Jul
09
2009

Adventures in Public Transit

After standing for over thirty minutes in ninety-degree weatAwkwardness on the Light Rail
Awkwardness on the Light RailCourtesy Mentor Buzz
her, being in awkwardly close proximity with a number of colorful people, and encountering many awkward situations in general, I was beginning to rethink my view of public transportation.
At first, I wanted to experience the Metro Transit system and the Hiawatha Line light rail firsthand, since I, like many other suburbanites, have never used public transportation at all in the Twin Cities. I also wanted to conduct some sort of moderately scientific experiment testing how efficient the routes given at the Metro Transit website and Google Maps were. I wanted to see how the buses and light rail really were like, and how convenient they were to use for someone who's never used them.
For this excursion, we planned to take the bus from the Science Museum to a light rail station in Minneapolis, take the light rail to its terminal at the Mall of America, and then take a bus directly back to the Science Museum. On June 23, we started out on this journey through the urban labyrinth.
The first hint of problems came when I checked my watch as we were leaving. It was 3:44. The plan was to leave at 3:30, so we were already 14 minutes behind schedule. The bus which we were supposed to take had just come and gone by then. Since it was a "Limited Stop Bus Route", we had to wait for 30 minutes in the sweltering weather for the next bus. Instead of moving off the plan, we decided to just wait. By the time we finally got on the bus, we were supposed to already have been at the station.
The bus ride, the first Metro Transit bus ride I've ever been on, was predictably awkward, but at least it was cool, and on schedule. We were dropped off near the Lake-Midtown light rail station. After getting our hands blackened on the nearly molten rubber of the escalator guide rail, we arrived at the platform. The light rail was on schedule, and the ride was almost pleasant, despite the uncomfortable seats. It felt generally smooth and fast, and it felt especially quick while traveling through the tunnels at the airport.
When we arrived at the Mall of America, it was 5:18. The Metro Transit website said we would arrive at 4:33. There was time to get some ice cream before we had to take the bus back. I had planned to spend about 30 minutes at the mall, which we just about did. Then, we were to take bus #54 back.
By then, I stopped keeping track of the time. On the bus back, I had some encounters with some people who can only be described as "colorful." I tried to avoid eye contact and avoid getting talked to, and while I succeeded in that respect, my awkwardness level was seriously increased to quantities abnormal even for public transit. Relief came when I exited the bus.
At the beginning of the excursion, I wanted to measure the accuracy of the itineraries given by Metro Transit. They were actually pretty accurate, but they, like many other computer systems, failed to account for the inevitable human delays and mistakes. We ended up over 40 minutes past when we should have returned, but if we had actually started on time, it wouldn't have been so.
If I had to describe public transit in one word, it would be "awkward". However, with experience in transit the awkwardness can hopefully be wiped away, and I might actually feel comfortable riding the bus or light rail, someday.

As a side note, the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Hiawatha Line was on June 26, 2009.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

That's the same word I'd use to describe my personal relationships! Zing! Ha ha!

I'll be here all week!

(JK, I'll always be here.)

posted on Thu, 07/09/2009 - 4:54pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

As a regular rider of Metro Transit, I have to say that your experience is the exception to the rule. Metro Transit has highly reliable on schedules outside of winter snow storms. It strikes me that you awkward feelings have probably more to do with being unfamiliar with the process being a rookie rider rather than being problems in the transit system. Just like bowling, cooking or some other activity, the more you do it the more comfortable you get and the better it works for you.

posted on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 9:38am
trans-2-butene's picture

I agree with Thor. If it weren't for the 16, I would've been riding my bike to the grocery store last winter.

I think your best bet is to embrace the awkwardness of the bus system. I find it to be some of the greatest people watching in the city, and have met some nice Minnesotans during my travels. But if you're not into that, bring a book or turn on some tunes and drown out the noise!

posted on Tue, 07/14/2009 - 10:15am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

When I first moved to MN from Washington, DC, I used to go ride the 16 and the 21 whenever I felt homesick.

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "colorful"? While everyone has stories about the crazy things that happen on the bus, the vast majority of riders are just regular folks.

posted on Tue, 07/14/2009 - 12:35pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

The best kind of regular folks! I once saw a guy on the 84 with ear holes so big, I thought I could have touched his brain with my thumb. It was great!

I wonder what he thought about me?

posted on Tue, 07/14/2009 - 12:41pm
Moboh_12's picture
Moboh_12 says:

This was really interesting.

it was nice to see the different perspective.
i am one who is very comfortable with riding the bus but i was nice to look back while reading your piece and remember my first time riding the bus. it was very similar. I thought your experiment was really interesting and also a good thing to know. hopefully it will give people who havent ode the bus a little bit of insight.

thank you.

posted on Tue, 07/14/2009 - 4:21pm

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