Monthly Archives: February 2008

Still more on transportation and choices

On Tuesday night, I took the 14 home from the TAC meeting. The bus was packed with people, including several homeless people, who all got off at the same stop. The last woman to get off was in worse shape (both mentally and physically) than the rest and took almost five minutes to make it from the disabled section to the front of the bus. She stopped to stare at the floor, stopped to talk to herself, and, though she was barely able to move the cart she was pushing, became extremely agitated with anyone who tried to help her.

I can’t lie: My patience and compassion were in short supply. (I had things to do, after all, not the least of which was to inhale a whole handful of Excedrin as soon as I arrived home.) I huffed. I sighed. Near the end of her trip down the aisle, I had begun to roll my eyes.

After she had finally made her exit, the man across from me started joking with his friend about how badly she had smelled. The driver joined in.

“Now that I know,” she said, “I can refuse to transport her.”

At this, another woman–one who had attempted to help the homeless woman with her cart–jumped to the front of the bus and began to lecture the rest of us.

“It only takes two months to become homeless,” she shouted down the aisle. “It only takes a couple more to become depressed. We should be thanking God for what we have.”

The driver sucked her teeth: “I’d like to thank God for soap and water.”

***** *****

I am sensitive to the fact that this incident is a good example of the reason a lot of my own peers choose not to ride the bus. It’s not just about the sensory unpleasantness of being near people in dire circumstances, or being reminded of the desperation that we might otherwise prefer to ignore. The thing is, folks don’t necessarily have 30 minutes to get from downtown up the hill to the Central District.

As a person who rides city buses (Toto, we’re not on the 545 anymore) on a daily basis, I realize that time losses like these are balanced by time savings in other areas (never having to search for parking; bus-enabled multi-tasking; no oil changes, tire changes, scheduled maintenance, or fill-ups; etc.), but you can’t explain that to a bus-averse person who’s on his second ride. And while I strongly believe that Metro should work to attract the riders who have a choice, the agency, with its limited resources, also has an obligation to serve (and certainly no right to ridicule) elderly homeless women who need transportation to shelters.

So yet again, I am confronted with this question: How do we create a public transportation system that truly serves everyone?

I’m not sure I know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A mile (and more) in a bus chick’s shoes, part II

I have many, many pairs of shoes. This is not because I buy a lot of shoes. (In fact, I can’t remember the last time I shopped for footwear.) It is because my mother, the most stylish woman I have ever known, bought a lot of shoes, and when she tired of them, she handed them down to me. Many of these shoes I have given away, but some are too beautiful to part with. I wear them a couple of times a year, on special occasions, but most of the time, they sit in my closet, passed up in favor of my old standbys: heeled boots. The boots are professional, presentable, comfortable, and weather resistant. I have a black pair and a brown pair, and they work well with almost anything I decide to wear: jeans, slacks, even a skirt. What more could a bus chick ask for?

Every once in a while, though, on a regular, walking-intensive day, I have a hankerin’ to wear something a little more fun. You dig?

Enter Miranda.

My fellow TAC member, Miranda L., is young, professional, fashion-conscious, and a total bus chick. Last night, on the elevator ride to our monthly meeting, I noticed her shoes: cute, red, heeled Mary Janes–the kind of shoes I regret wearing after about 15 minutes of pavement time. According to Miranda, who’s certainly done her share of pavement time, these Mary Janes are actually comfortable.

Fellow bus chicks, behold:

Miranda, still smiling after a long day of walking
The Mary Janes, close up

I ain’t one to hawk products, but for those who want to know: They’re Aerosoles.

All she needs now is a pair of rubber taps

Bus to caucus

On Saturday, like many of our fellow Washingtonians, Bus Nerd and I attended our first caucus. It was Chicklet’s first caucus, too, but of course, pretty much everything she does is a first for her. I digress.

The caucus was held at T.T. Minor elementary, so we took the 48 (also known as my ride to everywhere) down to Union and walked the rest of the way there. (Note that we could have taken the 2 up the hill, had we been inclined to wait–or disinclined to walk.) The place was packed–with 100 people showing up just for our precinct, which is only one out of many in the district. I’m guessing there were a thousand people there.

I’ll spare you the details of the complete and utter chaos that ensued (we did manage to tally votes and elect delegates)–and my thoughts about how silly our electoral process is–and skip to the part about the bus: At least 10 people we had ridden the 48 with that afternoon participated in our precinct caucus, as well as many more people we had seen on buses around the neighborhood. We’d suspected our nearest neighbor of being a bus chick (more on the telltale signs in a future post), and it turns out we were right; she took the 48 to the caucus, too. One strikingly attractive middle-aged woman I’ve been seeing on the 27 for years (and sometimes on the 48, riding with a little boy I assume is her grandson), and on whom I have a little bus crush, was chosen to be one of our delegates. Now, I finally know her name, and I have an excuse to say hey (He-ey Georgiana!) if (when) I see her on a bus in the future.

Score one for the political process.

Speaking of bus fares…

Though I realize that current costs and constraints left Metro little choice but to raise prices, I’m not a fan of using fares (or sales tax, for that matter) as transit funding sources. I’d like to see us use other means, like tolling, congestion charging, and gas and car registration taxes.

As it happens, there’s a bill (HB 1773) in the legislature right now that would allow tolling revenue to be used to fund transit.

And while I’m on the subject: The legislature is also considering (HB 2880) exempting car-sharing members from the rental-car tax. (Guess that petition worked.)

If you’re so moved, contact your state rep and let him or her know that you care about these issues.

And speaking of bus rapid transit…

Check out this Streetfilms video about Bogota’s TransMilenio BRT system (thanks, Clarence!), narrated by the editor of New York’s Streetsblog, Aaron Naparstek.

Bogota BRT (Photo credit:


I realize that transit geeks and city planners have been singing TransMilenio’s praises for some time now, but I feel compelled to jump on. I love this system. Some highlights:

• Integration: The city operates free feeder buses to take riders from their neighborhoods to the bus stations. Or, riders that would prefer to bike to the stations can travel on the Bogota’s extensive system of bike paths and park their bikes at the station.
• Streamlined boarding: Riders buy tickets at the station instead of on the bus. Also, the bus floor is level with the station platform, which makes it easy for riders with wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, or shopping carts to board.
• Technology: TransMilenio manages the buses from a pretty advanced control room. It allows them to track individual buses, communicate with drivers, and know immediately when buses are crowded or “bunching” (48 style).

From TransMilenio’s Web site:

TransMilenio is a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, designed and implemented according to the following principles:

• By guaranteeing the rendering of urban passenger-transportation services abiding by the highest international standards throughout the entire System, with pre-established timetables in a 365-day basis.
• By making it accessible to low-income users, while at the same time profitable for private operators and fundable by the state.
• By reducing accident rates and decreasing the presence of contamination particle in the city air.
• Respect for the user’s time: By shortening ordinary traveling times by 32%.
• Respect for human diversity: By allowing fair access to all citizens, regardless of their physical, social, economic, gender, and age conditions.

What’s not to love?

Speaking of Transit Now…

Public feedback about the West Seattle and Bellevue RapidRide plans is due today. If you ride the bus in either of these areas and want to influence the BRT routes, fill out the appropriate questionnaire:

West Seattle (Will replace route 54)

Bellevue (Will replace routes 230 and 253)

Unfortunately, getting these routes up and running is going to be less than rapid (what with all the pesky signal and street improvements required to make this work). They’re expected to begin service in the fall of 2011.