is not just nice but necessary.

The driver stopped at the lady's stop. She thanked the driver and got off. I continued on to Sac State, where I waited for my connecting bus home.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lone Survivor on the bus

Finished reading "Lone Survivor, The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10." The book is written by Marcus Luttrell, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was the only survivor of a four-man team sent into a remote Afghan province to locate a Taliban leader.

I purchased this book because I wanted to learn more about Lt. Michael P. Murphy, the leader of the SEAL team. On Oct. 22, 2007, Murphy was posthumously awarded the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. This is the first Medal of Honor given in the Afghan War.

The Navy considers Luttrell's account, which he wrote with Patrick Robinson, to be an accurate record of what happened in Afghanistan. Murphy's father disagrees. At issue is what I feel is the key to why Murphy truly deserved to be honored.

On June 28, 2005, the four-man SEAL team had established itself on a mountainside overlooking a village where the Taliban leader and his soldiers were believed to be. But soon after they settled in, Afghan shepherds, two men and a teenager, drove a herd of goats right into their position.

"The hard fact was, if these three Afghan scarecrows ran off to find Sharmak (the Navy identifies the Taliban as Ahmad Shah, a terrorist in his mid-30s who grew up in the adjacent mountains just to the south) and his men, we were going to be in serious trouble, trapped out here on this mountain ridge. The military decision was clear: these guys could not leave there alive. I just stood there, looking at their filthy beards, rough skin, gnarled hands, and hard, angry faces. These guys did not like us. They showed no aggression, but neither did they offer or want the hand of friendship."
Luttrell says a vote was taken. One of the four SEALS said they should shoot the three Afghans. One SEAL said he would do whatever the others agreed to. Luttrell initially sided with killing the Afghans.
Mikey [Lt. Murphy] was thoughtful. "Listen, Marcus. If we kill them, someone will find their bodies real quick. For a start, these fucking goats are just going to hang around. And when these guys don't get home for their dinner, their friends and relatives are going to head straight out to look for them, especially for this fourteen-year-old. The main problem is the goats. Because they can't be hidden, and that's where people will look.

"When they find the bodies, the Taliban leaders will sing to the Afghan media. The media in the U.S.A. will latch on to it and write stuff about the brutish U.S. Armed Forces. Very shortly after that, we'll be charged with murder. The murder of innocent unarmed Afghan farmers."

I had to admit, I had not really thought about it quite like that. But there was a terrible reality about Mikey's words. Was I afraid of these guys? No. Was I afraid of their possible buddies in the Taliban? No. Was I afraid of the liberal media back in the U.S.A.? Yes. And I suddenly flashed on the prospect of many, many years in a U.S. civilian jail alongside murderers and rapists.
According to Luttrell's account, Lt. Murphy attempted to contact his team's headquarters, but they could not be reached. The decision was going to be theirs to make.

Luttrell said they eventually voted again with the same result. Lt. Murphy then addressed the team:
"Well, let me tell you one more time. If we kill these guys we have to be straight about it. Report what we did. We can't sneak around this. Just so you all understand, their bodies will be found, the Taliban will use it to the max. They'll get it in the papers, the U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy. We almost certainly be charged with murder. I don't know how you guys feel about that... Marcus, I'll go with you. Call it."
Luttrell decided to let them go.
It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life. I must have been out of my mind, I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant. I'd turned into a fucking liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgment of a jackrabbit.
In a June 12, 2007, article in Newsday, Lt. Murphy's father, Daniel Murphy, called Luttrell's account a disservice to his son's memory.
"That directly contradicts what he told [Murphy's mother] Maureen, myself and Michael's brother John in my kitchen," said Murphy, who watched Luttrell on television but said he hasn't read the book. "He said that Michael was adamant that the civilians were going to be released, that he wasn't going to kill innocent people. ... Michael wouldn't put that up for committee. People who knew Michael know that he was decisive and that he makes decisions."
The SEAL team was attacked shortly after letting the Afghans go. At one point in the battle, Lt. Murphy decided he had to call for help. The U.S. Navy official Summary of Action states:
Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire. This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy. While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in. Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.
Fighting a war is never black and white. We ask warriors to follow rules of engagement. Choices must be made: What is the right thing to do? Life and death hang in the balance. Lt. Murphy was a real hero.

There is much to admire about Luttrell's dedication, especially after what he endured to become a SEAL. There is no question of Luttrell's heroism in combat. That he survived is a vivid demonstration of why the SEALS consider themselves the best trained warriors in the world. Luttrell's story of the Afghan villagers who risked their lives to shield him from the Taliban is amazing.

But Luttrell's book is filled with inane rants about liberals and the media, about how the war in Iraq was a necessary response to al-Qaida's attack on the United States and on and on. And I don't think I'm disappointed with the book just because I'm a liberal who works in the media.

I was hoping for something more like Dartmouth-educated Nathaniel Fick's "One Bullet Away: the Making of a Marine Officer." Instead I got an East Texas good old boy who clearly puts too much faith in talk radio and Fox News.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dignity on the bus


At work I received an email with the subject line "Stuck on the bus." I get a lot of spam, but sometimes even spam can be interesting. But not this e-mail.

Below is a screen capture from the e-mail.

It is bad enough that one of the oft-repeated excuses people cite for not riding the bus is that they would have to associate with people who make them uncomfortable, but to have a right-to-life group use that cliche as a starting point for a discussion of stem cells is just unbearable.

And just what is it about that picture that is supposed evoke uncomfortable feelings? Is it the toothy grin on the blonde? The smug smirk on the guy with the glasses. Or it is the black man out of place in the front of the bus?

Is it any wonder that transit has a difficult time attracting "choice" riders?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Google Maps and Google Transit all in one

So I was wandering around Google Maps, minding my own business. Well, actually I was looking for a business that recycles computer printers and monitors. One location was Fulton and Arden Way and I wanted to see if I recognized the location.

I'm looking at the hybrid map -- the aerial photo with the street names overlayed -- and I notice little blue bus stop icons.

Huh? Bus stop icons?

OK. This is cool.

Now, I wouldn't take the icons literally. The northbound stop on Fulton isn't really in the center of the street. And the icons don't work at all resolutions. If you get too close to the ground or too far away they disappear.

But the real magic comes when you click on one of the icons. Up pops a list of the next time a bus is scheduled to depart this location.

This is real cool.

So I then went to Watt and El Camino to see what the map can do with a stop served by more than one bus. And, sure enough, when you click on the icon you get the times for all of the buses that stop there.

