Monday, February 9, 2009

The Issues

Time for a kind of big-picture post. I noticed I'm (to my surprise) gaining some notoriety in the local political circles. (Hi guys! I really wish some of you met at some time other than 7 in the morning.) I originally started this blog really not caring if anyone read it besides myself, but if you guys are getting something out of my rantings, then I shall try extra-hard to keep on ranting.

In that spirit, here's how I see it.

Transit, as an issue, is about two fundamentally different populations. Simply put, the riders who don't have cars, and those who do. (I fall into the latter class, though reluctantly.) These two populations are affected in very different ways by our policy decisions about transit and transportation, and so it's a good idea to have a clear idea of who we're talking about in mind when we talk about things like the upcoming service cut fight.

The folks that don't have cars are often called "transit-dependent" in planning literature. We're talking about seniors, the disabled, the poor, and in some cases students. These folks will ride whatever it is that happens to run in their area, simply because they don't get a say in the matter. These are the people who put up with the joke that is VVTA in the high desert, and some parts of the RTA system. (Eastvale, Norco, and Yucaipa/Calimesa spring to mind almost instantly.) Consequently, they are the most affected by transit policy issues. Cut the #36, for example, and these people are calling cabs or staying home, or perhaps even moving if they can. Remove the Greyhound station, and some days they won't be in Riverside. Other days they'll ride to San Bernardino and transfer, wasting hours and hours of their time to do even the simplest of tasks. I used to be transit-dependent, and I remember going to visit my then-girlfriend (now my wife of 4 years) in Ontario. It's a 30-minute drive. When the 204 was running (commute hours only), it was an hour's ride. Not too bad, when you consider the connections I was making. However, when the 204 was not running, it was a three-and-a-half hour ride along the old Omni 90. Now that the 90's been cut, that same ride might take me five buses and as many hours. Each way.

Cutting transit service affects the transit-dependent drastically and instantly. It is like placing jail bars around their home. They are no longer able to get around on their own. Having to ask somebody else for a ride every time you need to go somewhere gets old very, very quickly.

However, cutting transit service also affects those of us who aren't transit-dependent. First off, some of us choose to ride transit. I do. People ride for a number of reasons, and I won't detail them, but cutting service takes the choice of transit out of the equation. Don't like the $4/gal. gas prices? Tough. Car broke down? Get a rental. Stressed out, sick, or road raging? Deal with it. Secondly, transit provides innumerable benefits even to those who don't ride. Drivers, every time you see a bus along your daily commute, think to yourself that there'd be forty cars in the place of that single vehicle if that service wasn't there. (Now go Downtown, and count how many buses you see.) Transit reduces the environmental impact of our transportation system, unclogs our clogged streets, and gives people a choice in the rare case that they can't drive.

There's a story I heard somewhere about the man who was in charge of the redesign of the Fairmount Park boathouse. They say he was upset about having to include a wheelchair ramp, but by the end of the project he'd had a stroke and had to use the ramp himself to attend the ribbon-cutting.

So, even if you don't ride the bus, remember that transit is like that wheelchair ramp. It's good for the community, and it might just be good for you one of these days.

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