This week, I was ambitious and commuted to work twice using the Twin Cities metro area’s lovely mass transit system. The good news is that I’ve settled on a route. The bad news is that the route will take an hour, and is about as good as it gets from the options I’ve explored so far. I will continue to search for the holy grail of this project — the 30 minute mass transit commute (the same trip by car takes 20).
Today, I realized that maybe Minnesota needs to put its hat in the ring for a future World’s Fair/Expo. I’ve been reading about the history of the World’s Expo — having plenty of time to do so while riding the train and bus for four hours this week — and have so far learned that at least three Expo host cities were compelled to build impressive and functional mass transit systems in preparation for the flood of international guests. Perhaps Minneapolis and St. Paul, and our state government, need to have more local pride on the line before our mass transit system gets up to snuff. Don’t get me wrong, however, MetroTransit is not horrible — Orlando’s (Florida) is horrible (along with their entire freeway system) — it just could use more incentives for use.
On Wednesday’s mass transit commute, the train cops showed up. This was the first time I have ever been asked to present my ticket out of the few dozen times I’ve ridden the train. They were older cops, in full uniform, and they carried guns. They boarded at one stop, then walked down the aisle and asked to see everyone’s tickets. In some ways, it is reassuring that there are periodic checks like this — its better than having to always give someone a ticket before boarding. But their guns — right at eye level — kind of blew me away.
No, I wasn’t shot. I was just surprised. Ticket checking doesn’t need to be done by a fully uniformed cop carrying a gun — the cop’s guns made me feel less safe, not more. In Copenhagen’s train system, ticket inspections are done by unarmed conductors and its a much more friendly experience. MetroTransit should consider dressing down their ticket inspecting officers — they can still be cops, but they don’t need to be wearing riot gear or anything.
Basically it comes down to three things for commuters — convenience, speediness and financial incentive. The fact that my hour trip requires two transfers and “going backwards to go forward” strikes out convenience; tripling the amount of time it takes to get to work and back strikes out speediness; and paying just shy of $4 a day for the round trip may not actually be cheaper than the gas it would take to drive 24 miles.
But, I will continue my challenge for other rewards. It is enjoyable and invigorating to be able to get around without a car; being a rider instead of a driver provides a pleasant time to read and think; and I get a kick out of the bonus mini-tour of the cities. Plus, where there are people there are stories…