You can even do the same thing with light rail stops. Here's the 23rd Street stop on the inbound side.

Below is an animated image showing how Google Maps and Google Transit illustrate the 65th Street transit center bus stop.

This, of course, only works if you are on the corner with your wireless PDA or in a nearby office wondering about the bus schedule. For trip planning, go to Enter the starting address (2100 Q -- you don't need street or avenue) or intersection (21 & Q format) and sacramento (or Fair Oaks, etc.) and the destination address and city. You can set the arrival or departure time. The default is departing soon after the current time.

Assuming all went well and Google Transit found the addresses, you'll see several options, including a handy link to find out how to drive to the same location.

For my comparison of Sacramento Regional Transit's Web scheduling service and Google Transit, see this post.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Simple pleasures of riding the bus

A commute so ordinary and restful, burrowed deep in my book -- the joy of a transitarian.

The value of time is what you do with it.

I could have arrived at work a half-hour earlier -- maybe, most days, perhaps. But to what end? Rush for rush sake? Just to see how fast I can get from Point A to Point B? "Damn, I'm fast!"

But instead I read my book while someone else deals with traffic, worries about making the light, frets over the fool who weaves in and out of traffic seeking to pare seconds in time from his race to work.

Not every day goes this well. Certainly some days suck. But it's mornings like this that would convince anyone to give up "speed" for the calming joys of taking the bus to work.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dreaming of cars and buses

The No. 82 bus today was the newer model with the elevated seats in the back. I took my regular seat in the first elevated row and removed my book from my backpack.

Seated in front and below me was a young man who was reading a free magazine devoted to car dealership advertisements.

"Huge closeout sale!" declared one page. "Your best selection!" promised another. The pages were filled with tiny photos and descriptions of cars and trucks and SUVs just waiting to be driven off the lot.

When I was a child I loved to look at the toy sections of the Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs. All of those toys. The sheer wealth of opportunity dazzled. I knew my mother couldn't afford to buy any of them, but it was still a favorite pasttime. I suppose my fascination with the today's Fry's Electronics ads in The Bee are an adult extension of that childhood activity.

Looking over the shoulder of the man studying the car ads, it wasn't hard to imagine what he was thinking: "The first chance I get, I'm getting a car and I'm never going to ride a bus again!"

In William Burg's book about Sacramento streetcars, Birdie Boyles, who lived during the heyday of trolleys, told how she couldn't wait until she could get her own car and leave the trolleys behind.

And here I am trying to move against the tide, to bring people back to the bus.

A co-worker was discussing transit and Sacramento the other day. She had been walking with an acquaintance who had suffered a stroke and could no longer driver. She now takes buses everywhere. Her one regret, she told my co-worker, is that all of her friends look down on her because she rides the bus.

That, I told my co-worker, is the first thing that needs to change. Something must be done to improve transit's image, to make people believe it's something you would choose to ride.

But what people see and hear instead are stories about bad things that happen on light rail and buses. Over at that RT driver guy's blog, he has a post today about drug dealers who ride the Meadow View line, turning the train into a salon car for their business, working from Meadowview to Alkalai Flat and then back again.

I really wonder sometimes how much RT cares about its image. It is as if management believes its only job is to serve the disabled and those without other options, and therefore there's no need to try to attract others to use the service.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sacramento's Streetcars on the bus

Finished reading "Images of Rail: Sacramento's Streetcars." This is the second of Sacramento writer William Burg's books that I've read while commuting to work.

The books are easy to read and full of photos that bring to life the history of Sacramento.

Talk about the "Good Old Days," look at the book cover photo. That's K Street around 1920. There are five -- count 'em, five -- streetcars on the four blocks between Seventh and Eleventh streets. Over on J Street, the No. 3 car started running 5:30 in the morning and kept running until midnight, and during weekdays the cars ran every five minutes. The idea of five-minute interval service is just too hard to imagine given the woeful state of Sacramento Regional Transit's service.

Of the two books, I enjoyed the streetcars more. And that's not just because I like streetcars. Burg's use of anecdotes from people who lived in the days of Sacramento's streetcar heyday are a lot of fun.

"Sacramento residents Al Balshor and Birdie Boyles both recalled taking the city street car to the New Year's Eve festivities on K Street in the 1930s, when streets were blocked to automobile and streetcar traffic between Fifth and Twelfth Streets. People promenaded through the closed streets, engaging in various forms of gaiety and revelry. Well after midnight, Sacramentans took the streetcar home."
After the discussion of the "Arizona Gang" in the Southside Park book, it was very easy to imagine the scamps tormenting streetcar operators.
"Jack Davis grew up near Line No. 1 and recalled a notorious prank involving the streetcar. By running up behind the car as it went by and grabbing the rope to the active trolley wire, one could yank the pole off the power line, stopping the car dead. This would naturally infuriate the motorman on the car!"
One of the most amazing photos for me didn't have anything to do with street cars. It was a photo of the outside of the Oak Park Theatre during a Saturday matinee showing of the Three Muskateers.

Look at all of those bikes!

I suppose The Sacramento Bee's reaction to the demise of the streetcars on Jan. 4, 1947, reflected the general feeling of the city:
"No longer will the motorman's clang of the warning bell, the shrill grinding of the metal wheels or the earth shaking gyrations of the lumbering cars assail your ears. Instead, the soft purr of Diesel motored passenger buses, their rubber tires caressing the asphalt in an inviting conspiracy of 'safety, comfort and convenience' will beckon quietly for your patronage."
The Bee's editorial concluded with an idea fans of the streetcars of old can all agree with:
"Maybe there is a great beyond to which all well behaved streetcars go when they pass on. And perhaps the old horse cars of yesteryear will be waiting with an understanding welcome in that Valhalla of public transportation's dilapidated souvenirs."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Driving away transit riders

The article in The Bee that so annoyed me in my "A dark transit picture" blog post lingers like a foul odor.

In the Nov. 19 article, interim Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley is quoted suggesting RT may start charging commuters a fee – possibly $1 a day – to park in light-rail park-and-ride lots.

It is understandable why RT would focus on things like charging for parking and making people who get discounts pay more. That's something they can do. It's easy. But easy isn't the answer. In fact, easy is the worst thing Regional Transit could do.

RT needs more riders. Raising the cost of using Regional Transit will likely drive riders away, just as the recent fare hikes did, and making riding transit more expensive certainly won't attract new riders.

