Saturday, February 23, 2013


I'll be the first person to admit that taking transit isn't that easy at first.  It simply doesn't come naturally to people around here because it is so different from the paradigm under which most of us have been raised.  We got driven around as kids; we sat through drivers' ed in public school; we looked forward to the day when we could get a drivers license as an almost Jungian rite of passage.  We use our cars to go places with friends; we store all sorts of things in them, including spare pairs of shoes, emergency food supplies, and children's toys; we carefully shop around for a car that best represents our personality, since we know we will be evaluated by those around us in part by the car we drive.  Cars are as much a part of our lives as clothes: most people wouldn't be caught dead outside without either one.

And then, one day, someone up and decides to take transit.  For any one of a number of reasons.

I have come to the conclusion that switching from driving to transit is a bigger deal than simply choosing a different way to go to work.  It is more like switching religions.  As someone who has been party to both kinds of changes, I feel qualified to make this comparison and declare it apt.

When you first get transit, not unlike when you first get religion, you're optimistic.  You've heard all the good things about it, and you're ready to turn over a new leaf in your life.  "I'm taking FrontRunner tomorrow," you say proudly at a party the night before your first trip.

And then you try it, and you find out it isn't perfect.  In fact, it's quite intimidating, and even cold, at first.  You got caught behind too many red lights on your way to the train station your first morning, and you pulled up to the parking lot just in time to see the train receding in the distance.  You got out of your car, a little disheveled, and negotiated your way onto the train platform.  There you waited for what seemed about seven times longer than the half-hour it was, thoroughly chilled, until the train finally pulled up.  You got on, and you had to stand.  Or sit by people you didn't know.  That wi-fi you've heard so much about didn't come through for you.  Or maybe you were so cold you didn't feel like taking off your gloves and getting your iPad out.  Or maybe you didn't even bring gloves.  You stumbled out the door at Salt Lake Central with way too many other people; after you finally figured out how to get to the bus stop, you saw the 2 (or the 2X, or the 3, or the 11, or the 200, or the 205, or the 218, or the 220, or the 228, or the 500, or the 509, or the 513, or the 517, or the 519, or the 523, or the 550, or the 902--did you see what I just did there?) pulling away, lost forever.  You stood and waited for the next bus while a horde of other people got on a host of other buses around you.  It was still cold.  Finally, you got on the next bus and it got you to work a half-hour late.  As you face your boss's disapproving stare and stern tone of voice, you feel the sudden urge to tear up the premium transit pass you bought so cavalierly last week into little tiny bits and stomp on them.  But of course you can't, since your car is in South Jordan, or Woods Cross, or Clearfield, or American Fork, or any number of other places, not at work with you.  And then the building collapses.  And then the world blows up.

Given that the world has just blown up, it's really no surprise that some of these people quickly become transit-inactive.  And write very bitter comments about it on the internet.  Why not, when transit has treated them so poorly?

(I know that some of the bitter comments are not from new riders of transit; they were express bus passengers last year.  I have addressed that subject here.)

I would like to direct some remarks to bitter transit riders everywhere: I know how it feels.  I've had everything short of injury go wrong for me at some point or other.  I've missed multiple connections in the same trip.  I've missed the last 811 on a Saturday and sat at the Sandy Civic Center TRAX station for two hours waiting for the 816, meaning I got home at 1:00 AM instead of 11:00 PM.  Heck, as long as we're talking about the 811, I took the 811 on a regular basis for about a year.  Forget a 5-minute transfer from one TRAX line to another; I had a 33-minute transfer to the 811.  When it was on time.  And that was just the way it was.

These sorts of things used to really bother me.  But I've found a kind of serenity over the years.  Transit schedule mishaps rarely even register with me anymore.

There are several reasons for this.  I know enough about the system that I can often find some kind of workaround rather than waiting for the next bus after the one I missed (just like how you learn to find alternate routes when you're driving).  I know to allow myself some extra time if a transfer is only a couple of minutes on the schedule (I used to catch the 811 an hour earlier than the schedule said I needed to).  And, as I have sometimes waited for two extra hours for a bus, waiting an extra ten or fifteen minutes is a small matter.  I know everything will turn out in the end.

This kind of serenity doesn't come instantly, but it does gradually come as you realize how much you like not having to park downtown or drive in stop-and-go traffic, or how long you've gone without filling your car with gas (SIX WEEKS, BABY!), or how much you get done while traveling, or how much more relaxed you feel on the train than when you drive, even though it takes longer.  Suddenly, you realize that your life is better for this crazy choice you made.

When bad things happen to you on transit, remember that they have happened to many other people before.  If transit is not your friend now, it will be soon.  You may never reach (or desire to reach) ninja status, but you will at least find the zen of the experienced transit rider when things go wrong.

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