Mass Transit

 

I chose public transport
To view the ebb and flow of humanity -
To check the tide-pool of San Fran;
The coming in and going out - the in and out and in and out.

The burl-lipped homeless, whose coat drips eons of street diligence -
happy to have a seat and breath the paying-customer air,
going nowhere more quickly than the endless shuffle of days gone by.
Coming in and going out; and in and out, and in and out.

Aged career girls with slashed, lip-sticked mouths
who arch and flex on dancer legs that swim inside their little girl clothes;
and wear their self-possessed assurance like hats over well-manicured
heads that flaunt the coming in and going out, coming in and going out.

Tiny oriental ancients mumble incantations
and gum invisible vittles with toothless mouths;
with walking sticks that tap a three-legged rhythm as they
shuffle on and off, going in and out, and in and out.

Step lively, now! Sit and sway. Stand in honor
of those less fortunate and gaze sideways
at their maladies without conscious contempt or pity.
Watch their coming in and going out, and in and out, and in and out.

By Annette Gagliardi

 

What is it about riding mass transit today? Do more people do it than ever before? or not?

Public transportation ridership passed 10.7 billion trips in 2013, the eighth year in a row that ridership exceeded 10 billion, Americans used public transportation in 2013 (I could not find more current stats) at a level not seen since the mid-1950s and the advent of the interstate highway system, according to the latest annual report by the American Public Transportation Association.

In Denver, the Regional Transit District topped 101 million passenger trips in 2013. Around the nation, transit agencies are nurturing growth by expanding their systems or improving services.

We’re seeing that where cities have invested in transit, their unemployment rates have dropped, and employment is going up because people can get there,” Mr. Melaniphy said.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul the Light Rail is a fairly new addition to public transportation menu. It has had opposition and support from the general public, businesses and politicians. But, it is finally running on a regular basis. Now, to extend that line to St. Cloud. That’s the thing about public transportation – the “Public” wants it in their neighborhood.

Public transit is known to attract development, and that development is known to bring gentrification. To make sure longtime residents don't get displaced, several affordable housing developments are being built along the line with the help of tax breaks, grants and other financial support from city and state governments.” said Nancy Homans, Policy director, St. Paul Mayor’s office.

Now that the Light Rail in the Twin Cities goes from the airport to downtown and from St. Paul to Minneapolis, businesses are thriving along the line. New construction of housing and commerce promises a denser population to use the line. The cities have added to the Green Way, (A bicycle thoroughfare.) which provides safe bike trails close to the light rail. Public transportation is good for all, apparently.

In addition to city buses, taxies, and Light Rail, Minneapolis is testing driverless buses. They are supposed to be cheaper than a bus with a driver.  MnDOT believes autonomous buses cut traffic and fuel demand and are safer than a normal car. This leaves me to wonder 'how safe are the 'normal cars'?  Commissioner Charles Zelle said the autonomous buses are not about replacing drivers, but they would be safer than buses with drivers.

Ninety-four percent of our crashes that we track are due to operator error,” Zelle said. “I know as a driver when you have more technology to help you as a driver, that’s a good thing.”

Of course there would be no one on-board to referee and coral the passengers who (may) get out of line. More and more, it seems that public areas need referees - people in charge to maintain the behavior of the public.

I own a car, so have the privilege of transporting my individual self to places near and far. But, occasionally I do take the bus or the light rail. And, I am so fortunate, that I only ride in pleasant weather, most often in daylight and with a companion.

We went to Japan to visit our daughter and rode all the kinds of public transportation available there: the bus, the coach bus, the tram, the regular train, the famous bullet train, a cab - and we walked a lot.   The Japanese have mass transit down to a science – as other places do, I suppose. Everything runs on time, there are no delays and no one shouting about how badly things are run.

Last year, when we visited Italy, we road a standard Motorcoach, with a very cute and charming driver plus a cute & smart tour guide who translated for us. It was wonderful to not have to worry about traffic, where to park, how to get where we wanted to go or the money needed to get gas or park. I felt (and was) very pampered and sheltered. Of course, making our way through the various airports going and returning was as crazy as you all have experienced. Getting through customs, even with only a carry-on included standing in long lines hoping we weren’t singled out for any discretions.

My husband and I traveled to San Francisco many times to visit his aunt (who has since passed away). We took the Bart from the airport and rode the cable car up California Avenue to two blocks from Aunt Yvonne’s house. We rode the bus to and from in one direction and took the cable car everywhere else. I remember one such ride, where I got a spot on the narrow outside seat facing traffic. Folks were standing with one foot on and the other hanging off, smiling and laughing as we sailed along. The sun shone on our faces and there was an air of community and familiarity, so we chatted about nothings before stepping nonchalantly off and going our separate ways. Riding the Cable car really added the ‘ambiance’ of San Francisco.

One summer we took the Bart from his aunt’s house under the bay to the baseball stadium and took in a ballgame. Now, in Minneapolis, we ride the Light Rail downtown to ball games, where passengers get off right at the stadium. We usually board the Rail to a fairly empty car, but with each stop more and more passengers pile on, so there is a crush of folks once we get to the stadium. On the return trip is the opposite – a crush of people, then as you get closer to home, fewer folks. But, while we are all nanometers apart, there is smiling despite our team’s loss or hoots and hollers if our team won. We are all fans and therefore friends, so we call ‘good-bye’ and ‘have a night day’ to those stepping off.

