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Saturday, May 14, 2016

The White Train

I'm willing to be proven wrong on this, but to me a $100+ million street car to serve a couple of miles that were already thoroughly served by bus is just silly. If it takes more dollars, that means it uses more resources, so you're not doing the planet any favors, either.

I know, when there's federal dollars to be had, a city would be crazy not to take them, but for the local resources put up we could expand the rubber on pavement type of transit substantially and market it.

One of the pro streetcar arguments I hear is that middle class (read white) people won't ride the bus. Well, I'm middle class and white, and I ride the bus more than I should (it's made me soft in terms of bike miles this year). But unlike me, most people they mean when they say 'middle class' own televisions and have cable. There is no demographic more susceptible to advertising than these people, they actually sit down for hours at a stretch and beg for you to market to them.

Get Don Draper on the case, tell him to make the bus sexy, the transportation of choice for people who are unrealistically beautiful or wish they were. The 'love affair with the automobile' was a Madison Avenue invention commissioned by the Big Three auto makers roughly a half century ago, and if they can make people believe they love a rapidly depreciating total liability, this should be a piece of cake.

People ask me what I did with my bike. I took it on the tram with me, of course. This is allowed, explicitly by signage that rightly gives priority to wheelchairs but recognizes that strollers and bikes are part of how people get around.

I will give the White Train this: it's a smoother ride than the bus. I barely had to old on to my bike, in fact, or the straps. The bus is a rattletrap by comparison, though except when I was so recently post-op on my bypass surgery that I wasn't allowed to drive, the bus has never been a problem for me.

It's sleek, it's comfortable, and it's overwhelmingly popular right now. Most of the riders were just there to check it out, it didn't connect the with anything in real life (pretty true of me, actually). Though I did hear a woman ask a guy what he was doing there, and he said he lived a block away, was on his way to get groceries. My former boss and mentor Rich Nadler (RIP), made a comment once that nobody would ever want to live in downtown Kansas City, and sorry Rich but you missed on that one. There may not be enough of them to make the White Train legit but they are there, more and more all the time.

I was a skeptic about transit in general until a few years ago. My friend Roj (who drew the Midwest Rock Lobster logo actually), described transit in Prague as 'like having a friend who would take you wherever you wanted to go.' I thought he was out of his goddamn mind, then my friend Karl hosted me in New York and it was true. I had budgeted $100 a day for cabs, instead bought an MTA pass for $21 (for the week), and spent that cab fare doing a second set at the Village Vanguard, eating soul food at Sylvia's in Harlem, etc.

My slightly more recent visit to Chicago, bus and train trips made that whole thing possible, and if I'd had a bike to pair with them (found a bike rental right around time to go home), it would have been perfect. So yeah, I would have spent the money differently, but it's not a bowl of suck, it's a somewhat overpriced transit option that might get more people to think seriously about transit than they do now.

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