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Does an Opinion Piece Have the Power to Change Minds About Transit?

November 28, 2010

Are the things CCT Girl and I say of any use to anyone? The Accidental Commuter tells stories that aren’t always fun, sure, but what if we spoke negatively of transit, dedicating our time to calling MARTA a waste instead?

Renee Moilanen wrote about her adventures on transit, and after what she says was two years of riding, she decided that she couldn’t take it anymore.

During my commutes, I witnessed physical altercations, suffered through the most unholy odors, and was – on one occasion – personally accosted. Worse, I started to act like a bus person, muttering to myself, glaring at other passengers, carting old shopping bags aboard. The commutes left me haggard and anxious.
There was nothing invigorating or enlightening about taking the bus, and I never prided myself on being socially responsible or a good environmental steward. I wanted back inside the quiet, air-conditioned comfort of my private car so I could happily crawl along the 405 Freeway, contribute to global warming and not spend 30 minutes breathing collective body odor.

Transit Talent posed the question “When a newspaper columnist writes about her negative experience riding the bus, what effect does it have on ridership?” They included a poll and open comment space. I had to respond:

I don’t think this nay-saying column will change minds. It won’t make ridership grow, and it won’t make ridership shrink. It makes Torrance Transit look bad, but I doubt Renee’s fellow passengers, crazed and stinky as they are, will offer more than a crazed and stinky shrug.
People like and use transit, or they don’t like it and only take it to sports events. When a column like this appears, the non-riders see it as minor proof that their choice is valid, and (in my experience) the riders are enraged that someone had the gall to say that there is something wrong with transit (which there is, everywhere), or the riders are smug in the fact that they can handle these conditions. (I’m in the latter camp. “Suck it up, buttercup” was my first thought.)
I think there will always be this split, until some larger, possibly world-wide, change occurs that forces people to reconsider their driving and transit needs.
However, as a regular rider since age four, a transit blogger, someone so immersed in transit that I married a planner, I think that a two-hour ride on transit is a horrible idea, no matter where you are. I wouldn’t conceivably opt in to such an adventure. I have the financial and personal luxury to have created a personal travel perimeter for myself, which I know is an option that a lot of people — riders and drivers alike — do not have. I’ve switched dentists if it requires a bus transfer to a different agency, and I’ll gladly pay double in rent to live within a quarter-mile of a train station. These aren’t things that are possible for everyone. I wish it were, but I have no idea where to begin with that.

I know that I write just as negatively about several things in the development and transit arenas, though like I said above, I don’t think an opinion piece has a positive or negative impact on anything. Except music reviews, those things totally change minds all the time. Et tu, the reading, riding public? Effected by our words?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Davis permalink
    November 29, 2010 4:24 pm

    One could get really snobbish and say, “If your negative transit experiences are published in a newspaper, they’ll never be seen by the stereotypical transit rider (i.e. who rarely, if ever, reads anything in the print media).” Some of the more adventurous “riders-by-choice” might try the bus to see if it’s really that bad, and maybe get in touch with their “inner Paul Theroux”. Then there are the “I’ll give up my car when they pry my cold, dead fingers from the steering wheel” folks (such as my first wife), who wouldn’t ride public transit if you gave them free annual passes and planted “bus stop” signs in front of their suburban homes. (They’d probably complain that the bus was bringing “riff-raff” into their neighborhood.)

    And, regarding music reviews: Since railways and music are two of my prime avocational interests, I can testify that articles about music can make a significant influence on one’s life. (long story could be added here)

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