Now that we are senior citizens, our bus & Light Rail fare is a bit cheaper than the younger passengers. Bus fares are cheaper than paying to park your car downtown, anyway. Your trip is at a slower pace and often full of interesting things to look at.

The last time my husband and I went downtown on the bus, there were a few teenage boys who had apparently learned one new swear word (The F-bomb) and were using it in myriad ways – quite loudly. It was annoying at first, but then grew comical since it seemed like they really didn’t know any other words. We grimaced, then smiled at each other. We got off at our stop with our ears still burning a little.

My neighbor said the other day that she was annoyed by a fellow passenger on her bus ride to work. The lady was talking on her cell phone so loudly that everyone else could hear the conversation. She said, “I wonder how she would like it if I read my book out loud.”   What a great idea!, I thought. I could bring my children’s books with me on the bus, then read them out loud for the other passengers. I could also hand out bookmarks all around and invite people to go to the website. Maybe I'd bring a kid or two along, but perhaps not. 😀

Often, very ‘colorful characters’ with amazing attire or questionable fashion choices display their unique sense of Haute Couture while riding the bus. I was on a bus one time with the Easter Bunny, and we were on an airplane to Florida (admittedly, this was the Easter Holiday) with a person dressed as the Easter Bunny. I’ve also seen several ‘Santas’ on the bus. In Japan, we saw many ladies dressed up in beautiful kimono, plus tiny school girls with very short skirts and tall, tall boots.

But, my daughter sees all kinds of fascinations. She rides the bus to and from work (downtown) on a regular basis and often tells us the tales of her travels. She says some days there’s a ‘show’ along with the ride.

One of her tales was about a fellow who was intoxicated. He was a happy drunk and talked to the other passengers up and down the bus. He was quite amusing in his attempts to pick up several of the lady passengers. Although, those young ladies did NOT find him amusing. Finally the bus driver threw him off the bus. A few blocks later, to everyone’s amazement, he boarded the bus again. He had gotten on another bus right behind and caught up to theirs. The bus driver recognized him (of course) and threw him off the bus again.

We rode the train one time from Minneapolis to Chicago and we learned the complete personal history of a woman riding the train.  She had had a hysterectomy, been in an out of surgery several times, her mother-in-law hated her, she was a twin and her brother was a no-good louse, and more; so very much more - and, without so much as a word-in-edgewise from us. We finally excused ourselves so we could take a breath from her life’s drama. We found a seat in a different car. But, we still remember what a character she was. We met some other folks on a train going to the East coast who were taking the train from one coast to another. We shared a meal with them in the dining car and learned their strategy for seeing America:

“The train is slower and more elegant than car travel. We can stop anywhere we want along the way. The scenery is dramatically beautiful. We took the train from Minneapolis south to Louisiana and visited relatives and museums along the way. Now, we are going to Washington DC before heading back home.” One woman explained. They were the sweetest ladies. See, we do like some strangers.

On that trip east, I remember the scenery changing and I was so amazed at the beauty of our land. When we got to one of the states east of us (I really don’t know which state it was!) We saw large webs in the trees that were three to five feet across. They looked like something out of X-files, so my imagination really started taking me for a different king of ride. Of course we were past the alarming visual before we could ask the conductor about them.  He was a very informative fellow. That’s another advantage of riding the rails. The conductors or other staff are usually very knowledgeable and provide service and information along with emergency help if needed.

We found out that the webs were made from caterpillars. The Easter Tent Caterpillars create a web-like structure in the spring near the trunk of trees. These little fellows prefer wild cherry trees. More likely, we saw the Fall Webworms who make their ‘web sac’ at the ends of branches and don’t appear until mid summer. By the way, the mass of webbing spun by Fall Webworms is called a nest. Each nest contains hundreds of baby caterpillars that have hatched from the same mass of eggs laid by a female Fall Webworm moth. They feed on the trees  (which are not harmed) for four to six weeks, then leave to spin a cocoon they will live in all winter. In the spring, adult moths emerge from the cocoons and lay eggs – more tiny, hungry caterpillars.

See how easily public transportation takes you from one topic to another without you even realizing it?   All the things we see and experience on Public transportation cannot be experienced while driving alone in our cars. It offers a cosmopolitan experience to us commuters. Take a ride, sometime.

 

Resources:

Use of Public Transit in U.S. Reaches Highest Level Since 1956, Advocates Report by Jon Hurdle, March 10, 2014 ,at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/10/us/use-of-public-transit-in-us-reaches-highest-level-since-1956-advocates-report.html

How the Twin Cities got transit right: "Big projects often divide cities. But Minneapolis' light rail line is creating jobs and driving development in under served areas" By: Steve Hargreaves and Dominic V. Aratari at: http://money.cnn.com/interactive/technology/minneapolis-light-rail/index.html
Driverless Buses Tested In Minnesota’s Winter Weather By Kate Raddatz on December 12, 2017 at 6:36 pm, at:   http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2017/12/12/driverless-buses-winter/

What is Making Webs in my Trees? by Charlotte Glen / last updated by Tim Mathews at: https://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2013/08/what-is-making-webs-in-my-tree/

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