Regional Transit needs to work with local, county and state officials to place a premium on free and subsidized employee parking.

The state already has a law in place that requires certain employers who pay for parking and then offer it free to employees to provide a cash equivalent of the parking cost to employees who don't use parking -- to people, for instance, who use transit. Unfortunately, this state program is so limited that it only applies to 3 percent of 11 million parking spaces provided by employers statewide, according to a 2002 Legislative Analyst Office analysis.

Ending free parking is an important avenue for encouraging people to take transit. A 2000 survey of Bay Area commuters discussed in the LAO report found the price of parking has a significant impact on commuting choices.

"The survey found that while 77 percent of commuters drive alone when free parking is available, only 39 percent drive alone when they have to pay to park. Additionally, among commuters with free parking, only 4.8 percent commute by transit. By contrast, among commuters without free parking, 42 percent commute by transit. While many factors -- such as access to reliable transit service and travel time -- influence a person's commute decision, the magnitude of these differences suggests that the presence of free parking plays an important role."

The city and the county have a vested interest here. Getting people to carpool and use transit helps improve traffic congestion. In addition, the region and the state benefit from improvements in air quality produced by reducing the number of automobile trips taken each day. The existing parking cash-out law -- Capter 553, Statutes of 1992 -- was passed to address these very issues.

This is an area Sacramento Regional Transit should be exploring.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A dark transit picture

Yesterday, The Bee did its best to cast Sacramento Regional Transit in the worst possible light, including a selection of very dark photos of women alone on dark station platforms that left no doubt of their intended message. And the combination of the article and the photos was helped along by incompetent caption writing.

What's wrong with this back page caption: "Perris Williams, 19, waits for the light-rail train at the Meadowview station to take her home to the Elk Grove area."

Well, let's start with: Light rail doesn't go to Elk Grove or anywhere near what might be labled "the Elk Grove area."

The image of a woman waiting at night, alone, at the end of the Meadowview light rail line for a nonexistent train to Elk Grove certainly underlines the next sentence of the caption: "Critics of the transit system say it’s limited in range and inconvenient, factors that both stand as barriers to increased ridership."

Of course, no story about transit would be complete without a reference to "those people."

In a survey, three of 10 riders said they're uncomfortable at times on trains. The complaints include: People who smell bad, talk loudly on cell phones or swear, rowdy teens and the frequent absence of fare checkers to prevent freeloaders.
Three of 10 riders are uncomfortable -- at times? Can we assume that seven in 10 people are comfortable all the time?

The article stirred the nest of transit foes in the local blogosphere. One conservative political blog offered this "insight" before reprinting the entire aritcle:
Issue: In private industry when the consumers won't buy, the business closes. In government, they throw money tax dollars at problem.

1. Why won't the Sacramento government understand they are wasting tax dollars, or does it matter to them?

2. Will the voters throw out those who continue to throw money at a system that commuters do not want to use?

3. How much State money, tax dollars, are being wasted on this system?

4. City admits it is wasting Federal tax dollars on extension of system that won't be used.
I don't expect the newsroom to be an extension of RT's public relations office, but it would help if news articles at least showed some genuine familiarity with the transit service in the region.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Coldest Winter on the bus

Finished reading David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" while riding the bus. By my count, this is the 30th book I have finished since starting my daily commute by public transit in February.

This is Halberstam's last book. He had submitted the final corrections to the publisher just five days before he died in an auto accident in Menlo Park on April 23, 2007. The greatness of this book, the insight Halberstam brings to the topic, his skill as a journalist and historian, makes his death even more tragic.

It is important when exploring history to understand the context within which the decisions were made and the events played out, what the situation looked like to the people at the time. This book does an excellent job. I have read several books on Korea, but this is the first that offers a glimpse into the view of the communist Chinese, who were hungry for international recognition. There also was the tension between Stalin, whose tool North Korea's Kim Il Sung was supposed to be, and Mao, a division that American analysts failed to appreciate in their fixation with a supposed monolithic communist threat.

The Korean "police action," as it became known, is not the stuff Americans wanted to remember, certainly not while the victory of World War II still glowed.

In Korea, the world witnessed the sad state the U.S. military had fallen to, from its ill-trained and ill-equipped troops to its criminally poor leadership, starting with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Here was a war in which the overriding theme was "the great bug out," the panicked retreat of American forces in the face of overwhelming forces, at first North Korean and later Chinese. And after MacArthur's victory at Inchon, the Marine amphibious assault that succeeded in turning the North Korean victory into a defeat, everyone succumbed to the fatal attraction of transforming the rescue of South Korea into a grander unification of all Korea, ignoring -- deliberately on MacArthur's part -- what would happen if China entered the war. The final stalemate -- "die for a tie" -- sealed the war's place in American history, a place on a dark, dusty shelf.

Halberstam lays out in detail the players in this drama and the forces that played on them. This is not a book fans of MacArthur will enjoy. But more important is Halberstam's ability to tell the story of the fighting on the front lines where amid the defeat there coexisted great courage.

[Corporal Berry Rhoden] heard Captain Bartholdi plead to Battalion for the right to release his men: "We cannot hold! Repeat we cannot hold! Our only chance is to disband and let every man get out for himself!" Rhoden had relayed Bartholdi's message, wandering if they might somehow be able to send another battalion to the rescue, or perhaps the Air Force could fly some extra missions at the last minute. That was the way, he remembered, it always happened in the movies. But not this night, not on the east side of the Naktong. He and his own men had fought valiantly, but they had started to run out of ammunition after only forty-five minutes of battle, so when Bartholdi spoke those final desperate words, pleading for the right to slip out, he spoke for Rhoden's squad as well. Back had come a voice from Battalion: "Hold your positions at all costs! You cannot disband. Repeat it is imperative to hold your positions at all costs! You must not disband!" Rhoden relayed that message to Captain Bartholdi, and received one last message from him asking for artillery fire or at least illumination fire. But neither was coming. Then both wires went dead. The North Koreans had obviously cut them. Soon Rhoden heard his end of both dead wires beginning to rustle, and he knew that the North Koreans were pulling on them, trying to locate Rhoden's position. So he cut the wires at his end. Let the sons of bitches pull on a wire that didn't lead anywhere. It was time, he decided to try to get his squad out of there.
Korea, when remembered in context, was an important war, a war that set the boundary for the much larger Cold War, which was then just starting. Speaking of the viewpoint of Korean veterans he interviewed for his book, Halberstam said:
They took pride in one additional thing: that if it had not been a victory in the classic sense, in some way what they had done had worked, because it was the crossing of an existing border in the Cold War; and because they had made their stand, it had not happened again."
This book is not a battle-by-battle replay of the confrontation. Halberstam has focused on battles at key points, interviewing survivors and telling their stories. The march of history from China to Korea and from Korea to Vietnam is amply illuminated. Of particular interest for me was the effect that Korea had on the Democratic Party. The resultant political requirement for Democrats to appear tough on communism lead President Kennedy to draw an unrealistic line in Vietnam, embroiling America unnecessarily in an entirely different fight.

