I came this close to balking on my New Year’s Eve plans this year for fear of getting safely to and from downtown Minneapolis.
I wasn’t about to spend $60 on a cab. (That’s what the neighbors above me paid.) I wasn’t going to have just a few drinks and chance driving home. Walking was out of the question, because it was godawful outside. So, how did we manage to go on with plans?
Public transportation — the forgotten ride.
After using public transportation almost daily in Portland, Friday night was the first time in six months I’d relied on Metro Transit. I drove downtown and parked at my office, where my girlfriend and I rode two miles to our destination for $1.00. Around 1:10 a.m., we hopped on another bus to catch a ride home. That was just $3.50. I cheated by leaving my car downtown, but I spent just $4.50 to get around town on New Year’s Eve. That’s ludicrous. You’d be lucky to find a bottle of beer for that much.
I’m working with a small sample size here, but my initial bus ride wasn’t the most pleasant. A group of teenagers piled up in the back and spent the ride shouting profanity, belting R&B songs and taunting the bus driver. Several other passengers yelped into their cell phones. The bus driver never once acknowledged the behavior. It made for an uncomfortable experience, but again, it probably wasn’t indicative of the average bus ride in Minneapolis.
It made me think about local attitudes regarding public transportation. We’re blessed to live in the land of parking lots, so for anyone with a car, you can drive just about anywhere. Buses are generally seen as transportation for those without a vehicle of their own. For a public transportation system to be great, that attitude has to change.
But, how does it change?
There were some similarly unsavory rides in Portland, but there was great self-policing among passengers and TriMet — the local governing body — included signage in every bus and light-rail car to outline proper rider etiquette. On top of that, drivers and conductors were quick to remove unruly passengers who were ruining the experience for others.
And that’s what Metro Transit needs to focus on — the experience. Riders should feel safe, enjoy the quiet, and worry simply about when to get on and when to get off. Buses and light-rail services should be seen as a convenient, affordable, stress-free alternative to driving for those who wouldn’t otherwise ride. That’s how Metro Transit ups ridership — by being viewed as an alternative, not a last resort.
I can’t say when I’ll use Metro Transit again. I’m lucky to avoid the major highways during rush hours, but I’m all for taking a bus to and from downtown on nights my girlfriend and I want to go out. I would encourage any Twin Citizen to do the same.