My train ride to the beach this past week got me to thinking about all the modes of public transportation I've ridden in my life. I was heartened to find out millennials are literally getting on board with this whole idea. It's about damn time.
While I'm not a veteran of public transportation in all parts of the world, I've spent time using it in Paris, Rome and London in addition to plenty of places here in the U.S. Most of my past decade has been spent in New Orleans, where the streetcars are more for the locals than the tourists. From New York to Washington DC to Atlanta, Miami and even during an unexpected stop in Lake Charles LA, I've logged plenty of miles. More importantly, I've met plenty of nice folks doing so.
That's why I'm puzzled when so many turn up their noses at getting on a bus, subway or light rail when it's available. Even worse, too many of our legislators are quick to label establishment or expansion of such systems as a boondoggle like the one in a Simpsons episode.
I'm no expert in cost/benefit analysis of public transportation systems. Certainly, there are systems that are grossly underused or overbuilt or both. Any such operation needs to be the object of plenty of study, since they cost plenty of public money to construct and maintain. For instance, I'm not so sure about the wisdom of a suggested rail system linking New Orleans and Baton Rouge. On the other hand, having lived there for some 20 years, I really like the idea of a rail system linking Florida's major cities. But, alas, Gov. Rick Scott scuttled the idea despite public support. Part of that rejected federal money has been gratefully accepted here in California.
Even if you're lucky enough to find a beach within an hour of where you live, getting there to enjoy it can involve real commitment. Not only do you have to load the car, but you have to find a decent place to park and possibly pay for it. That's not the case here in northern San Diego County, where all we have to do is throw a few things in a bag and jump on the local light rail, which drops us off in Oceanside. From there, we can get on a bus and go as far south as the Mexican border. No worries about parking, its cost, the dangers of maybe having a little too much beer, battling traffic or most of the other potential beach-going negatives. Pretty cool stuff, particularly with prime season approaching.
I'd say the trains I rode this past week were about half full -- not bad for the middle of the day in the middle of the week. But too many folks still have some kind of stereotype in mind when they think about taking the bus, subway or light rail. I've gotten past it, and it appears more and more are reaching the same conclusions.
Some cities, such as Dallas, are expanding their systems, overcoming initial opposition that claimed the system "didn't go anywhere" and pressing ahead. Given the costs of gasoline, parking and other car-related costs, commuters are increasingly just saying "enough."
I find I'm much more relaxed when I get where I'm going and can get work accomplished on the way, if there's work to be done. If not, there's always someone to talk to or the passing scenery, if it's not always pretty, is at least interesting. While the trip might take a little longer than if I was driving, I am forced to let go for a little while. That's always a good thing.
Besides, I always feel like it's time well spent when I step off the train at the last stop -- particularly when it looks like this...