Photo by punkrawker4783

For many people who elect not to use transit, it seems like one of the prevailing rationales for not doing so is the value of personal space, something that automobiles undoubtedly offer that transit cannot.  Within the confines of one’s own car, eating, listening to music without the use of earphones, smoking, talking to oneself, singing, etc. are all permissible. Transit users may begrudge the inability to carry out these same privileges, but we still like to respond in kind.

The advantage for transit riders, of course, is that someone else is steering behind the wheel, which removes a heavy burden of responsibility off each passenger’s shoulders.  For one, texting and reading while driving is absolutely disallowed by law.  Neither can a driver apply makeup or play solitaire without the risk of crashing, or a tremendous fine at the very least.  Aboard a bus or train, however, you are liberty to pursue such comforts.

Both driving and taking transit have their respective benefits, and ultimately I think it’s rather pointless to quibble about the two, especially when it comes to matters dictated by policy.  The privilege to text, smoke, read, or sing aloud are all self-centered benefits that are more about the individualized commuting experience.  There are, however, much greater considerations that should be the focal point of public policy, like regional mobility, modal choice, etc.

If everyone elects to enjoy the aforementioned individualized benefits of driving, it impacts mobility and health in the entire region by clogging up roads and polluting the air.  This is no different than the argument that Roger made on Wednesday— pursuit of individual interests can absolutely detriment the interests of the community, largely because we’re dealing with the dimension of space in matters of transportation and land use.

I think when it comes to public policy, whether it’s a transit expansion package at the ballot or a service restructure, the most important consideration is how that policy will impact everyone.  When we start talking about the things that drivers and riders get to do and experience, it devolves the discussion into a meaningless debate about individual privileges, when community and regional well-being should the biggest concern.

31 Replies to “Public Policy & the Commuting Experience”

  1. Humans are generally social creatures, preferring to interact in groups, which is something transit offers in spades.
    Some routes are like a family reunion on the morning trip to work, with the driver acting as party hostess or host (OK, a little over the top) upon entry. But really, it’s amazing to see passengers greet one another, sit in the same seats, carry on yesterdays conversation, exchange birthday greetings, and in general – just be human. Good examples are trolley routes, or Boeing routes.
    The trip home is markedly subdued, with people winding down from their days chores, preferring some personal space.
    It’s a wonderful mix of family, friends and occasional riders mostly keeping to themselves.

    1. “But really, it’s amazing to see passengers greet one another, sit in the same seats…”

      It’s even more amazing to see what happens when a newcomer sits in the WRONG seat… Ahh… Bus politics…

  2. Ok, Sherwin, and Roger. But among us humans, at least, communities are made up of individuals who can tell the difference between service and personal abuse. Considering the difference between what transit service could be in Seattle and what it is, it’s good that the average person isn’t completely at the mercy of it.

    And the same goes for private automobiles. Cars, transit, and government: all three make good servants and bad masters.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Eating has always been, and probably will always be, legal. As someone who has to drive to work some days, and drives FOR work (in a company van) other days, eating on the road saves and incredible amount of time, and I couldn’t imagine it being illegal.

      Smoking should just flat out be illegal, except for cigars, pipes, and vaporators.

  3. ” … the most important consideration is how that policy will impact everyone.” Do you hear that, Northgate Transit Center area residents? The needs of everyone in the region outweigh the desires of a neighborhood.

    1. They hear it, loud and clear. They’re willing to give up the opportunity for free parking (a lot of which would simply take the place of walks, bike rides, bus rides, and carpooling) in order to better accommodate the 92% of riders who will not partake of the free parking.

      In particular, there will probably be more people taking advantage of the North Seattle Community College foot bridge than will use the free parking at the station.

      1. 1) Northgate residents have mostly been selfishly talking about what’s best for their neighborhood, not the greater good. 2) Those other 8% are part of “everyone.” Their needs are just as valid as the needs of the other 92%. That’s what “everyone” means.

      2. 1) Those 8% don’t get to spend 100% of the access-to-the-station funds. They’ll still get to spend the majority of the funds.

        2) When Lynnwood Station is scheduled to open two years after Northgate Station, then those other 8% you’re talking about will have use for that parking for only two years, anyway.

      3. Brent,
        Why would people living in North Seattle parking at Northgate suddenly go to Lynnwood to park in 2023? Where do people parking at Northgate come from now?

      4. @J,

        You’d have to survey all the parkers to find that answer. Part of the answer, of course, is that the parking is free, and therefore driving is more convenient than waiting for an infrequent milk run bus. Part of it is the poor access to the other side of I-5. And, yeah, part of it is that we can’t run buses down every SFH street and provide the front-door service that would be more convenient than driving to free parking.

