Monthly Archives: July 2007

They weren’t THAT scary

Remember that empty lot I told you about a few months ago? The one I walk through to get from the 545 stop to my office? (Yes, I still walk through it; my fear of geese was quickly overcome by my need for convenience.) Geese aren’t the only animals that live there. The part of the lot that’s not paved is a sort of swampy wetland, with tall grass and a good half acre of deciduous trees, and it’s home to rabbits, frogs, and lots of (less intimidating) species of birds. During the wet times of year, the ditch at the edge of the trees becomes a small pond, and in the evenings, you can hear the frogs singing their hearts out–so loudly they can be heard above the traffic noise that surrounds them.

Recently, my employer bought this empty lot. (It was only a matter of time, really.) For a few weeks, it was fenced off and filled with construction workers and equipment (complicating many bus riders’ walks to work). The ditch/pond was dug up and covered with a layer of greenish sod.

I learned last week that the lot will be used for “overflow” parking. My coworkers have tired of waiting for the company-paid valets to find spaces for their cars in the crowded garages.

So much for the geese. And the frogs.

To charge or not to charge (or, “Pay as you leave, pay as you enter, or pay… never?”)

At a time when high fuel costs are causing many transit agencies to consider fare increases, a couple of agencies in rural Washington are making fare-free policies work. From a recent article by Larry Lange:

[Island Transit] is one of only two transit agencies in the state that don’t charge for rides, and one of only a handful nationwide that don’t. Others tried no-fare buses, but returned to charging customers.

No-fare service attracts more riders and can eliminate payment disputes, speed up bus travel and get cars off the road, eliminating pollution and appealing to those seeking green living.

Of course, rural systems don’t have the ridership or frequency of service of larger, urban systems. Despite the–from where I sit (on the 4)–all-too-frequent incidents resulting from passenger-driver fare disputes, free service isn’t really on the table at Metro. Given the funding climate for transit, and the fact that 22% of Metro’s revenue (target: 25%) comes from fares, it hardly seems possible.

“A fare-free policy might be appropriate for smaller transit systems in smaller communities, but is ill-advised for larger transit systems in major urban areas,” a 2003 University of South Florida study concluded. It said fare-free service increases maintenance and labor costs and in some cases led to criminal activity that “drove away existing riders.”

Then again, San Francisco’s considering it:

San Francisco leaders are considering making that city’s transit system fare-free. Mayor Gavin Newsom recently noticed that many riders don’t bother to pay fares and has asked his controller’s office to study the idea of eliminating them. Results are due in late August. San Francisco would lose about $145 million in revenue each year by dropping fares, almost a quarter of its system revenue, but could rid itself of the expense of managing its fare system.

“It’s complicated to administer, so there’s some appeal in the city not having to manage that,” said Peg Stevenson, San Francisco’s chief services auditor.

I’ve only been to one (small) city that had free bus service: Aspen, Colorado, of all places. You wouldn’t expect folks in Aspen to focus on transit. Then again, with the tax base in that city, they can probably afford to provide lots of great public services.

Zaky, ready to ride
My Godson, Isaac (aka Zaky), getting on a free bus in his hometown of Aspen

But I digress.

If the funding were available, I’d like to see free buses (etc.) here–first of all, because I believe that transit is a democratizing force (the cheaper, the more democratizing), and secondly, because I think it would encourage more people (of all economic circumstances) to ride. Besides, fare policies are difficult to administer, make buses later than they need to be, and create hardships (and sometimes anger management issues) for drivers.

What do you think? Are free buses a good idea?

Eastbound 4, 10:45 PM

A twentysomething woman and her kindergarten-age daughter follow a twentysomething man onto the bus. They sit in the forward-facing seats across from his, daughter near the window, mother near the aisle, facing the object of her pursuit.

Twentysomething woman, speaking loudly enough for everyone on the bus to hear: “I just don’t understand it. Guys are always trying to talk to me. Pretty much everyone wants to be with me, and I turn them down just to see the looks on their faces. Now I’m giving you the opportunity, and you don’t want it.”

