Monthly Archives: December 2006

December Golden Transfer

Golden Transfer This month’s Golden Transfer goes to Evan Siroky, a recent UW graduate and self-described “transit freak.” Evan is car-free by choice, and though only a few months into his first professional job, he’s already in a far better financial position than most of his peers. In addition to saving lots of money by not owning a car, he’s also earning lots of money by working a second job, as (it doesn’t get better than this, folks) a rider information specialist for Metro. Says Evan,

Almost every weekend I religiously go to King Street Center to tell people how to get from one place to another using public transportation. I, too, am carless and enjoy this lifestyle. Not owning a car saves me money, it is safer, and it is always a fun way to start a conversation. I now know almost every bus route in King, Pierce, and Snohomish County. People at my frat even started calling me Mapquest!

Evan S

I met Evan a few weeks ago–to talk transit, of course. Would that all rider information specialists were as knowledgeable and passionate about transit as he is! Because he’s car free, the man knows his bus routes, and he actually spends his spare time creating tools that help him do his job better. Some examples:

A map of all of the park & rides in King County
A map of all the transfer centers in King County

He created the maps using Windows Live Local‘s “collection” feature. (I’m using the same tool to create interactive maps of bus routes I like. I’ll post the first one soon.) They do take a bit of time to load, so be patient.

Thanks, Evan, for providing an example of the benefits of a bus-based life, and for doing your part to make it easier for others to ride.

Nights out, bus-chick style

Car free but like to party? Some tips from last week’s Real Change column:

A few weeks ago, you learned how to look fabulous while riding the bus. Now, let’s explore how to take your fabulous self out for the evening.

If you’ve followed the first rule of car-free living — move to a transit-friendly neighborhood, preferably close to downtown — you’ll find plenty of options for eating, drinking, dancing, watching, listening, and meeting a short walk or bus ride from your home. With no car to worry about, you can hop on the bus to Benaroya Hall or Belltown without giving a second thought to parking availability or costs. If you want to have a few drinks while you’re out (remember, I said a few), go ahead. After all, you’re not driving home.

Going out without a car does require some adjustments. Even in the most transit-friendly areas, your travel is limited by bus schedules. (I call this phenomenon the Buschickrella Syndrome.) If the last bus leaves before you are ready to end your night, you can use a few of the thousands of dollars you’ve saved on transportation to take a cab.

Spontaneous trips to inconvenient locations will require planning and will therefore happen far less frequently, but if you are willing to take advantage of the many dining and entertainment opportunities you can reach on the bus or on foot, you will hardly notice this.

Attending private parties without a car can also be a challenge. Unlike a movie or a concert, a party doesn’t have a specified end time. If it’s fun, you’ll probably want to stay until they kick you out of the joint. Unfortunately, unless all your friends have been wise enough to choose transit-friendly neighborhoods, many of the parties you are invited to are likely to be in areas with spotty (or nonexistent) late-night bus service.

You can rent a Flexcar for these occasions, but since Flexcar charges by the hour, and the car will spend most of the evening parked in someone’s driveway, I recommend it only as a last resort. Carpooling is sometimes an option. (Evite has streamlined this process by building a carpooling option into their software.) If you carpool, make sure to offer the driver gas money so the ride is mutually beneficial.

Usually, the best option will be to work with the bus service that’s available. If you opt to ride the bus, make sure you:

• Know how often the route you’re riding runs and when the last one leaves.
• Let the host know in advance that you have to leave at a specific time. A sudden and unexpected departure is often met with protest.
• Plan to leave at least 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to. It’s no fun to rush out the door without a proper goodbye.

Besides, you wouldn’t want the other guests to see you without your glass slippers.

Until there’s a biometric option…

Sound Transit or Metro? Peak or off peak? One zone or two? Pay as you enter or as you leave? If you hate keeping track of this stuff (or carrying extra change in your wallet to supplement your pass), you’ll be happy to know that Metro, Sound Transit, and several other regional transit agencies are in the process of testing that smart-card-based, regional fare system I mentioned back in August. (In fact, I think the test was scheduled to end on 12/22.) Though I don’t regularly ride any of the participating routes, I’ve seen a few of the card readers in the course of my travels. Here’s one:

Orca smart-card reader

Apparently, they keep track of the time (peak or off peak) and location (ride free or fare), and (I assume, since I’ve never ridden with anyone who actually has one) automatically deduct the proper amount from a rider’s “e-purse.” Nice.

Last month, a few of you wrote to say that you planned to participate in this test. How did it go?

Westbound 2, 5 PM

A woman and man, apparently colleagues, are sitting together in the back.

Woman, to the man: “My lab is on the 4th floor, across from the grad students’ office, and the room across from the break room–you know, that room where everyone goes to drink their lattes–that’s my tissue-culture room.”

