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 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.


qofd said...

I think perhaps some of the stigma of riding RT comes from the perception that only people who can't afford cars ride the bus and lightrail.

Attitudes might change if riders were perceived as "choosing to" ride rather than "having to" ride. Maybe?

John said...

Some bus lines are filled with "choice" riders, but most are not.

The No. 30 line, which runs every 15 minutes between Sac State and the Amtrak Station has mostly state workers and students.

The bus that runs between Watt/Manlove light rail and Antelope, on the other hand, has very few people with a choice about using buses. (At least on the few occasions I've taken this bus.)

This is something that could be changed if RT paid more attention to what needs to be done to make transit a real choice.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the new Subaru Outback Sport? It's soooooo cute. It's also parked in my garage at home, where it's going to stay while I become a "choice" RT rider again. I tried RT in 2005, but went back to driving my 14-mile roundtrip and parking in a company-paid-for parking garage next door to my office. RT was too frustrating, and I kept an online journal for a while to express those frustrations. I think RT deserves a second chance. By choice, I've been taking the bus downtown since Oct. 5. The cost has been $4 five days a week. In early November, I gave up my parking garage pass in exchange for an RT pass, which begins in December, as I want to do my part to decrease traffic congestion and lessen my carbon footprint.

John said...

Hey, Anonymous!

Garaged Subaru during the week; weekend ski trips in the Subaru. Wouldn't that be a perfect world?

I heartily recommend restarting your journal about your experience. There are several RT drivers blogging, but I believe I'm the only rider who is routinely writing from the back of the bus.

I would love to have someone to compare notes with.

If you don't want to start your own blog and would consider posting your experiences here, contact me at jlhughes @ gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

John, My most recent notes aren't pretty. For example, there's the woman at the back of the bus yesterday late afternoon who is screaming about murders in the 1820s and her involvement in them. We heard the gory details from 9th until Sac. State. On the same trip, there's the man who requests the stop at Mercy Hospital. After the driver makes the stop without being prompted, he walks back to awaken the man. "Sir, here's your stop," he said. Eventually, the passenger stumbles down the aisle and down the steps. And don't forget the woman at Sac. State this morning who is shouting for the bus to arrive. Once the bus does and she boards, she was fine. From what I could tell, she needed only the driver's reassurance that she would arrive at her destination by 8.

John said...

This is an interesting matter of perspective. It's also an example of why more riders need to comment.

First, I too want my crazy people quiet. But you have to admit, the crimes of the 1820s might be more interesting to listen to than the muffled lyrics of music that manages to escape from the various forms of headphones put to use today. (And I won't even begin to discuss the crime of cell phone speakers playing mp3s.)

As for the sleeping guy and the driver. That's a "Driver Appreciation Day" moment. I'd much rather applaud the driver's extra effort than worry about why the guy was asleep.

The shouting lady, I've been there, although I tend to mumble rather than shout. In a perfect world, major transfer centers such as Sac State (29th St., 65th St., etc.) would be equipped with reader boards explaining the expected arrival and departure times. (See this post.)