The twentysomething man sits silently, looking somewhat embarrassed. The woman continues.

TSW: “I told my cousin you turned me down, and she was like, ‘Now that’s a first.’ For real, though, all kinds of dudes want to be with me. Basketball players have tried to holler, rappers try to get at me…”

She continues in this vein for several more minutes, until the man mumbles something unintelligible.

TSW: “What? Why can’t you tell me?” She gestures toward her daughter, who has witnessed the entire scene. “Is it her?”

More on car-free travel

According the American Public Transportation Association, lots of folks who travel to major U.S. cities this summer will use public transit to get around those cities. From a recent press release:

In its Green Travel Forecast, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) estimates that 90 million American adults will travel to large American cities this summer. On average, one out of three people surveyed said they will tour green by using public transportation (34 percent)… A ranking of the top ten city destinations and their transit use among visitors follows:

• New York City (48%)
• Washington, DC (46%)
• Boston, MA (43%)
• San Francisco (40%)
• Philadelphia (34%)
• Chicago (31%)
Seattle (30%)
• Las Vegas (26%)
• Los Angeles (26%)
• Atlanta (22%)

I love taking public transit in unfamiliar cities. Yes, there is the anxiety associated with learning a new system–how and when to pay, where to get off, etc. (thank God for the Internet)–but that is easily offset by the adventure factor. Plus, you learn a lot more about a city on a public bus (or train) than you ever would on a tour bus.

Here are some of the reasons the people surveyed are choosing to ride:

Sixty-two percent said it would be less expensive than taxicabs or rental cars, followed closely by 61 percent who say they won’t have to worry about finding a parking space for their vehicle. Another 48 percent say they will use public transportation when traveling because it is easier to use, while 42 percent like not having to drive around an unfamiliar city…

For those of you who are planning to travel to another city this summer, APTA has put together this guide: “Green Travel Forecast, a Consumer’s Guide to Touring American Cities in a More Environmentally Friendly Way.” The section on Seattle isn’t all that informative (it doesn’t really explain the relationships among the agencies or distinguish between commuter and city service), so I’m not sure how useful the stuff about the other cities is. Still, at the very least, it’s a good place to start for links.

June Golden Transfer

Golden TransferThis month’s Golden Transfer goes to Geme “Pat” Calman, Metro’s Operator of the Year for 2006. Unfortunately, I missed the party this year, but here’s what I know about Pat:

He’s from San Francisco, and back in the day, he worked as a grip man on the cable cars. He’s been driving for Metro since 1980. Since 2000, he’s worked as a “report operator”:

Report operators are on constant stand-by waiting to fill any unexpected hole in the bus driving schedule caused by another driver’s illness or unexpected absence. That means Calman reports for work every day at Metro’s Bellevue Base not knowing what his assignment will be, or what route he will be driving.

“A report operator like Pat has to be an expert on every route at the base,” said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. “They tend to be our most experienced drivers, and they serve as a great resource for the newer drivers. Pat has repeatedly demonstrated his value as a mentor, and his willingness to help out whenever called upon is a tribute to his professionalism.”

I’ve heard that report operator positions are fairly coveted and only available to drivers with a lot of seniority. Is that because, if no one is sick or on vacation, Pat gets to chill at the base all day? I’m kidding. (I guess.)

Pat has a degree in psychology, which might explain why he’s managed so well as a bus driver.

“Pat is always customer oriented,” said Transit Operations Manager Jim O’Rourke. “His contributions to our organization extend far beyond driving a bus. He’s worked on a variety of committees and projects, including taking a leadership role in workplace health and safety issues.”

Calman also has commendations from bus riders, including one family of four who said he went out of his way to help them when they were stranded at the wrong transit center.

Pat Calman, 2007 Operator of the Year (photo courtesy of KC Metro)


I don’t think I’ve ever ridden with Pat, but I’d like to soon–first, because I always love riding with great drivers, and second, because I can’t come up with a nickname for him until we’ve met. No disrespect to his distinguished career, but there’s only one Busfather.