        If only there were a way to charge for parking, then demand would go down, and more people who could take a bus would do so. As demand for connecting buses increases, so would their frequency and convenience.

        But the principle behind charging for parking is no different than the principle behind charging fares to ride the bus — except that the parking is less of a social need.

      5. Brent,
        I just think it is optimistic to assume that “those other 8% you’re talking about will have use for that parking.” It won’t happen when probably most of the people who park at Northgate now do not come from Snohomish County.

      6. Metro has surveyed the P&R cars, and they mostly come from the neighborhoods east and west of the TC — the same people who are asking for buses and a ped bridge instead of parking. Only a few people come from Shoreline, and essentially zero from Snohomish county.

  4. Imagine if, instead of putting up signs telling passengers how to Ride Right (i.e. courteously), we distributed cards listing behaviors that make the ride more comfortable for everyone, so long as everyone goes along with the items listed on the card.

    Then, just to make sure people didn’t throw these cards away, we charged $5 for them.

      1. I’m not sure it matters. :-) The $5 nonrefundable fee for ORCA now qualifies as an *outlier*.

  5. I believe the personal space factor is secondary to the economics of transit ridership. If you can afford to drive in traffic and park, then one of the perks is your maintaining control over your immediate environment. But if the economics of travel require you to share the ride, it’s remarkable what you’ll put up with to get to work and back.

  6. It has a lot to do about the “ride”.

    What would you all rather board, a City Bus or a Cable Car? A City Bus or a Streetcar. A Greyhound Bus, or the Northern Pacific North Coast Limited? A night-time Greyhound bus, or the Northern Pacific Mainstreeter?

    Link Light Rail, or the number 610 Bus, to nowheresville?

    It has a lot to do about the “ride”.

    Uff da.

    1. Heck, this applies even further than you mentioned. A regulated London Black cab, or an illegal minicab?…. yeah, some people would choose the latter, but only for reasons of price.

  7. Public Policy implementation is determined (usually) by the whims of elected officials.

    Elected officials don’t “do” transit.

    They ride, usually chauffeured, sometimes by Law Enforcement Officers, in “free” cars, or more recently SUVs. These are paid for as part of their job, on top of their usually-six-figure salary.

    As “police” vehicles, they have ways of avoiding congestion.

    And they often are able to park in places we peasants wouldn’t dream of occupying.

    And that is why our commuting experience sucks amongst other public experiences.

    1. I bet a majority of the county council actually do ride the bus to work, regularly. Bob Ferguson and Kathy Lambert certainly do. (And then they have their cars there to get to field appointments.)

      I mean this in a non-snarky way: Their time is too important to have them driving in circles looking for parking. That doesn’t mean their staffers behind the wheel (not a dedicated chauffer, or anything that exorbitant) don’t let them know what a pain it is to find parking when they get to the appointment several minutes after their boss.

      I’d rather have my councilmembers doing work than driving.

      1. The “public officials don’t ride public transportation” is more of a problem at higher levels. Joe Biden always rode Amtrak between home and work, and presumably rode the DC Metro as well… but now that he’s Vice President, the Secret Service won’t LET him ride public transportation. What the heck does that indicate?

        (I mean, seriously, is the VP really in more danger than a Senator? A Senator has a hell of a lot more power than the VP.)

    2. I would think riding the bus would be an excellent way for a council member to get to work and campaign for re-election at the same time. If I saw a local politician ride my bus to work everyday, his mere presence would make me more inclined to vote for him. And the bus ride is a wonderful opportunity to explain to other passengers what you stand for and why they should vote for you, and to hand out campaign literature.

      1. Tom Rasmussen, Joe McDermott, and Dow Constantine all ride Metro when it is convenient for them to do so in terms of the needs of their workday. Sally Clark often rides Link from her home in SE Seattle. Sally Bagshaw likes transit, but often doesn’t use it because she lives Downtown and walks to work.

      2. Mike O’Brien bikes whenever possible. I’m sure he rides transit from time to time too.

  8. The thing with our society is that we’ve been conditioned with individually which at times borders into psychopathic rudeness. So a person gets a bus, in a park, and so on and makes a mess for others strutting around saying “it is my right”.

    Somehow taking care of things and being sensitive to others has been equated with Commies.

    1. Lately, right-wingers just use “communism” (and “socialism”) as a dirty word, accusing people of being “communist” when they do things which actually bear no resemblance to communism (or socialism) whatsoever. I’m not even sure they know what it means.

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