This book is highly recommended.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

High school level blog

Reading Level I'm trying to decide if I should be insulted. I went to The Blog Readability Test and discovered I'm very readable for high school kids. Not exactly the serious thinkers I was hoping to reach. And then I realized that what the test really shows is that I write like a high school kid. Now that is troublesome.

So I ran the RT Driver guy's blog through the readability test. His score: Genius!

Now I'm really worried.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Guy who chases co-eds update

It has been nearly two months since we last heard from the guy who chases co-eds. Perhaps an update is in order.

The guy arrived today, as he always does, scanning the seats of the bus. He turns his head this way and that. He looks down at the nearest seats and then looks up to see the rear. I suspect his peripheral vision isn't very good with his glasses. He always holds the stanchions that run from the seat backs to the overhead handrail. He is very meticulous in his habits.

Pickings were good today. Every seat had at least one occupant, and several of those seats were occupied by women.

The guy tried his luck first near the front, plopping down next to a woman with dark brown hair. From my vantage point in the very back corner of the bus, I couldn't hear which lines the guy tried. I could tell he was saying something. And I could tell from the frozen position of the woman's head that he wasn't getting much if any response.

It wasn't long before he got up and started his slow walk toward the rear of the bus, looking this way and that, moving from stanchion to stanchion.

The back of this old-style bus has three benches, two facing each other on the sides and the back bench facing forward. On the side bus bench sat a young woman with blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun. Her expression is best described as scowling. And if anyone missed the point, she also wore a sweatshirt with the word "Moody" on one breast and on the other a picture of a ringing alarm clock and a very moody looking Tweety Bird.

"I know you," said the guy who chases co-eds. He pointed at the scowling woman and repeated, "I know you."

The scowling woman's expression did not change. She did not move. She did not look at the guy. She did not in any way acknowledge that this guy existed. She sat stone, scowling still.

There was a small space of bench next to the woman, and the guy leaned in that direction as if he might try sitting there, but even a guy as slow as this guy can read such perfectly sculpted body language.

The woman was cold stone still.

The guy instead took a seat across from her and folded his arms across his chest. He rode along like that for several minutes, his gaze wandering around the bus.

Eventually, he got up again and returned to the front of the bus. He sat down alone in the first front-facing seat, the one that folds up to make room for wheelchair riders.

I went back to my book, figuring the story was over. Most days the guy sits alone, not bothering anyone, but obviously wishing he could. He gets to his stop and gets off and everyone goes about their business.

But then a little later when the bus stopped I looked up from my book and watched as a young attractive blonde woman took a seat next to the guy. She immediately started up a conversation that included smiles and lots of eye contact.

The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. Sometimes even crazy people score.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The price of commuting to work (cont.)

Looking over the AAA Your Driving Costs brochure I noticed that when AAA first published its Your Driving Costs in 1950, driving a car 10,000 miles cost 9 cents a mile. That says a lot about what helped fuel the great suburban expansion. But it also says something about why people still commute by car.

According to the Federal Reserve inflation adjustment calculator, it is actually cheaper today to operate a car. The 2007 AAA estimate of the average cost to drive 10,000 miles is just 62.1 cents a mile. If the cost had kept pace with inflation, that 9 cents would be 77 cents today.

On the other hand, the price of a bus ticket has kept pace with inflation. I know from reading William Burg's book on Sacramento's Southside Park that the fare in 1870 for the first trolley in Sacramento was 5 cents, which was the price of a loaf of bread at the time. If we assume the fare was 10 cents in 1913, the earliest year the inflation calculator can use, that's $2.08 in 2007 and that's close to RT's $2 charge for a one-way ticket without a transfer. And, of course, the cheapest bread is still about the price of a bus ticket.

From a transitarian perspective, I can take some comfort in the fact that the price of gas has finally started to outpace inflation. The AAA brochure said gas prices in 1950 were 27 cents a gallon.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be $2.31 today.  Maybe today's $3.40-plus price will move some people to give transit a try.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The price of commuting to work

"Pump price near record," declares The Sacramento Bee in the biggest, blackest headline on the front page of today's Business section.

The average price of gasoline has increased 32 cents in the last month and 50 cents over the last two months, according to AAA of Northern California. The U.S. Department of Energy says the price could rise another 20 cents a gallon by December, according to The Bee's Dale Kasler.

That's a hefty increase in the cost of driving to work in Sacramento, where the Census Bureau says the mean travel time to work is 25.7 minutes.

Compare that with the increase in the price of my commute: Zero. Nada. Zilch.

It’s not like I don’t know the pain of filling up a car. The other day, I took my 1999 Dodge Caravan to get gas. This is the car I used to drive to work. Total cost to fill the tank: $57.94. Thankfully, I now only do this about once a month. I used to fill it up at least once a week.

My commute back when I drove was more than 22 miles roundtrip. If I were to go back to driving, here’s what it would cost me:

Five days a week of 22 miles roundtrip: 110 miles. I get four weeks of vacation and another week’s worth of paid holidays, so I’m driving at least 47 weeks a year: 5,170 miles.

According to the 2006 edition of AAA's Your Driving Costs, a source guaranteed to be friendly to automobile owners, the overall average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 52.2 cents per mile. This estimate of driving costs is based on what AAA describes as an extensive list of factors including the price of gas (and this, remember, is the price in 2006), maintenance, tires, depreciation and insurance. So the cost of just my commute of 5,170 miles would be expected to total a minimum $2,698.74 a year.

Regional Transit monthly passes are $85. I can ride as often as I want, including on the weekend, holidays, when I’m on vacation. Show the pass; get on the bus. It’s that easy. The annual cost: $1,020.

Not a bad deal -- even when you are talking about RT's limited service.

POSTSCRIPT: After I finished this post, I discovered that the 2007 Your Driving Cost is available and even includes the specific cost per mile for minivans.

