Monthly Archives: May 2007

May Golden Transfer

Golden Transfer This month’s Golden Transfer goes to Howard Zinn–yes that Howard Zinn. I have no idea if the man rides public transportation (though he certainly strikes me as a bus nerd), but he sure knows how to write a comprehensive history. On this morning’s 48 ride, I was reading the most famous of his 20 books, A People’s History of the United States (Yes, I know I started it back in November, but life events required me to take a break, OK?) and was so completely engrossed by the chapter on the labor movements of the late 19th century that I darn near missed my stop. (I jumped up just as the driver was starting to close the doors.)

PictureThis in itself isn’t especially remarkable, except that I have an amazingly sensitive stop sense (I always know when my stop is coming, even if I’m not looking out the window–even if I’m sleeping), and I’m supremely anal about packing my things several blocks before it’s time for me to get off. In addition, I tend not to find nonfiction to be particularly engrossing. I think of it like vegetables–good for me, but not nearly as pleasurable as the dessert of my favorite fiction writers. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed my stop since childhood, and all of those incidents involved a novel. The fact that a history book had me in a the kind of trance usually reserved for Toni Morrison is worth noting–and rewarding.

So thank you, Dr. Zinn, for doing your part to keep bus chicks everywhere entertained–and educated–on their rides.

Northbound 48, 8:50 AM

Middle-school girl, to her friend: “That sign says Metro buses are fueled with veggie oil, but they’re lyin’, because if they [buses] were [fueled with vegetable oil], it would smell like French fries in here.

Friend: “How do you know?”

MSG: “Oscar told me. Plus, I saw it on Pimp My Ride.”

Beyond bad manners

Like most bus chicks, I’ve seen my share of PDAs. But never, in all my years riding Metro, have I seen anything like what Last Days Hot Tipper Dale witnessed on the 43 earlier this month. (Warning: The content of this column isn’t exactly family friendly–though I’m guessing most seasoned bus chicks can handle it. If you no like, blame my friend Tama, who sent it to me.)

I’m generally a “live and let live” kind of bus chick (bus fouls don’t usually elicit more than an eye roll), but this is no mere foul. If I were Dale, I would have (not-so-politely) asked these guys to take their amorous activities elsewhere. Yeesh.

Boy kissing wrapped bus
A more appropriate form of bus luh


Speaking of etiquette…

A multimodal bus foul:

Wiping the post-bike-to-the-bus-stop sweat from one’s brow with one’s bare hands and then repeatedly flinging said sweat toward the front of the bus, nearly missing several other passengers and the driver.

A good way to avoid committing this one: packing a towel or rag in one’s pannier/bus chick bag.

After you

On occasion (I’m guessing because I tend to have strong opinions in this area), people come to me with questions about bus etiquette. One I receive quite frequently and wish I had an answer to:

If there are a lot of people waiting at a stop, how do you decide the boarding order when the bus arrives? After all, not everyone has the same beliefs about who deserves deference, and (as drivers can attest) politeness isn’t common among folks in a hurry to get where they’re going. It makes sense to have some sort of neutral, bus-boarding system.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any rules (or even generally accepted practices) for boarding buses in Seattle. As far as I can tell, it’s every bus chick for herself. People stare straight ahead so they can pretend they don’t see the other people (old folks included) who are also waiting to get on. When the passive-aggressive tactics don’t work, they often resort to pushing . Those who say no to rudeness usually find themselves at the end of the line.

Some people have suggested that boarding order should be based on order of arrival–the first person to arrive at the stop is the first person to get on the bus. I appreciate the simplicity (and apparent fairness) of this system, but it’s mighty hard to put into practice. People don’t usually line up at bus stops the way they line up to get into a movie, and trying to keep track of who arrived when is too complicated.

The only place I’ve ever seen any kind of boarding system (loose though it may be) is at Montlake Freeway Station, where I wait in the mornings on my way to work. At Montlake, people stake out positions based on where they think the doors will be when the bus stops. This system favors those who get to the stop first, because they tend to choose the best positions, but it doesn’t require people to remember, acknowledge, or defer to those who arrived before them.

Of course, choosing the best position is a challenge in itself. It’s never clear exactly where the bus is going to stop, and even the slightest miscalculation can result in disaster. Then there’s the door dilemma. If you choose a position near the front door, you might have to wait for other passengers to get off, and by the time you get on, all the open seats have been filled by people who waited by the back door. If you choose a position near the back door, you might get one of those drivers who inexplicably refuses to open it (it’s pay as you leave) and find yourself behind all the front-door waiters.

The Montlake system also favors those who are willing (and able) to stand for the entire wait. Come to think of it, there is one constant for bus-awaiters across our fair city: Bench warmers (like yours truly, these days) almost always get on last.

Your turn. Seen any effective systems for crowded-stop boarding? If not, in your ideal world, how would it work?

Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road (please!)

A few days ago, my coworkers had an e-mail discussion about the new “no texting while driving” law that will take effect in 2008.

Here’s an example of the comments:

“The law makes sense, but I don’t know how I’m going to live without texting in the car.”

As a frequent pedestrian (and thus, a frequent victim of distracted drivers), I have to admit I was a little thrown–not really because people actually do this (OK, a little because people actually do this) but because they freely admit to it, as if it’s as common as driving five mph over the speed limit.

On the way home that evening, I decided to see for myself how common it was. As my bus zoomed by all the cars stuck in traffic, I peered inside at their drivers. Out of the dozens of drivers I spied on, I saw only three sending text messages–fewer than the earlier conversation had led me to fear. Then again, that was probably because most of them (at least 80%) were busy talking on their cell phones. One guy was using a laptop (with both hands), and another woman was reading a book.

Folks who want to use their commute time to get stuff done: It might be best to choose a form of transportation that allows your hands (and eyes) to remain free. I can think of at least one that fits the bill…

Remember all the new bus service we voted for last fall?

Yesterday, the County Kingpin announced a contract to purchase up to 500 buses, enough to provide that new service*–and then some.

The first 22 articulated hybrids will arrive next spring, with another planned order for 100 buses in 2009 to provide new Rapid Ride service on five routes.


The contract, structured similar to those used in the aviation industry, will give Metro the flexibility to order different types of buses and components specifically designed for different uses whether it is hybrid-electric, regular diesel-powered or European-style coaches fashioned for future bus rapid transit routes. General Motors and Cummins will provide major operating components for the buses.

Metro expects subsequent orders will be used to replace aging buses in its fleet and for expanded service to offset the traffic impacts associated with reconstruction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and State Route 520.

Want to know more (about costs, vehicle specs, and the details of the contract)? Check out this article in Transportation Today.

*Note that some off-peak service improvements are already in place.