Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Do I Still Take My Own Car With TriMet Close At Hand?

What Jenson Hagen said at BlueO raises a question worth discussing. The meat of his commentary goes:

The main point here.  I have watched TriMet fares jump quite considerably.  Was it not too long ago that a general adult all zone ticket cost $1.75?  It was something around there.  Then as gas prices were climbing, that ticket price began to edge up.  Now I'm looking at a $2.30 fare to travel in one direction as an adult.  The overall round trip for the day is $4.60, or $1.10 more than before.

I live in an area of inner-Outer East (yeah, that's kind of strange, yes?) in an area that's "convenientish" to two major east-west routes, a mere two blocks from a minor route that runs too infrequently and at awkward times, a seven-minute walk from a major crosstown route, and within shouting distance from the Gateway transit hub if I Go By Bike. When the Max Green Line finally comes on line, I'm going to be ever more fortunate, because the nearest station is a mere mile off.

I'm more fortunate than most as goes TriMet access, but still I take my car.


I work a third-shift job, which side of the clock TriMet has historically underserved even when the money was there, with awkwardly-timed and widely-time-spaced runs (by this I mean 30-min frequency minimum. Even going a short distance can take over an hour. And TriMet has the annoying concept of having the last run just as I usually get off work, which means I have to shave a few minutes off my time on-the-clock just to get my ride. This is one of TriMet's major flaws, and it makes me sore that they never really address the needs of the third shift. But I'm digressing).

But at least it's there. So why don't I try taking TriMet more often?

Because I live close enough to my work to make, typically, the cost of gassing up an 1972 automobile (a VW Beetle, if you must know) more or less equal to the cost of buying transit for the same time and frequency. It has actually always pencilled out a little more expensive to take transit than to take my 1972 automobile, and, following from above, a hell of a lot less convenient.

We're all watching our pennies very closely. We also all need something that works quickest and easiest–because the less time we have to take working out transit is just that much more time we have to address our other needs, and improve our own personal economies.

We who aren't making more than $32K/year see time as money. You might think that us poor folks don't see time as money. Anyone who things so is extremely wrong. We are always making these trade offs–more often than you'd think.

If you want more sanity in public spending, just put some of us poor folks, who always have to play the shell game with our money, in charge.

Anyway, I don't mean to say that TriMet shouldn't raise fares in tough times or adjust farebox to compensate for revenue. But TriMet should keep in mind that there are unfashionable reasons to use the bus (a lot of us poor folks need to get to work without the car) as well as green, fashionable reasons.

I don't mean to cast aspersions–I love TriMet, and I love TriMet drivers. But transit planners need to not just keep in mind, but take seriously the fact that a lot of people who would use transit aren't–because, even at todays gas prices, people will take the easiest way to make sure they get to work on time, and don't get in hot water for attendance, and for quite a few of us–ironically–keeping in a car by ourselves is the quickest, cheapest, and most convenient and dependable way to stay employed.

That's the way we roll, because that's the way we have to. You give us a sane, sensible reason to take the bus, and we will so be there.

I think I can speak for an awful lot of people here.

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