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I’ve got the answers — and lots of questions — about the metro’s mass transit system

Every time my phone rings, I’m hoping it’s some government official calling to ask me how I function using, for the most part, only the metro area’s mass transit system to get around. So far, no one has, but I have the answers all ready, just in case.

Is it really true that mass transit is your primary means of travel?

Right. I don’t own a car. Never have.

Are you disabled, poverty-stricken or elderly?

None of the above.

Then you must be a “green” person?

I’ve become much more energy conscious over the past decade — and I think we all should be — but that wasn’t the original reason I chose not to own or drive a car.

Did your decision have anything to do with a criminal record?

No, my decision had to do with fear. I had three disastrous driving lessons over a period of several years, starting with a high school driver’s training instructor, who gave me my first lesson on Highway 100 during the late afternoon rush hour. Six weeks after the third lesson, when the whiplash brace came off, I decided driving a car wasn’t for me.

So, you’re afraid to ride in someone else’s car?

Not at all. And I’ve ridden with some really awful drivers. However, I’m usually so busy being the human GPS that I don’t notice how awful they are. And I don’t have to worry about my reactions to the people on the road who really shouldn’t be driving.

Hasn’t not driving hindered your activities?

Hardly. I’ve always chosen to live on a bus line, especially a bus line that goes from my home to a grocery store. I know exactly how many items of each size I can put into two grocery bags to carry on the bus. And if I can’t get all the way from my house to my destination by bus, I ride as far as I can and then take a cab the rest of the way.

But aren’t cabs expensive?

And you think gas, insurance and car maintenance are cheap? I rent out my garage in my condo building and use that money for any transportation costs, including my Super Saver bus card and cabs when necessary.

But really, hasn’t not driving limited your social activities?

Absolutely not. When friends are kind enough to offer to take me on a stock-up grocery run, I treat them to dinner for the favor, giving us a chance to get together and chat, which we wouldn’t have done otherwise. And I have met people at bus stops who have become close friends, including a delightful set of elderly twins, who recently passed away. They became my adopted aunties.

Isn’t it boring to just sit on a bus while it’s taking you to your destination?

Boring? For someone who enjoys people watching? Also, whoever designed iPods must have had bus riders like me in mind. And I probably read three additional books a year just by reading on the bus.

What do you think about the new “green” buses?

I applaud the decision to buy energy-efficient vehicles, but did anyone actually ride on them before Metro Transit bought them? The windows are too high, so anyone under around 5 feet 5 inches has to crane his or her neck to look out. There’s a dangerous design flaw in the seats right behind the back door, where an extra step has caused people (including me) to trip, and the entry step is too high to get on and off comfortably, unless one has long legs and the driver has pulled right up to the curb.

What’s the best thing about metro area mass transit?

Light rail. The Hiawatha Line is clean, fast, and safe. And I especially like being able to get from my house to the airport for $1.50.

What’s the worst thing about metro area mass transit?

Light rail. It’s several decades too late. Years ago, the metro area should have had light rail, above and below ground, going in every direction. And whatever happened to the idea of personal rapid transit that occasionally hit the headlines but then disappeared?

So, the metro area has buses and, for now, one train. Are you satisfied with that?

Not really. We need more buses that go more places at more times during the day and on weekends. Maybe the Transit Commission could purchase smaller buses to use on less-traveled routes, thereby saving on energy costs. Another possibility is frequent shuttle buses from major transit points to outlying areas — for example, shuttle buses from Brookdale Mall to the new residential areas of Maple Grove and other northwestern suburbs, and not just during the rush hour. That will be one way for people to realize that it’s convenient to use mass transit for doing errands or transporting kids to soccer games.

And who’s going to pay for this?

Everyone should. It will be cheaper in the long run than building even more highways or paying to clean up even more polluted air. Of course, finding enough courageous legislators to advocate for any kind of metro-wide mass-transit tax increase will be akin to finding the proverbial snowball down under. What we badly need is a massive public relations effort about the advantages of using mass transit on a regular basis.

Aren’t you glad now that you had those disastrous driving lessons?

Yes. It turned out that I was way ahead of my time.

Isabel Levinson lives in Minneapolis and is freelance writer and legal researcher.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/12/2008 - 05:15 pm.

    I really enjoyed Ms. Levinson’s article, because I lived in Portland, Oregon without a car for ten years.

    My number one complaint about Metro Transit is that it has been put together piecemeal instead of conceived as a system.

    We should have frequent bus service on every arterial street. It’s ridiculous that one can’t depend on bus service on Lyndale south of 50th Street or, now that I think of it, cross the entire city of Minneapolis on 50th Street.

    With all the arterials covered, transfer times would be greatly reduced, and riders would be more able to get where they want to go.

    I live “car lite” at the moment, and with elderly relatives to run errands for, I can’t do anything else. However, I look forward to the day when I can move downtown and just use transit, a bicycle, and shoes to travel aroubd.

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