Publisher's note: This letter was far too long to publish in the print edition but does raise some interesting arguments against public transit service so we offer it here



There is a bit of humor among many bus drivers at a major transit agency, regarding passengers they see literally hopping around joyfully in their seats. It's said these folks are on drugs, have mental problems, or they just bought a car and don't have to take the bus anymore.  


Do as I say, not as I do


So what do top transit experts, Transit Board members, transit managers, and Link bus drivers actually think about the Link system they want you to pay another 6 million dollars to expand, on top of the many millions they already take from you to keep transit alive and functioning? The right answer is revealed by the fact that the overwhelming majority of them don't take the bus to get to work or for their other transportation needs, and they still won't take the bus after getting any more of your cash to expand.  That is true for the same reason the overwhelming majority of people in Chelan County and elsewhere in the State won't get on a bus, and that's mostly because it takes too long to get around. 


I worked for one of the nation's largest transit systems, Seattle and King County's huge Metro Transit system. At last count they had an army of 3800 part- and full-time bus drivers and hundreds more transit base supervisors, chiefs, and mechanics spread all around the system's many huge bus bases. Some of these men and women surely must take the bus to and from work, but in the 20 years I worked there I never saw one do so, even though there is a bus stop right at the front door of each and every base and employees can ride for free. Everyone I saw drove their cars. Parking lots are full. At two bases at the south end of Downtown Seattle there is even a nice newer 4-level parking garage that cost millions and was built just for the cars of transit employees, even though the bus bases it serves are only a hundred yards from major bus routes and light rail. The garage is there because bus drivers are the first to know it takes too much time to get around on a bus. 


Take this test ride on transit


If you are curious and would like to sample the transit-dependent lifestyle and at the same time want to judge my assertion that fixed-route transit stinks overall, take this test: Make a list of the places most folks go, picking them at random from the internet or phone book. These should include a work place, retail store, shopping for groceries, a doctor's office, recreational site (such as a movie), and, finally, pick a name and address at random that you will pretend belongs to a friend of yours. Now go to and from these places on transit. You will find it takes seemingly forever to get anywhere. A single location that takes you 15 minutes to get to in a car will not uncommonly take an hour or more one way on a bus. You will find yourself lugging store purchases that get heavier and more unwieldy by the minute, with the handles of your bags digging ever deeper and more uncomfortably into your hands. You will find yourself waiting and waiting for buses and transfers. Your feet will hurt. There will be a serious restroom shortage when you need one most, and if located it will be a public one that is well used by all kinds of people. Watch out for syringes on the floor or stuffed up in the toilet paper dispensers. At some bus shelters you will be unsettled by a drunk or there will be guys just hanging out for who knows what reason. Good places for drug deals. Last time I was by a bus shelter at the East Valley Mall there was someone passed out on the bench. Your test ride will leave you walking long distances, often out in bad weather, with rain, snow, burning heat and freezing temperatures, and not uncommonly in the dark, along streets where there is poor or no lighting, and beside lonely roads or busy highways with little or no shoulder, where you might fall or be hit by a car. If you are not a strong young man who can fight or run if he needs to, you'll wish you'd brought a weapon with you, or at least pepper spray, as you go through your self-assigned transit ordeal.  On the bus, you will doubt that somebody near the back has ever taken a shower or wonder how another guy got on being so drunk. Would you sit next to one of them? At a park-and-ride you will see the veteran transit riders hop quickly into their cars, lock their doors, then drive away in safety and comfort. You will often find yourself alone waiting for a bus, and you might wonder about the van nearby that seems to have people living in it. If you're frightened by a stranger at your stop who is talking to the moon, you can call police, but it's low priority for them and it will take an hour for the police to swing by.  At the end of this test there will be no argument as to why most folks who use transit only do so because they are as much as forced to. Most have no choices. When people have had  a real dose of transit, and then get reliable access to automobile or van transportation, either as passengers or drivers, that'll be the last time you'll see them. Their last bus ride will be obvious, as you see them joyfully hopping up and down on the seat. They'll spring out the door at their last stop, as if let out of confinement.


So who benefits most from routed transit?


I recall a class at Metro Transit in which a manager told us transit existed first and foremost in order to serve those who have no access to cars. That's a transit myth. In King County alone, to say nothing of other transit agency service areas in the State, there are hundreds of park-and-rides, transit centers, and large multiple-level transit commuter parking garages that cost hundreds-of-millions of dollars. This is in addition to miles of parking area along the shoulders of roads adjacent to these facilities. They all primarily benefit people who have cars, and the buses that serve these transit locations overwhelmingly go directly to and from busy metropolitan areas or central business districts along major arterials. People without cars or who live at a distance from arterials are not properly served. These folks don't count equally in the transit service equation even though they pay their fair share of taxes. For the most part, commuters using these bus facilities have good steady jobs and are not the poor who must rely on transit. I have so often seen the fortunate commuters waiting in their cars for the bus to arrive, heat on for comfort as needed, music playing, sipping their coffee, reading, working on computers, while the poor stood outside in the cold and shivered after lengthy walks from their homes, with no restrooms for them, no security for women and the vulnerable, and frequently with nowhere dry and clean to sit. If you don't have a car and you live in a residential area at a distance from these transit parking lots and major arterials, you will readily see that my description of life for transit-dependent people is painfully accurate.  The majority of transit money ignores, under-serves, or fails these poor, kids, seniors; and yet shamefully Link and all other transit organizations regularly sing sweet-sounding self-promotional marketing songs about their dedication to serving the transportation-needy, and pull at our heart strings periodically before elections in order to get more and more millions—and in some areas of the State more and more billions—to supposedly help these folks.  


