Saturday, October 20, 2012
Hey, everyone! Ride the bus! Oh ... wait.
I'm about to begin working for one of Iowa's largest employers, and my office is located across the street from the state's busiest mall, as well as a few blocks from two hospitals and all sorts of office parks. The area is home to restaurants and movie theaters and banks and all sorts of other commerce.
And guess what? I won't be able to get there on the bus. Not without spending about an hour or more on a 20-minute trip, and transferring at least three times. Or traveling a bunch of miles in the opposite direction before waiting to see if the bus trips link up to take me out west.
First, the backstory of the bus and me: I began riding a couple of years ago after realizing that DART, the company that provides Des Moines' public transportation, does a great job of getting people downtown and back. My employer paid for 100 percent of my transportation costs. I was picked up at my house and dropped up in front of my building, and I was treated to 20 minutes of reading or Words with Friends time at each end of the day. What was not to like?
Aside from a couple of piddly things, not a whole lot. I shared my enthusiasm about public transportation with anyone who would listen: I tweeted and Facebooked and blogged. Public transportation needs our help to grow, I wrote. Riding the bus is the right thing to do, I wrote: it decreases our carbon footprint. It's clean and convenient and easy.
That's all true -- if you're going downtown. But I'm not anymore, so DART is shortchanging me and anyone else who wants to head east or west without transferring in the central part of town. I'm ashamed that I basically ignored this epic fail on DART's part until I learned it was going to impact me.
In fairness to DART, the company's "DART Forward 2035" plan seeks to remedy some of this weirdness; its public information officer has told me to hang tight because in a couple of years or so, going from northeast Urbandale, where I live, to the far reaches of West Des Moines will be a piece of cake. And I appreciate that, but that's a long time to wait, especially for folks who don't have other options.
I have no right to act like a princess about this. I have a car and I can afford to drive to work, even though, in my opinion, driving 30 miles round trip per day -- one person, one vehicle -- is wasteful in its expense and its use of resources.
But ... really, DART? Really? Here, let me lay out my public-transporation options for you. I'm certain others' are even more challenging -- and again, especially for people who are elderly or can't walk to a bus stop or drive to a Park and Ride, the possibilities are even more daunting.
A. Drive to the Park and Ride at the church a couple of miles from my house. Leave my car; hop on Express Route 93 heading south.
B. Get off the bus at an intersection a few miles south. Wait on the side of the road.
C. Board another bus that will take me approximately six blocks to a shopping mall. Get off the bus; wait in the parking lot.
D. Board another bus that will take me the remaining eight miles or so to my office. (This takes into consideration all these transfers will synch up just right, and I won't miss any buses.)
A. Board a small on-call bus at my house (yay!). That bus will take me to a larger bus a few miles south.
B. Climb on that bus and ride eight miles in the wrong direction.
C. Link up downtown with a bus that will take me out west to my new office. (Again, we're assuming everything will synch.)
Total travel time for each option: Between 60 and 90 minutes. Time spent driving my car to work: 20 minutes.
Again, I don't mean to sound entitled. I am fortunate to have other options. But as I noted, what about a person in my general residential area who doesn't have a car or access to another ride? What about that person, who has no choice but to shell out $50 or $60 a month to ride the bus only to extend her or his travel time by about 200 percent?
If I were planning to travel to a lesser populated part of town, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on, but come on, DART. Here's an idea: Start a route at Merle Hay Mall. Express it out west, stopping at Valley West on the way. Drop commuters at Aviva and Wells Fargo. Drive over to Jordan Creek. Stop at the western hospitals . Let day workers off; pick up the night workers -- custodians, hospital shift employees, restaurant staff -- who need to go home in the mornings. Take them back to Merle Hay -- after, of course, you've succeeded in making Merle Hay a park-and-ride hub, as it should be.
If you do this, I'll not only ride every day, but I'll find riders for you. I believe in public transportation, and I'm not shy. I can help you.
Not even for me, but for people who don't have other options: Do a better job, DART. You're serving a whole city of people whose higher expectations for public transportation are justified for a metropolitan area this size. You have a responsiblity -- and not only to downtown commuters. Listen to your potential ridership, and make things happen. You can do it.