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, June 24, 2008

Transit beyond commuting

An afternoon trip from home to midtown on the bus always feels different. It's just not the same as commuting to work in the morning.

Who are these people riding the bus at 2 p.m.? On the No. 82 today they were mostly younger. In fact, I was noticeably skewing the average age for most of the trip. At one point after a retired couple left the bus I was the oldest rider. I was thankful when, a short while later, another retired couple joined the bus.

The afternoon crowd, while young, has a distinct blue-collar feel. You seldom see suits on the bus, but office attire is common. But in the afternoon even office attire is rare.

* * *

At Sac State I transferred to a No. 30 for the trip into midtown. With No. 30's mostly 15-minute service, it has a much more relaxed feel, and it's a very different crowd from the No. 82. Today it was very much an older crowd.

At one point, the bus had two motorized chairs and a woman with a walker. It was a tight fit up front. Then as the bus approached Sutter's Fort I heard the driver say, "This one's going to have to wait."

The bus stopped and the driver told a waiting motorized chair rider that there wasn't any room for a third wheelchair.

As the bus pulled away, leaving the guy to wait for the next bus, I was struck by the thought: What's riding the bus going to be like after the majority of the baby boom generation has retired to their motorized chairs?

* * *

To finish my trip I rode out of town on a four-car Folsom-bound train. From experience, I know that at 6 p.m. this train will have many empty seats in the fourth car, even with the recent increase in ridership. But today at 4:30 p.m., all four cars had people standing in the aisles. I've never traveled with that many people before. It felt like I was riding a real transit system.

But as I rode with this crowd of office workers headed home, I wondered how many would happily drop riding the train if the price of gas fell below $3 again. I don't see people forced to ride transit really embracing it. And people who begrudge their reliance on transit are less likely to support increasing taxes to support the system.

Riding to meet the wife for the ride home, I wondered: How do you convert these necessitarians into transitarians? It's a puzzle.


wburg said...

RT's best-case funding scenario included a possible streetcar line up J Street all the way to Sac State, then turning north past Cal Expo (and the possible arena) to meet up with Light Rail at Royal Oaks or Swanston.

One thing about streetcars, especially modern low-floor models: Because they ride a lot smoother than buses, you can include more standee room--which can be utilized as more wheelchair/walker room. More comfort, more capacity, similar cost: that's how you get your choice riders. The people who don't recognize buses as public transit *will* ride a streetcar.

John said...

Ooh! Streetcar up J Street and on to Cal Expo! Now, that would be a nice trick.