How Metro Transit Can Boost Its Public Image

Metro Transit needs to aggressively position itself as an alternative to driving.

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.

TriMet Tragedy Causes More Concern

My paranoia surrounding walking across the streets of Portland isn’t totally unfounded. Maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve had this growing phobia of crossing city streets for months now. Like so many of my personal issues, I blame it on viral videos, like those which feature pedestrians dodging vehicles and sudden death at the very last moment.

Tragedy struck in the Old Town district of Portland on Saturday night when five pedestrians were hit by a TriMet bus while crossing a crosswalk. The pedestrians had the walk sign but were hit by the bus that was turning left. Two of the pedestrians were pinned under the bus and died. Another was taken to the hospital, but has since been upgraded to fair condition. The other two suffered only minor injuries.

This happened in a well-lit part of town under driver-friendly conditions. The investigation is still under way, but you can bet Portland pedestrians like myself are taking extra caution when crossing crosswalks. I’m sure this was a flukey thing, but this is also a city that places crosswalks flat in the middle of its busiest streets, away from intersections. It’s a surprise these things don’t happen more often.

If I get hit, it’ll most likely be on the way to work in the morning. On a sunny morning, the sun beams like a laser over the Cascades, cutting through the streets of downtown. I’ve been a lot of places but never seen sunrises brighter than the ones here. There have been mornings my girlfriend has driven me to work, and it may just be me, but without sunglasses, I couldn’t see a thing. God forbid I ever cross the wrong street on the wrong mornin morning. If a westbound car hit me, I couldn’t even be mad.

I also don’t do myself any favors by listening to my iPhone when I walk. My hearing is completely occupied by NPR podcasts in the morning, so I imagine a scenario where I get hit by a vehicle playing out like an episode from CSI: Miami. (If you’re unfamiliar, it’s critical you click here.)

 The driver tells the police on scene his brakes went out and he honked and yelled, but it was like I couldn’t hear him.

Frank: (Picking up my iPhone) “Looks like he was listening to All Things Considered.”

Horatio: “Maybe he should’ve considered dodging that car.”

(Queue theme music: “Yeeeeaaaaaaah!”)

The resolution here is pretty obvious: Pay more attention to my surroundings, eliminate distractions and don’t set Horatio up for a one-liner. Enough said.

Episode 1 — Fare Warning

Here's the PGE Park MAX Station, where I learned a lesson about freeloading.

My abuse of public transportation finally caught up to me this week. In this week’s podcast, here’s how I finally learned my lesson on when it comes to riding the MAX.

And just to milk the “fair warning” theme today, I’m attending my first Portland Timbers soccer game tonight. The Timbers transition to Major League Soccer next season, but in the meantime, I’m told it’s the most raucous sports environment in the city.

I never thought I’d blog about soccer, but tune in tomorrow.

Road Rage Rehab

I haven’t been driving much since moving to Portland. The downside is I’m paying $250 month on my car lease, because I signed that 36-month sentence before I ever considered moving from Minnesota. Since I moved to Portland six months ago, I’ve probably logged less than 300 miles behind the wheel. Sweet investment.

Sometimes, I really miss driving. I’ve really taken to the public transportation in Portland, but when I’m crammed on the MAX at 8 a.m. I think, Man, it would be nice to work somewhere with a free parking lot. I suppose driving is among the simple pleasures you sacrifice to live in a bigger city.

I’ll admit to a minor history of road rage, but none of my rage ever extends beyond the verbal. I find comfort in four-letter words whenever some clown cuts me off or won’t let me merge. I was taught to be a highly defensive driver, and while that attitude will keep your vehicle in one piece, it’s a mentality that’s highly conducive to road rage. Of course, now that I’m not driving much, my road rage has really subsided.

I saw something last night I never thought I would see in passive Portland of all places. Right in the middle of the Pearl District, no less. For those of you who don’t know, the Pearl District is a wealthier section of Downtown Portland. There, the most severe crimes are Failure to Dispose of Dog Feces or Viagra Possession with Intention to Distribute.

I was standing on the curb ready to cross the street to get to my gym when a Chevy Blazer passed a small Hyundai Tiburon in two-way traffic. I’d noticed the SUV tailing the sedan and took attention. The Blazer bullied its way in front of the Tiburon, and half a block later, came to a halt. Then, its brake lights came on and the Blazer began to crawl backward toward the Tiburon, which was stuck in front of another vehicle. The Blazer rammed into the front of the Tiburon and continued to reverse. Then, the Blazer stopped and peeled forward. A male emerged from the passenger side of the Tiburon screaming expletives while the woman driving the car was up in arms.

I ran toward the Tiburon, hoping I could help. I consider myself a douche activist. Any I take every opportunity I can to help win the War on Douchery. This was a great opportunity.

“You need a witness?” I asked. “I’ll be a witness! Did you get a license plate? I saw the whole thing! I saw him pass you, too! That was ridiculous! Call the cops! That’s hit-and-run!”

I’ve never been in trouble my whole life. I’ve never been a snitch, either. But dammit, I love when fools get what they deserve. The Tiburon’s passengers, caught up in the madness, never checked the license plates. They thanked me for trying to help but their was no visible damage to the vehicle so they let the incident pass.

I was miffed. It was truly an arresting moment for me. Though I’ve struggled with road rage, I would never, ever do something so bold, not to mention dangerous. My road rage is fairly contained. Let me in, prick! or Drive it like you stole it!, but never something so reckless as passing on two-way streets in a crowded downtown area or throwing my car in reverse to bump into someone.

With public transportation, you might barely miss a train now and then and you might wind up next to some crazy folks mumbling gibberish or experiencing acid flashbacks. For the most part, you’ll get dozens of people with their earbuds in, newspapers and books out, minding their Ps and Qs, just trying to get to their destination. No one on board the train has control of its navigation, so there’s no rage to be felt. All in all, it’s peaceful. Predictable. You know where you’re going and you know how you’re going to get there.

But I miss driving. And to be honest, I’ll probably write about how much I dislike the MAX a few weeks from now. However, in these mean streets of Portland — and, apparently, the Pearl District — it might be best for a guy like me, road rage and all, to stick to trains so I never find myself going off the rails.

So, what about you? Ever experience road rage? Ever witness it? What’s the one thing while driving that pushes you over the edge?