According to the 2007 edition of AAA's Your Driving Costs, the total cost per mile for owning and operating a minivan and driving less than 10,000 miles is 69.2 cents per mile. So just my commute of 5,170 miles would be expected to cost at a minimum $3,577.64 a year -- three times more than year's monthly passes.

RT needs to do a better job of selling the benefits of riding transit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sometimes relying on transit just sucks

If I am going to be an advocate for transit, especially someone who encourages people to leave their cars at home and rely on Sacramento Regional Transit, then I feel I must be honest: Sometimes relying on RT just sucks.

It's not that I don't get to work. It's the little things, the thousand cuts I endure.

This morning I boarded my regular bus, the No. 82 that leaves American River College at 8:04 a.m. I had a substitute driver. Or maybe they've rotated drivers and this is my new driver. I can never tell. Anyway, I took my regular seat in the first elevated row in the rear of the bus and settled in to read my book.

The ride was uneventful until we reached Morse and Hurley. We stopped and picked up someone waiting at the stop. As the bus started to pull away from the curb I could see a young man running across Hurley, waving that he wanted to catch the bus.

"Hey, you have a runner there," I called out. Maybe, I thought to myself, the driver didn't see the guy. At least I tried.

The bus was no more than three feet from the curb and moving very slowly when the guy reached the bus. He was standing in the street right outside the door asking the driver to open the door.

The driver ignored him and drove off.

Several riders near me commented that the driver could have stopped -- should have stopped. It always bothers me when a driver does that. It left a dark cloud over me for the rest of the trip.

And then the driver rammed an exclamation point into my miserable bus ride.

The No. 82 is scheduled to arrive at the 65th Street transit center at 8:53 a.m., leaving plenty of time to catch the 9:03 train downtown. But today the bus pulled into the center at 9:04, just in time to allow the passengers to watch the train arrive and depart the station before the bus reached its stop.

If the driver had picked up the guy, I could have written off the extra 15 minutes that missing the train added to my commute. I would have considered it a fair trade, an example of transitarian values. But to have a driver abandon someone who wanted to ride, and then still arrive late was just too much.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Not from my transitarian view.

I walked over to where I normally wait for the downtown train. I had just pulled out my book and was preparing to read while I waited for the next train when my cell phone rang.

It was my son. He was calling from El Camino High School. He couldn't reach his mother, who works in Rancho Cordova. He was sick and needed to go home.

And what could I do standing at the 65th Street light rail station without a car?

The Sacramento Transportation Management Association offers an emergency ride home program. The TMA will pay taxi fare or rental car if you have an emergency or are sick and don't have a car at work to get home because you came to work by transit. But my employer doesn't participate, and therefore I was stuck.

This experience -- get a call from a sick kid at school, have to drop everything and take him home -- is one reason why I stopped riding transit back when my son was in elementary school. Now that he's a teenager, I figured it would be less of an issue.

It's a little more than 2 miles from the school to our house. I told my son he would have to walk.

I wasn't a happy transitarian.

Monday, November 12, 2007

PSR #07-1409 65th Street Station

Got a response to my question about why the buses enter 65th Street from Folsom rather than 65th Street.


Thank you for your inquiry about pedestrian safety at the 65th Street station.

I spoke with one of our Transportation Superintendents and the reason our buses do not go southbound on 65th and turn left onto Q Street is because of complications caused by excessive traffic on 65th Street. At rush hour, when the light rail train comes and the crossing guard comes down, traffic backs up on 65th Street all the way to the Folsom Blvd. intersection. Routing our buses this way would not only introduce more uncertainty into their schedules, but potentially expose them to unsafe conditions in a backed-up intersection. By turning left onto eastbound Folsom, our buses can clear the intersection safely and arrive at their destination at the scheduled time with greater consistency.

I also spoke with a Safety Specialist about your issue and visited the site with him. There are ADA compliant painted crosswalks both at the intersection of 65th Street & Q Street and at 67th Street & Q Street, i.e., at the east end of the bus area, which is what pedestrians should be using to cross the street.

Please also note that RT is currently working with a consultant team on a potential redesign for the 65th Street Station. Based on a presentation I attended about a month ago on initial design concepts, I know that pedestrian safety is one of the issues the project members are striving to improve. I am forwarding a copy of your inquiry, as well as this response, to Fred Arnold, our Director of Real Estate, who is not only RT's lead on the station redesign project, but also RT's representative on the 65th Street Redevelopment Advisory Committee.

RT thanks you for your concern and initiative in bringing this issue to our attention and we realize that jaywalking, running after trains, and other unsafe behavior is bound to happen and should be accounted for as best as possible. However, given the limited ways our buses can safely and reliably enter and exit this station, we will not be changing the alignment at this time.

Thank you again for your interest in Regional Transit.


James Drake
Assistant Planner
Sacramento Regional Transit
In the 10 months I have been traveling into and out of the 65th Street station, I have never seen southbound 65th Street traffic backed up to Folsom. Maybe it happens, but clearly not often enough to suggest that using 65th Street entrance would "potentially expose them to unsafe conditions in a backed-up intersection."

Mr. Drake and RT get consolation points for their timely response.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Light rail, the airport and the future of transit

Saturday, The Sacramento Bee asked the question Does light rail to airport make financial sense? Earlier in the week, Jude Lamare, president of the Friends of Swainson's Hawk, offered an opposing view to a Sacramento Bee editorial "Getting to the future / Transit plan is key to region's well-being." Each, starting from different points, suggests light rail to the airport is unneeded.

I disagree.

The Friends of Swainson's Hawk have the clearer case since their's is the immediate issue of whether the city of Sacramento should allow development of a parcel of land outside the urban services area that had previously been declared hawk habitat. The Sacramento Area Council Of Governments, which is responsible for regional transit planning, and RT, have jumped in on the side of the developer.

SACOG and RT explain (memo to Planning Commission):

The current Federal Transportation Bill will need to be reauthorized by Congress in 2009. We will want Congress to specifically list the complete Downtown to North Natomas to Airport (DNA) light rail line as a project eligible for funding in that bill. ... As the travel model information we have presented you clearly shows, the inclusion of transit riders from the Greenbriar project will significantly improve our argument. Conversely, if the City decides to reject that project now, even if it intends to reconsider its decision at a future date, our argument will be significantly weakened. ...
In addition, the developer has offered to donate the right of way and to build a station, a significant savings. But if Greenbrier remains hawk habitat, there would be no need for a station and the value of the right of way would be significantly reduced. Is SACOG and RT support of the Greenbriar developer's immediate plans and the potential influence of those plans on Congress' support of the project more valuable to the efforts to expand light rail in the region than the benefits that might accrue from remaining neutral on the Greenbriar project?

