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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Five obstacles to riding transit

The other day I asked the wife to list five obstacles that keep people from riding transit. On top of the list was the obvious schedule issue in combination with the location of stops. That was followed closely by the perception of safety that merges into the uncomfortable feeling one gets when required to sit with strangers. Finally, was the bag problem.

This is why I asked the wife. There are things I just don't know about. Bags fit here.

It turns out that the wife sees transit as an obstacle to successful shopping. You can't conveniently carry bags on the bus or the train. At least not the trophies from a really good day at the mall.

So, in my manly way, I scoffed at this bag idea and declared it a girl thing. After all, this is easy to illustrate. Consider the phrase "bag lady" and the phrase "bag man." The gangster lackey who collects the proceeds from the numbers racket is just not the same as the homeless woman. Bags make the difference.

This all came to mind Sunday while I was riding a standing-room-only single-car train from downtown to meet the wife at the Roseville Road park-and-ride lot.

Of the five obstacles, I had the inconvenience of a Sunday schedule. The location issue came up when I wanted to get from the Amtrak station to the Watt-bound train. As I walked from the Amtrak train, I watched the outbound Folsom light rail train leave the station. Rather than wait around for the next train, I walked to St. Rose of Lima station.

Then there was the crowded train. I don't know how much money Sacramento Regional Transit saves running single-car trains, but it can't cover the lost patronage it creates when a gray-haired middle-class couple board a train only to find they'll have to share a seat.

The only thing I didn't have a problem with was bags. At least not until the train reached the Alkali Flat station.

I was seated in the last seat in the train and there was a great deal of commotion behind me. I turned to see two giant garbage bags filled with recyclable plastic bottles being shoved onto the train.

At this point I have to underline "giant." I have never before seen garbage bags as tall as a grown man and so wide they barely fit the door. These were not just big.

Pushing the bags was a guy who was dragging a bicycle with him. And just to add to this Labor Day Weekend scene, behind him was another guy with a bike and a bag of glass recyclables. Thankfully, the glass bag was more modest.

Together, the two bikes and three bags filled the rear platform. The rest of the train was soon filled with the smell. It was like riding in a recycling dumpster.

One woman opened the small window above her seat. When the guy across the aisle discovered his window was locked, the woman walked over and showed him how to unlock it by sliding a credit card between the window and the frame. You have to wonder where people pick up these talents.

When the train reached the Royal Oaks station, the bicycling recyclers dragged their bags and bikes off the train, leaving behind the lingering smell and a pool of liquid that had seeped from the bags.

"See," I said to the wife when she met me at the train. "Bags are not a problem on the train."

2 comments:

Robert said...

Then there was the crowded train. I don't know how much money Sacramento Regional Transit saves running single-car trains, but it can't cover the lost patronage it creates when a gray-haired middle-class couple board a train only to find they'll have to share a seat.

Seriously? Yeah, sometimes you have to sit next to a stranger on the train.

If so many seats are empty that you can always find a way to sit by yourself, there are too many trains running.

John said...

If so many seats are empty that you can always find a way to sit by yourself, there are too many trains running.

Granted: People need to get over this problem with sitting with strangers. And, yes, RT can't afford to run empty trains. But standing-room-only on a Sunday afternoon is just rude. I don't believe the "savings" from running an overfull train is worth the price paid in potential customers turned off to transit's many, many benefits.