By Terrie Leigh Relf Reprinted from the OB Rag
Sustainability 101: Put the Public Back in Public Transportation – Part 1
With this first introductory segment on public transportation, I wanted to raise just a few points. The next segment will feature a few anecdotes I’ve been collecting. I hope that you, dear reader, will also chime in so I can include your experiences as well.
For those of you who know me, I don’t drive, and have never had a license. I am therefore dependent upon my feet, public transportation, and the goodness of others to get where I need to go. Since I live in OB, I can walk most places, but when I leave this walker’s paradise, I mostly rely on the bus and trolley.
Other riders have their reasons for using public transportation, such as the following:
- Limited parking where they work or attend school
- The cost of parking garages and lots
- To avoid ever getting a parking ticket
- The possibility of yet another parking ticket
- Taking public transportation is easier as they don’t need to go very far
- They don’t own a car
- Their car is in the shop
- Their car was stolen
- Their roommates or family members have the car that day
- They’re frugal and want to save on gas
- It’s their contribution to a green environment
- No money in the school budget for field trip transportation
- They’re engaged in a comparative analysis between driving their own vehicle and public transportation
- They take the bus or trolley part of the way, then ride their bike the rest of the way
- They’re in a wheelchair and it’s less expensive to take the bus and trolley rather than the dial-a-ride
- They’re training working dogs
And the list goes on. In other words, there is no one type of rider.
You’ll see people in suits with briefcases reading The Wall Street Journal sitting next to students hooked-up to their iPods, texting madly. You’ll see travelers with backpacks bursting at the seams along with tourists on their way to the airport, rolling luggage in tow. You’ll see mothers with their babies strapped to them along with fathers taking their kindergarteners to school. You’ll see people who have just been released from the hospital, the telltale bands on their wrists, along with others who may have had a few too many and are riding the bus rather than driving.
And you’ll hear them talking . . . talking . . . talking . . . a veritable United Nations of languages and dialects along with local slang and regional speak. You’ll also hear their phone conversations (whether you want to or not), listen to them scold their two year olds, coo to babies, groan about a detour, ask for directions, talk to themselves or to whomever else comprises the captive audience, gather for a before-school gab session and so forth.
And sometimes, there’s an exquisite silence. . .
Once upon a time (or at least this is how I remember it), all you needed was a quarter to ride the bus. Then, it was around 35 cents, then 50 cents, then 75 cents . . . on up to the current price of a one-way (no transfer options) of $2.25 followed by the current $5.00 for a day pass. By November 1, however, you need to have a bus card, or else you’ll be paying $7.00 for a day pass. That’s a $2.00 penalty.
Remember transfer slips? You could go all over San Diego and then back home again. While bus fare is nothing compared to owning and maintaining a car, it’s still getting expensive — and complicated, don’t you think?
Before I launch into a few thoughts (and yes, complaints) regarding our public transportation system, I wanted to say that it does appear MTS is attempting to streamline their services, to create more efficient connection times, and to maintain their safe driving record. I do applaud that.
However, for those of you who know me, you also know that I am constantly whining (sorry about that) about how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B. I work in Barrio Logan, and in order not to be late, I leave two hours before I need to be there. There have been some days when it’s taken 2.5+ hours to get there (or home) due to bus breakdowns, trolley breakdowns, construction detours, shoppers with rolling carts, travelers with backpacks and luggage, mothers with children in tow and strollers, people in wheelchairs (sometimes lining up and there’s only room for a few), private and public school students on field trips, individuals with their working dogs and on and on and on.
But this is life.
So, my current issue is the new card and fare system. Last week, I purchased a new bus card with the “assistance” of a Trolley officer at the Old Town Trolley station. Since I had to purchase a new card (as my old one was being phased out), I paid for it along with three day passes. The Trolley officer explained that I could use those passes whenever I needed to ride the bus.
At the time, my understanding was that whenever I used the card, that day’s fare would be taken care of. Then the other day, when I climbed onto the 923 bus, the card wouldn’t work. I showed the driver my receipt, and he let me on. When I transferred to the 929, the same thing occurred. On the way back, however, the 929 bus driver explained (after examining my receipt), that when I loaded funds onto the card, they were for THREE CONSECUTIVE DAYS, beginning when I uploaded the card. The Trolley officer wasn’t so helpful after all, and DID NOT explain this to me. So basically, I threw away $15.00.
I wrote to MTS but haven’t heard back from them yet. I believe I deserve a refund, so I will write to them again. This is the second time I’ve asked for a refund from them. It’s interesting how they don’t respond to THESE emails, but they do to queries for basic info, which, I might add, is often only part of the story. The bus drivers know better in my humble opinion.
Well, some of them do. The others? Well, I’ve witnessed drivers not responding to questions — period! They just stare straight ahead as if no one is there. One of the nicer drivers told me that “headquarters” doesn’t want them to interact with riders, but unless they’re going to install robo-drivers, there’s interaction and interaction.
And I’m not the only one who has witnessed and/or experienced this scenario. Just imagine being a visitor to San Diego. Add in second (or third) language issues, and the list goes on.
I realize that MTS is attempting to make the system more efficient, to do away with paper, and that’s a good thing, but I don’t believe the new guidelines are clear enough. I did not see this explained anywhere to my satisfaction, and while some people may think it’s a “no- brainer”, I beg to disagree. If it weren’t for the driver who took the time to explain this to me (and in exquisite detail), I would have thought my card was still good, and that it was just another fluke with the machine (which, I might add, is quite temperamental).
And yes, I have missed getting to where I need to go on several occasions due to machine malfunctions. . .
The delay in card activation is another issue. What if a rider doesn’t have any more money? Once we upload our card, shouldn’t it work automatically? There’s got to be some ap for that. While I’ve witnessed the goodness of others on countless occasions, and I have seen drivers wave passengers in this predicament to a seat (myself included), many drivers will hold up the bus for the person to either A) Produce said funds, or B) Step off the bus.
If someone has already paid, why should they have to pay again? No doubt there are people who say they’ve uploaded their card, but haven’t, but I tend to believe that most people are honest.
Then there’s the matter of all those “trolley cops” at the stations. Is there an overabundance of criminal activity? If so, shouldn’t there be a sign posted to that effect? Are they in search of wanted felons? Does the motto “To protect and serve” apply to this population of officers, or are they really “just” there to make sure we pay?
It’s ironic, that when I’ve had to take the 35 bus home at night from the Old Town Trolley Station (which, I might add is not well-lit at night), there’s not a “trolley cop”or any other type of visible security agent in sight. I was informed that there is a security person in the booth, but that’s nowhere near where the buses park and load. Needless to say, while I have never been attacked at the Trolley Station at night, I don’t recommend being the lone person waiting an hour for a nighttime bus.
In closing, I think MTS needs to put the concern for the public back in public transportation. What about you?