Two more reasons to ride

1. Free money!
And, no, I’m not talking about the thousands of dollars you’ll save on transportation. Check it:

SPOKANE, Wash. — A mysterious woman hopped aboard buses, greeted passengers with “Merry Christmas” and handed each an envelope containing a card and a $50 bill before stepping off and repeating the process on another bus.

Thanks Chris (and everyone) for sending the story.

2. Unexpected winter views of Tahoma
Drivers have to watch the road; riders get to watch the mountain.

Going car-free: the quick and dirty

Since early November, I’ve devoted my Real Change column to a series of how-to articles for people who want to give up their cars. So far, I’ve written five, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. After all, there’s a lot to say; Chris Balish wrote an entire book on the subject.

Yesterday, I found wikiHow, a wiki site with a how-to focus. Lo and behold–they have useful and informative one-pager about going car free: “How to Live without a Car.” Here’s a taste:

Living without a car can be pretty tough, especially in the U.S., where public transportation is frequently lacking and where questionable urban planning has caused the average person to live far away from workplaces, schools, and markets. That said, it’s certainly possible, as long as you’re willing to change your lifestyle. Some of the suggestions below are easy for anybody, while others require more sacrifice. The sacrifice, however, may benefit you immensely once you consider the staggering cost of owning a vehicle …

The rest of the article is a list of basic steps you should take and tools you will need to find success living without a car. It ain’t perfect (I don’t, for example, agree that you need “a friend [who is] willing to drive you around”), but it’s a doggone good start.

More fun articles on wikiHow:

How to Ride a Public Transportation Bus
How to Remain Standing While Riding a Bus
How to Ride the Bus Safely and Enjoy Yourself

The quality of articles can hardly compete with those on Wikipedia, mostly because this site doesn’t have nearly the number of eyeballs on it. Still, it’s cool that folks are putting this information out there. Perhaps you experienced riders might want to share some of your expertise. When I get a moment, I’m going to.

Eastbound 4, 8-ish

A man and a woman who apparently know each other meet in the aisle on the way to their seats.

Woman: “Hey, stranger! You make it through OK?”
Man: “I just got back in town. I couldn’t take it.”
Woman: “Well, you better turn right back around. We’re about to get another d*mn storm. And I just got my lights back on!”

As they continue to talk windstorms and lost power, the man in front of me sits on a tube of toothpaste. He tries to clean it, then gives up and moves.

The seat, post toothpaste accident (note the tube in the crack between the seat and the wall)

Later, at Jefferson and 14th, a very drunk (the kind of drunk you can smell coming) man gets on, muttering to himself in a thick accent.

“I’m going to a celebration of my people, in Africa, where it doesn’t rain. Not like here. Here it rains every f-ing day.”

Through all of this, Smooth Jazz is at the wheel. Smooth Jazz makes everything aaalllll riiiight.

Back to buses (sort of)

(Thanks to Peter Folger, bus nerd extraordinaire, for these links.)

Despite their high costs (approximately 60% more than diesel models), hybrid buses are becoming a popular choice for North American transit agencies:

DaimlerChrysler, whose Orion brand has close to a 60 per cent market share, estimates that, based on existing orders, the number of hybrid buses on US and Canadian streets will grow by three-quarters over the next year from 1,200 to 2,100.

“They’re selling very well,” says Brian Macleod, senior vice-president at Gillig, a Californian bus manufacturer.

Since Gillig began commercial production of hybrid buses in 2005, these models have grown to a fifth of its output. By contrast, hybrids make up less than 1.5 per cent of US car and light-truck sales.

According to the article, hybrids are ideal for the kind of stop-and-go driving that buses do, since braking charges the battery.

Speaking of hybrids…

A Japanese rail manufacturer is working on a bus/train combo vehicle:

JR Hokkaido, a Japanese rail firm, is poised to fully launch its dual-mode bus and rail vehicle. The bus-train has both rubber and steel tires, allowing it to switch between regular roads and railroad tracks with ease.

Apparently, the operating costs for these cars are significantly lower than for other types of rail cars. The intention is to use them for lines that have low daily ridership.

Speaking of trains…

Erica Barnett’s been checking out the new rail line in Denver:

Here, in a city pretty much no one would regard as cutting-edge (the girls are still wearing tube-tops; the guys still favor large wire-framed Dick Cheney glasses), light rail has managed to take thousands of cars off the road. Surveys found that nearly 50% of light rail riders switched to transit from cars, and that more than 25% of commuters to the city center get there by transit. Light rail ridership here has been 60 percent higher than projections.

Thanks to Andrew from Sound Transit for sending the link.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any coming-out parties east of the mountains in the near future.

Light rail plans ran off-track Thursday evening when the Spokane Transit Authority disbanded the group charged with planning rapid transit between Liberty Lake and downtown Spokane.”

STA Board members unanimously voted to set aside the project, although they commended the Light Rail Steering Committee for its work.

Apparently, the board set aside $5 million for right-of-way purchase. I’m choosing to remain optimistic.