Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Best Idea Ever

Reading and public transit go together naturally. Two of my favourite things in the world are long transit rides and a good book to go along with them. However, any literary transit rider has experienced leaving their tome of choice at home before a long ride. (Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this.)

I don't know about everyone else's transit agencies, but on RTA's fleet of NABI low-floor buses, there's a space above the right-front wheel that is currently unused. There's a large angled plate there to ensure that nobody places anything there, but otherwise it is empty. Some transit agencies use this space for schedules or bus books (OCTA and Sacramento RT come to mind), but RTA leaves it unused.

The genesis of this idea lies in what RTA does on the Thomas-Built Commuterlink 30-footers. In this space is an acrylic box, which contains several copies of the Press-Enterprise newspaper, and a sign reading "Please put $0.25 in the farebox for a newspaper." Now, I don't think newspapers would sell well enough on general public transit routes- let's be honest, print news is dying. Also, to keep even a substantial fraction of RTA's buses stocked with daily newspapers would be expensive, and any copies unsold would mean a loss to the newspaper.

However, there is a purveyor of literature in our community for whom every unit sold is sold at a profit. The Friends of the Riverside Library support our City's public library system by receiving donations of used books and selling them at various book sales, mostly at the various library branches. Currently, they sell paperbacks at $0.75 each. (The books, as mentioned above, cost them nothing.)

It seems to me that we could do something that would make the experience of riding public transit just a little bit better by adding a box of books to that unused space on around 10 or so of the 97 NABI 40-LFW buses that RTA operates. (If the program proves successful, it could be expanded to the entire fleet.) These books would be offered for sale for $1, payable to a locked cash box next to the book box. We should be able to find volunteers to empty the cash boxes and stock the books around once a week (I'd do it at least some of the time), and donations should be sufficient to keep them full of mass-market romance, fantasy, sci-fi and suspense novels. Alternatively, the boxes could also be a donation point for books- once you're done reading, simply drop your book into the box and, if you like, pick up another.

This program would not work as a simple lending library- the books would simply disappear, and there would be no incentive to keep re-stocking them. However, I think a partnership like this could enhance the experience of riding public transit and raise funds for the local library while doing it. Start-up costs would be limited to a few hundred dollars' worth of display boxes, donated books (which I know FRL has tons of), and volunteers' time. So what do you guys think? Could this work?

Note: I'm going to try to make this happen here in Riverside, but if anyone wants to adapt it for their own purposes, please do. Nicer public transit anywhere is a good thing.

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