SACOG is currently putting the finishing touches on its look at regional transportation through 2035, and RT recently launched a parallel effort to revisit its 10-, 20- and 30-year plans. Expansion of transit envisioned in those plans will rely on voter approval of new sources of transit funding. Environmentalists should be transit's natural allies. Alienating them is not in transit's best interests.

The Bee should be promoting transit as an environmentally friendly asset and a valuable investment for the community. The distraction of the "financial sense" of one piece of a much, much larger puzzle just gives ammunition to those who feel all transportation ills would be solved with enough asphalt.

A local blog that routinely republishes the full text of material from The Bee, introduced The Bee's editorial by saying:
[I]f there is any reasonable weighting to what gets funded with local transportation funding, the bulk should go to improving the conditions for the form of transportation heavily favored by an overwhelming majority of people, cars: so lets upgrade and maintain our roadways and bridges.
Planning for the region's future needs to look beyond the horizon. Light rail to the airport is the last phase of a lengthy process. No one is proposing that light rail be built to the airport now. But the goal of eventually reaching the airport pulls the northern expansion of light rail, assisting in the redevelopment of the Richards Boulevard area, getting transit across the river and fulfilling the promise of a Natomas Town Center served by light rail.

The loss of Greenbrier's potential riders may have an impact of cost-benefit analysis of the final stretch of light rail to the airport, but abandoning the goal of reaching the airport will have a much greater impact on the entire effort to make transit an option for more people in the region.

The Bee editorial's view of the situation is exactly backward:
People like the idea of light rail to the airport. It polls well. The Sacramento Transportation Authority has said it is committed to having an additional transportation funding source in place for the county by 2012 that will raise an amount equivalent to a half-cent sales tax, or approximately $100 million a year. The new funding source almost certainly will require a public vote. The project most popular with voters is light rail to the airport. So planning for it is a political plus. But it's not enough to be popular.
If voters are to be asked to pay for expansion of transit, then those expansion plans must include popular options. Failure to do so only undermines the entire effort.

Environmentalists have not been consistent friends of transit. Their parochial concerns -- in this case hawk habitat -- always seem to trump the greater environmental good that making transit a more attractive option could provide. But then developers have shown little interest in transit and seldom can be seen to look above their bottom line.

As a transit enthusiast I feel as if I'm in the middle, voiceless, unrepresented. Transit needs to be something people choose to ride, not just the transportation option of last resort. That can only happen with expansion of transit options in the region.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wachenhut appreciation night

I find the hovering presence of the Wachenhut Security guards who ride Sacramento Regional Transit trains at night comforting. Well, maybe comforting isn't the right word, but hovering is. The yellow and black uniforms remind me of large bumble bees.

Tonight, I was riding on the Watt/I-80 train. I had boarded at 7:45 p.m. at Cathedral Square after attending a gathering for a former colleague.

I was reading my book when I heard a sweeping sound. It was a puzzling sound, one you don't expect on a train. I looked up and saw a Wachenhut Security guard, bent over, using a wadded-up newspaper to sweep the floor. The detritus of the day's passengers flew before him in a cloud. He was working his away from the middle of the train to the rear. As he reached the side door, he brushed the debris into the door well. He then swept his way to the rear of the train, picking up papers and discarded coffee cups as he went. At the next stop he exited the train.

A worker bee, I thought.

Seven or eight young women and a couple of guys of the same age were taking up most of the seats in the rear of the car. They were all smiling and chatting. It all seemed so odd to hear youthful laughter on the train. It was after 8 p.m. by then, and this was not a crowd of tired commuters heading home. This was a party on its way somewhere on a Friday night.

When the train arrived at the end of the line everyone piled out and climbed the stairs. A moment later -- literally a moment, not a second more -- the No. 1 bus I wanted pulled to the curb, and I headed home.

This was a night to restore ones transitarian spirit. It was a nice end to a long week.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

An alternative at 65th Street

While I was watching two blind RT customers being left behind by the light rail train at the 65th Street Station on Tuesday, Sacramento City Councilmen Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty were across the street at the SMUD auditorium listening to constituents discuss "traffic, light rail, buses and other transportation types with members of your neighborhood." Coffee and cookies were promised.

I hate to miss out on free cookies. However, it's probably best that I didn't go because it wasn't until after I watched the blind woman run across Q Street in her valiant attempt to catch the train that I realized there is a simple way to improve safety and perhaps reduce the number of times riders are left behind.

Below is a aerial view of the intersection of Folsom Boulevard and 65th Street and the transit center to the south.

Currently, buses arriving from the west, east and north enter the 65th Street Transit Center from Folsom Boulevard using an unnamed side street a half-block east of 65th Street. The buses then wend their way around the bus lot to their designated stops. The blue line shows the route taken by buses arriving from Sacramento State.

Having the buses offload passengers at the bus stop invites riders transferring to light rail to jaywalk across Q Street.

Beyond the jaywalking hazard, this meandering course is particularly unkind to passengers on those occasions when the bus enters the center just as the train is rolling into the station. More often than not, passengers hoping to catch the train will instead watch it depart before the bus comes to a stop or, worse, run for the train but arrive too late.

The red line shows my suggested alternative route. These buses would use the left turn lane off 65th Street to enter Q Street, where they would stop adjacent to the light rail station. The green line illustrates the bus entering the transit center to pick up riders.

Wednesday morning, the No. 82 bus I rode to work took two blind gentleman to the 65th Street station. One man was headed downtown on the train, and the other was making a bus connection. Wednesday, the blind man headed for the train had to make his way alone across Q Street. With my alternate routing, he could have been dropped off at the station and the other blind man dropped off where the bus picks up passengers.

Beyond this safety issue, this change might -- maybe, perhaps, if RT really does care about riders and isn't just pretending -- make it possible to better coordinate buses and light rail.

As things work now, the train operator can't be expected to know what's going on across Q Street in the bus center. But if the buses dropped off passengers right next to the station, then even a cursory glance at the side-view mirrors outside the cab would reveal people hurrying to the train.

