After standing for over thirty minutes in ninety-degree weat
Courtesy Mentor Buzzher, 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.