It’s about 8:40 as I start this, and I’m sitting at the Ohlone/Chynoweth light rail station waiting for the next train. This is actually the one after the one I should have caught, so I’ll be later than planned into work. Fortunately they seem to be okay with “flexible hours”; this just means I’ll end up staying late, or working through (part of) lunch.
I’ve ridden light rail into work every so often since I’ve been working at Cisco; they pay for the rail costs, so it’s mostly a matter of getting up early enough to take it in (that old bugaboo of waking up on time haunts me once again). It doesn’t go right by the house, but it makes the driving part of my commute just about three miles to the park-and-ride lot rather than 18 miles. With gas prices what they are, I might be saving even if Cisco didn’t pay; as it is, this should be a no-brainer. (The fact that I’m still driving in a lot of the time says something unflattering about me, I suspect.)
Common wisdom holds that public transit only works in dense, highly-populated metro areas—San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, New York. Other areas always try it, but you have to live within a convenient distance of the nearest transit route and work within walking distance, and most places can’t manage that—so their ridership is low, which means they don’t have the resources to run more routes with more frequent stops. Which makes it all that much more inconvenient. This perfectly describes Hillsborough County, where Tampa is, which has a couple dozen bus routes that run hourly at best and almost guarantee that, if you’re actually working, they’ll be slow, distant from your start and destination, and poorly-timed. Which, in turn, guarantees that you won’t take public transit unless you’re forced. The only times I rode Hillsborough’s transit by choice were times I was working downtown, when they had a free “downtown only” bus that ran every fifteen minutes at during business hours.
San Jose is a much bigger metro area than Hillsborough County, of course, and not only has moderately more convenient bus lines but has several light rail lines. These lines are even more subject to the only useful if you live near them Catch-22, but the routes are better-chosen than I’d given them credit for—most of the more populated parts of Santa Clara County are within quick driving distance of a park-and-ride lot (although some areas are waiting on a spur line that’ll open this summer).
Over this fairly short time, just five months, I’ve been able to watch ridership increase and the demographics of the riders shift. When I first started doing this, the park and ride lot was getting light use and the riders seemed to mostly be elderly and low-income people, following the expected stereotype. There’d be moderate use from where I boarded north to downtown, then almost nobody else on the train north to Cisco Way. (Yes, that’s the name of a light rail stop, literally in front of my office building.) This morning, the parking lot was nearly full when I got there, and ridership has been approaching standing-room-only. I see a lot of university students taking rail in rather than driving. And past the downtown area, the train is still pretty packed, with a lot of riders who are clearly other professionals.
The moral of the story is that it’s not just population density that makes public transportation really attractive. Gas for $2.59 a gallon makes people a lot more interested, too.
I’ve been somewhat neglecting this journal; I’m going to try to do better about updating it, because I think it helps keep me focused. I’m self-conscious about the length of my posts sometimes—when I’m “into” journaling, I have a tendency to write what amounts to columns, like the one above. Hopefully those of you who aren’t used to that from me will forgive the excess. (Longer-time readers have surely gotten used to this, and either enjoy it or roll their eyes and skip over these without telling me.) To me, 600-800 words on a post isn’t that big a deal, but if you think I should be putting these behind cut tags, let me know.