I made this suggestion to RT and got this back:

Thank you for contacting Regional Transit. An Passenger Service Report has been filed with our Planning Department with your comments and suggestion. Reference number 07-1409 has been assigned to your PSR. The appropriate supervisor will review your comments and suggestion within a reasonable time from receipt.
Do you suppose I can hold my breath a reasonable time from receipt?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

RT's blind customer service

I wonder sometimes about the operators of the light rail trains, isolated in their cabs, separated from the people they are transporting. Are they deliberately mean, or just uncaring?

Last night, the No. 82 bus pulled into the 65th Street transit center just as the light rail train headed toward downtown was entering the station. It was 6:32 p.m.

In the bus, I could see two people standing in the door. I've been there. You are on the bus and you see the train pulling into the station, and you are wondering if you will have time to run from the bus and across Q Street to the train before the train doors lock.

Only tonight the two anxious bus riders couldn't see the train. They were blind.

When the bus came to a stop and the front door opened I immediately recognized the blind twenty-something blonde co-ed wearing a gray Sacramento State sweatshirt. I've seen her several times on the bus between Sacramento State and light rail.

The woman bounded from the bus in a remarkable display of sightless prowess. She quickly negotiated the step off the curb onto Q Street and then raced across the street, waiving her cane to warn when she reached the other curb.

I watched in amazement as she flew through the station to the train in time to open the car door. Only then, as she stood partway in the doorway, did I realize that there was a young blind man following her. He was clearly not as sure of himself as he cautiously made his way across Q Street tapping with his cane.

As I boarded the bus I heard the woman yell for the man to hurry. Everyone on the bus stopped to watch what was happening at the train.

Just as the man reached the woman, the train doors closed. The woman pushed the unresponsive door button several times.

The mechanical voice of the train announced the train was departing. Bells chimed and the running lights flashed. Then the train rolled away, leaving the blind woman and the blind man behind.

Later, as our bus was about to head out onto 65th Street, we crossed paths with the blind couple. They were walking together away from the station.

"Man, I got them there in time, but they missed the train," the driver lamented out loud.

The driver wasn't the only person on the bus disappointed by Sacramento Regional Transit that night.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bus driver appreciation night

Last night I needed to rescue the wife's car from the evil dealer service department. Earlier in the day, the car's computer had declared an emergency, and the wife, ever mindful of what happens to the new car warranty if you ignore the emergency engine warning light, took the car to the dealer. After a day of testing, the evil dealer service department declared nothing was wrong with the car. Of course, nothing wrong isn't free. No, you pay to find out nothing is wrong. If something had been found wrong, the evil dealer service department representative explained, then the manufacturer of the car would have paid for the repairs under the warranty. I am thinking Kafka worked out this deal. As compensation for my confusion the evil dealer service department gave me a break on the price I paid for its failure to find anything wrong with the car.

So, a little dazed after going around in circles on the phone with the evil dealer service department, I found myself taking a seat on the No. 26 bus at the 65th Street light rail station. The bus was late into the station, and the driver pulled away from the curb as soon as everyone waiting had boarded.

We didn't get more than three feet before the driver stopped to let a late arrival board.

"Hurry up," the driver called to the guy. "We're already eight minutes late."

The guy said his thanks as he paid his fare and took a seat, and we were on our way -- almost.

"There's a runner," one of the passengers looking out the window called to the driver.

You could feel the driver's hesitance. Stop? Keep going? Stop?

The bus sighed and stopped. And waited. And waited. The runner was now walking.

"Come on," called the driver.

A disheveled man stumbled aboard and immediately started ranting about the train and the bus and about this and about that and finally the driver said, "OK, OK. You're on the bus now. Take a seat so we can go."

The guy took the seat immediately behind me, and a smell of vomit and urine and unwashed bodies sat down next to me.

And then, just to show once again that no good deed (in this case giving this guy a ride) goes unpunished, the guy turned on a cheap transistor radio. The radio couldn't hold a signal more than a few seconds and the guy apparently thought that radio reception was a function of volume. He turned the volume to max and searched for a station.

I'm not real good at reading while someone is playing a radio behind me, but I made an effort. At least the smell had vacated my seat after someone opened a window.

It took a while, but eventually the driver called out, "Turn off that radio."

"I'm looking for a station," the guy replied.

"Turn off the radio," the driver repeated.

"What type of music do you like?" asked the guy. "Jazz? I'm looking for some old school. Anyone know what station that is? Is that 101?"

The guy continued his search.

At the next stop the driver turned off the interior lights and then shut down the engine. This got almost everyone's attention. The great radio station hunt continued in the back of the bus.

The driver started the engine and turned the lights back on. He then turned around in his seat so that he could be seen in the back of the bus and said, "We're not going anywhere until that radio is turned off."

"I just want to go to the Watt light rail station," the guy replied.

"Fine. We'll go when the radio is turned off," the driver said.

After a moment of thoughtful consideration, the guy turned off the radio.

Not long after, my stop arrived. I considered asking the guy if he wanted to accompany me to the evil dealer service department. I wanted to plant him and his radio in front of the service desk and let the evil dealer service department representative explain how warranty service prompted by the car's emergency engine warning light is only covered if a repair is made.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Between good and better trip planners

When I first used Sacramento Regional Transit's online trip planner at I thought I had found the perfect tool for getting the most out of RT's service. This was certainly more useful than sitting on hold for several minutes and then discussing your options with a 321-BUSS person.

And then Google launched its Google Transit service and added Sacramento's routes. The differences are noticeable.

Here's a for instance: I wanted to visit the Vedanta Society of Sacramento garden on Saturday afternoon.

Infoweb's answer: Give up, no way, is that on this planet?

The actual wording was:

I'm having trouble planning your trip. This is due to one of the following reasons...
  • 1. Your origin or destination are not within .4 mile of a transit stop, or they are outside of our service area. If you are within our service area, try using a nearby Landmark or major intersection which is more likely to have a stop nearby. If you are outside our service area, please consider traveling to/from one of our Light Rail stations (listed in Landmarks).
  • 2. There is no service on the day or at the time you've requested. Please try a different date or time.

Google, on the other hand, suggested a nice fall afternoon walk might be in order.

OK. So maybe a walk that Google estimates would take about 45 minutes is so long as to be the same outcome as RT suggested: You can't get there from here. But at least Google's trip planner gave an option that allowed the person taking the trip to understand why it might not be doable.

At the very least, the web site should allow users to set the acceptable walking distance. The 0.4 mile limit may be necessary for elderly passengers, but healthy middle-age men should be expected to walk a mile without discomfort. Besides, with RT's spotty coverage in suburban areas, the 0.4 walking limit makes RT service look worse than it is, especially when dealing with weekend service outside downtown.

