☞ The Buses Aren’t Actually Solar-Powered. Not Yet Anyway.
I don’t want to call Portland a liar, because that would be rude. So I’m not going to call it a liar, but let’s just say Portland is a bit of a deceiver; it told the truth, most of the truth and little bit more of the truth, so help it kale.
(Because Portland believes in kale, not God, if that wasn’t clear.)
Portland prides itself on its public transit system. For $2.50, the City and Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon— better known as “TriMet”— can get you pretty much anywhere within the city limits by bus or by train. You can even go a little beyond the city limits if you’re going somewhere exotic like Cleveland (Oregon) or Milwaukie (Oregon). This is a good thing. For sure. There are caveats, however. Asteriskseses are abound.
Portland prides itself on its public transit system because it has to. It has an image to uphold. One of buses and bikes and pedestrians and trikes and trains and trams and weird gondola things and yes, unicycles. More unicycles than one might think.
How many unicycles were you thinking?
Oh yeah, way more than that.
Automobiles don’t figure into the Portland narrative though, even though they are definitely a part of Portland. When I moved here they told me I didn’t need a car. “You don’t need a car,” everyone said. (Actual quote.) (Source: everyone.)
Here’s the thing, though, as great as the public transit system is here— as prideful as Portland is— you can’t run trains on pride. I mean, you can try, but they don’t get very far. Certainly not to Cleveland, anyway.
Again, I don’t want to call Portland’s public transit system terrible, because that would be rude (and not accurate), but let’s just say expectations were set, and they were not met.
But as Donald Rumsfeld said when he came through Portland on his book tour: “You ride the transit system you have, not the one you want… well, I drive a Hummer, but you know what I mean. Obama is a socialist.”
The obvious solution here for non-car owners would be to tell TriMet to stick their street cars where the sun don’t shine and just bike everywhere, or rent a tiny car for 41¢/minute everywhere. But that’s not a great solution, either. Sometimes you just want to get on a bus or a train and let someone else handle the movement of your meatsack.
(I’m sorry, I’m not saying you’re just a sack of meat… you’re beautiful. I’m just saying we’re all sacks of meat. I’m definitely a sack of meat. Just a big ol’ blob. Lotsa bones, too. I mean, not more than usual, just a higher bone-to-meat ratio than most, perhaps. A pretty high percentile if I had to guess. Did I just make this weird? I may have made this weird. I’m pretty sure it’s been weird for a while now, actually.)
Unfortunately those times when you don’t want to bike or drive a tiny car are frequently also those times when the buses have either stopped running or it’s gonna be like an hour until the next bus, brah.
And that brings us to my main criticism of TriMet: their somewhat lackadaisical approach to all things related to time.
While TriMet’s network is comprehensive— it gets you just about anywhere, I’ll give it that— you better not be in a hurry to get to your destination. And you better not be trying to get there after, say, 9pm.
Now yes, this is an accurate reflection of Portland itself, no one is really in a hurry to go anywhere, and things tend to shut down early, but I think we should hold our transit authorities to a higher standard.
There have been a number times when I’ve taken the bus somewhere only to realize that 7:30pm bus I just took was the last one for the day. Or that I’ve missed a train or a bus and the next one doesn’t arrive until shortly before the heat death of the universe. And while I realize that’s the nature of public transit… waiting around is par for the course, it doesn’t have to be.
So what’s the answer, Rafferty? If you’re so smart, what’s your solution?
I’m glad you asked.
Improving a public transit system isn’t easy. It’s very chicken and egg. Bus driver and bus rider, even. Do you increase the frequency of the buses and hope that more people show up, thus feeding more money into the system? Do you lower fares and hope to make it up in volume? Do you increase parking rates in the city to discourage people from driving their cars, or do you stage a sort of Hunger Gamesesque battle to the death for a limited number of parking spots?
These are all excellent questions.
Yup. Sure are.
Oh, you wanted answers?
Yeah, I’ve got nothing.
Yes, despite all my years of playing Sim City, I am not an expert in the realm of improving mass transit. That was not covered in Sim City class. I can safely say that Sim Copter 1 reports heavy traffic and that commerce demands an airport, however.
Ultimately the best thing to do in any public transit system— not just Portland’s— is to believe in the system. Be the egg. Or maybe be the chicken. Be either the chicken or the egg, is what I’m saying.
If you drive a car to work everyday, that is only going to create a more automobile-centric culture.
Donald Rumsfeld was right (said no one ever). You don’t ride the public transit system you want, you ride the one you have until it becomes the one you want.
Or, in the case of Portland, you try to ride it until you die waiting for a bus that will never arrive because the sun went down and these stupid buses are solar-powered.