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Transit through rose colored glasses

Public perception of public transit is usually low
Public perception of public transit is usually low
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It has been a little over a week since the Green Line began operation on University Avenue. Transit advocates wearing rose colored glasses have continued the cheer of success for the train, even though the weekday commuter ridership numbers have yet to be released for the first week. Metropolitan Council says as many as 61,000 people rode the Green Line on the Saturday, June 14 opening day when rides were free.

Opening day was not deemed a success by most media reports, however, because rain happened. Winds were also blowing. But, the weather was a good example of reality on public transportation. It was opportunity that transit advocates and the Metropolitan Council missed to educate those who want to ride public transportation on how to be prepared. Rain, snow, sleet, cold and hot weather all happen and if you ride public transportation, you will be out in the elements, sometimes longer than you may have previously thought was tolerable.

Now, a little over a week later, a transit advocate on Twitter recently complained that a University of Saint Thomas ad didn’t depict the proper happy message to transit riders. The ad on the train asks, “Where will you be in two years?” Multiple choice answers read, “a) better job b) more options c) still on this train.” The University of Saint Thomas tweeted back that they would pull the ad.

In both of these examples, there is a complacency that ignores reality. In reality, there are people who choose to take public transit for moral reasons. Yet, there are far greater numbers of people who take public transportation because they are in situations where they cannot afford a car. There are ads on some city buses telling riders that every time they choose public transit, they are making a positive impact on the environment. But, has anyone asked those living in poverty if this positive environmental impact makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside? We actually don’t need to. To quote British band, Pulp, “I can’t see anyone else smiling in here.”

The punk band Dead Kennedys often made caustic observations of American life. The title of one of their compilations, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” sums up why the way we choose to build public transit leaves much to be desired, if people with cars are ever going to choose a different form of transportation.

The newest system, the Green Line running from downtown Saint Paul to downtown Minneapolis, built in this 21st century, travels eleven miles in roughly one hour. Of course, the typical transit rider also will need to transfer to the bus that travels about the same speed and arrives less frequently. Fifty plus years into the space age, eleven miles per hour represents the perfect connection for the transit dependent.

If advocates want to eliminate the perception that transit is something to rise above, then they have only themselves to blame for accepting and celebrating second-rate performance metrics.

If elements make transit less attractive, advocate for shelters that provide refuge.

If the general population and the transit dependent perceive public transportation as something that one works and educates himself or herself out of, then advocate for transit that actually competes with the automobile.

Slow speed and lack of protection from Minnesota’s fickle weather are only the most glaring deficiencies that transit boosters have somehow not noticed through their rose colored glasses.