Now when I was planning with this I was willing to give RT's service a pass. But then I checked whether it would be possible to make the same trip during a weekday afternoon when RT has its entire fleet on the streets. The outcome was a big surprise.

I asked about leaving Edison and Eastern and heading for 1337 Mission Ave. at 2:35 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5. RT insisted it still couldn't be done.

And then I asked Google Transit about the same departure time and addresses and got these three options:

There's no walking involved. Sure it's not exactly a quick trip, but if that's the criteria, little that RT offers will be acceptable. Why are these options not offered by RT's trip planner?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Real-time transit info

I've been following some fascinating ideas over in the Google Group discussing Google's new transit mapping service. A guy in Lawrence, Kansas, has an intriguing idea about how to marry microtargeted advertising and transit.

"When we pitched this we did it as a vendor owned system. i.e. the [transit agency] gets a tracking system, we get a digital, location-based advertising platform. This means that we get to control the large LCD displays on the outside of the vehicles as well as smaller displays on the inside. ... The goal is to be able to provide a reliable broadband service on the buses in addition to providing location services and route planning."
This is cool.

As the bus approaches, say, Target, the LCDs on the outside of the bus and inside announce the specials of the day. It is like having a rolling billboard that reaches people immediately outside the store, which should be very attractive to merchants.

Meanwhile at the bus stop, a sign connected to the same system announces when the bus will arrive.

RT will have GPS tracking on the next group of new buses, but that doesn't do anything for the older coches.

RT is testing a sign system that could be used to alert riders about disruptions in service. Unfortunately, the signs they have put up at a handful of light rail stations are so tiny as to be useless. At 16th Street, the sign is near the boarding area for Meadowview and Folsom trains. Across two tracks and a half-block away, where people wait for Sacramento Valley Station and Watt trains, the sign can't be read. But even if the signs were larger and more numerous, the system won't be able to tell RT customers when the next bus or train will come along because, without the GPS systems, RT doesn't know where the buses and trains are.

What's especially attractive about Lawrence, Kansas, idea is that the transit agency doesn't have to shell out any money. The people selling the advertising cover the district's equipment cost.

The future for transit requires that people choose to use it. Real-time scheduling info at stations would bring more people onto buses and light rail.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The rapper and the kids

I was reading my book in the farthest reaches of the the bus, squeezed into the driver's side corner on the back bench. Across from me in the other corner, two teenage boys had taken seats, one on the back bench and the other on the bench that runs along the side of the bus.

The boys, one black and the other brown, were sharing a bottle of some sort of juice and talking. I wondered for a moment why they weren't in school, but the thought didn't keep me from returning to my book.

A couple of stops later a 20-something young black man joined us in the back of the bus, taking a seat in the middle of the back bench. He was carrying a backpack, and so I assumed he was a Sacramento State student.

I had gone back to my book but soon I started catching pieces of a conversation between the guy and the boys. The guy had given each a slick cardboard flier, about 4 inches by 5 inches in size, advertising what was, apparently, his new rap album.

He was mentioning people he knows in the industry, and the kids were lapping it up. They were clearly impressed. I could only hear bits of the conversation. At one point the guy was discussing a particular song and sang a couple of lines from it.

And then he asked the boys, "Why aren't you in school?"

The boys said they are homeschooled, part of a "choices" program. They have to check in with a teacher periodically.

"What? You get credit for riding around on the bus," the guy asked.

"Yes," said the black kid. "We see a teacher once a week."

"And we can graduate early," said the other kid.

"That's not right," the guy said.

I really wish I could reproduce the guy's patois. He sounded a lot like American Idol judge Randy Jackson, telling the kids, "You know, dawg, . . ." He went into a lengthy explanation of the value of attending high school, the socialization of the experience, learning how to deal with other people, getting ready for the outside world. That at least was the gist of the message.

"When I graduated from high school I was really glad I went," he told the kids.

The guy rode all the way to the 65th Street station. When he got off the bus I asked him for one of his fliers, and I told him how impressed I was with what he said about high school.

He said something about taking care of his audience or kids or something -- I really need a tape recorder -- and walked to the train station with the two kids shadowing him.

SWS aka Frankee Nuklls

This is from the guy's myspace page:
He has been working hard day & night , burning the stick @ both ends to prepare for a summer release of his new album "Guess Who's Back?" SWS has Ex. Produced/Financed with his own money , every project he has done..*(PS-HE NEVER SOLD DOPE TO GET AHEAD WHEN SHIT GOT RUFF-Dont Hate) With a brief layoff do to attending MTI & getting his AA in Computers/Business. SWS has returned with one of his best albums to date. But dont take our word listen and learn. SWS is a true hip-hop artist with unbelievable potential. So if you if your game aint tight it might be time to tighten it up. SWS is determined to make the world sit up and take notice. SWS is one of the best lyricyst from the Bay Area. As a matter fact One of the Best Period...!
If the guy's career in music doesn't pan out he should try the inspirational lecture circuit. The local school districts should hire him to give motivational talks to at-risk kids.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Can I do it just until I need glasses?

Today on my way to work a woman sat next to me. "You're lucky you can read on the bus," she said. "If I read on the bus I get sick." She takes a book along to read between buses, she explained, but she's left to watch the scenery once the bus starts.

I'm on my 30th book since I started riding buses and light rail to work in February. The big reason why I'm willing to lengthen my commute from an average of about a half-hour to more than an hour is the time it provides for reading. Yes, it is also more relaxing than driving and certainly less stressful, but the ability to read books is the real selling point. Reading is not easy for me. I have to work at it. Before I started taking transit to work I might read a couple of books a year, but never as many as I wanted. It was simply too difficult to carve out time after work.

This morning I was having trouble reading my book. It doesn't help that I'm reading a 600-plus page hardback. The thing is unwieldy and heavy. But something else was up, something with my eyes. I'm hoping it is just something leftover from the eye exam yesterday. The doctor said my eyes are fine, or at least correctable.

Of course, my real fear is that reading on the bus will cause me to go blind. Or grow hair on the palm of my hand.

When I was a child I couldn't read in a car without getting carsick. But I could eat chocolate. Now I can't eat chocolate without feeling nauseous. But I can read on the bus. I consider that a fair trade, although I have friends who think a life without chocolate would be unendurable.

I don't know what I would do if I couldn't read on the bus.