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

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.

1 comment:

wburg said...

Issue: In private industry when the consumers won't buy, the business lobbies for a federal subsidy. The best federal subsidy is found in the form of a project that your business technically has nothing to do with, but makes your project far more useful, and therefore far more profitable: freeways, for example, are only useful because we have cars.

1. They're only "wasting" tax dollars in the eyes of those who wouldn't take public transit no matter how nice it is. Those transit riders without cars certainly don't consider transit dollars to be wasted.

2. No, because many of them do want to use it, it's just more difficult to use than their car (in part because of cultural unfamiliarity with transit.)

3. Open-ended rhetorical questions deserve a Bronx cheer. *pblfft*

4. The first sentence is a fallacy, but on the second I'd agree that folks who write should make an effort to have some familiarity with their subject. I am discovering that a journalist doesn't always have this ability, given the wide range of topics an editor may drop in their lap, but it's something to shoot for.