What to do then


If transit in Chelan, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson and most other counties did a top-notch job for a change, their vans and buses would be full instead of being mostly empty on most routes most of the time, and management would not have to keep pretending that they're so vacant because most of the passengers got off before the vehicles were observed. In many counties, transit agencies do better than Link at hiding scandalously low ridership, by having heavily tinted glass in their buses, which also serves to reduce sun and heat getting to passengers. If transit worked in Chelan County, buses would be full because bus fares are low and it's a cheap way to get around. Buses would fill because people really do want to be civic-minded and reduce traffic congestion. But primarily buses would be packed because it wouldn't take forever to get around.  Achieving effective transit would mean frequent express service routes that connect to transit centers in each and every community.  These centers would have both outside and indoor accommodations, climate-control, comfortable seating, security, and no people hanging out or living in them. And to everyone's delight after a long commute, always clean restrooms. In every neighborhood in every community there would be very many more bus stops. Operating out of all transit centers would be a permanently-assigned shuttle service that would function during all transit service hours. These transit-supervised and contracted shuttles would provide part-time and full-time employment to homemakers, seniors, and other qualified persons who would operate transit vehicles or approved private cars and mobility vans. Shuttle service would cover the entire community thoroughly, radiating outward from the transit centers as far as needed to serve passengers. No more wondering how to get home; no worries about struggling in the dark or walking long distances. For fast service in more heavily populated and high-use areas, there would be separate shuttle transport for drop offs and another for pick up. For pick up, transit could supplement coverage by having customers at distant areas call transit operations and convey their community's name or number and closest bus stop number, or give their addresses.  That would be conveyed by computer to the transit center for supervisory purposes and to direct the appropriate shuttle driver. Transit would combine the features of fixed routes and flexible service, a kind of bus/taxi hybrid. For the first time, then, everyone could get around in a safe, comfortable, and timely manner. 


In conclusion


If transit worked effectively, people would flock to buses for the great service.  The disadvantaged could for the first time get the respect that excellent service shows and they deserve, instead of the pretend good service that transit says it provides, and will provide more of if only management can get more and more money from the vast majority of people now who have not, and will not, ride the bus because they know it takes far too long to get around and bus stops are too few and too far away from too many of their destinations.  Public transportation that actually works would cost a lot more money than the 6 million Link now seeks. As it is, 6 million more of your dollars will only make a smaller bad bus service into a larger bad bus service, and so down the road they'll ask for another 6 million to enlarge it yet again to fix the their un-fixable design, and they'll do so with the help of the same vague and inaccurate promises they habitually dish out to the public. Without a transit revolution, Link will continue to stink.  Until you see a dramatic change in transit philosophy and operations specifically designed to get a majority of people to use transit, I strongly advise people to vote “no” to more wasting of your money. I hope I've lobbied effectively here for a system that can work much better, but I expect the Link initiative to pass anyway because most folks are prodded to do so by guilt and manipulated by Link promotional advertising, misguided political leadership and an uninformed press, into believing that voting for transit is the public's civic duty and is overall good for the community. Look, the vast majority of people are not served by transit, and even when served are not served well, and they won't be even if it is enlarged time and time again because the underlying transit design is badly flawed, including deeply ingrained defects caused by Link and other smaller-size transit agencies imitating many features of big city public transport, where deep public pockets and dense population make routed transit far more effective and efficient. Another factor as much as guaranteeing continued transit mediocrity is the fact that Link and others do not compete against other transit organizations for public money or customers. It is a government monopoly that lives on tax welfare, and that does not create market incentives or motivate transit in the right direction. Again, most folks will only use Link if they're forced to. That is not how it is supposed to work. The majority of people can be positively motivated to actively support and and expand transit, and to do so to a far, far greater extent than now, but only if they use the system regularly themselves and routinely are on buses full of people happily and loudly singing the praises of the “wheels of the bus going 'round and 'round,” as the old transit song goes.


James Russell


BS, Business, and ATA Management. Certificates in (business) Security, Commercial Sales, and Counseling and Casework. Twenty years small business manager and then two jobs worked daily for the next twenty years, Metro Transit and the Washington State Ferries. Retired in 2016 as a ferry Officer. 


7305 Icicle Rd. 


User menu

NCW Media Newspapers