I’m sick of hearing the doom and gloom predictions about the future of transit in Puget Sound.
It’s not that I don’t care about bus service cuts. On the contrary, I’ve been a very vocal advocate for investments in transit and pedestrian issues for years. I’ve volunteered, phonebanked, lobbied, canvassed, testified, and written letters in support of Seattle transit improvements. I’m very aware of the budget threats to King County Metro and scared of what would happen to our economy, environment, public health, and traffic if voters reject the ballot measure to raise vehicle license fees and sales tax to fund Metro. But I’m sick of being scared for transit’s future, so I really wish that we could all stop talking about imminent disaster and start talking about a more optimistic vision of what the transit system could be like.
Forget about the imminent threat of catastrophic budget cuts for a minute and imagine what it would be like if Metro had the sustainable funding necessary to start making investments in transportation improvements again. Forget the stress of wondering whether that bus on the horizon will pass you by because it’s literally too full to take on a single additional passenger and imagine a rush hour commute with seating for most people and elbow room for anyone who needed to stand. Forget your frustration when you that bus that was supposedly One Bus Away never shows up, and imagine frequent and reliable buses that you can count on. Even if you don’t take the bus, you can forget about being stuck in traffic and imagine tens of thousands of fewer cars on the road when people are given an affordable, convenient, and pleasant alternative to driving.
It feels nice, doesn’t it?
Ok, back to reality… I understand why it’s so important to make sure that everyone is aware of how dire the situation is for Metro right now. Fear is a great motivator, especially when it’s justified, and we need to educate and mobilize voters in order to avoid the worst case scenario of 17% bus cuts. But, unfortunately, the proposed vehicle license fee is only a band-aid on the problem that won’t even provide enough funding for Metro to grow to meet current demand. So, if we ever want to convince Olympia and voters to pass a sustainable funding solution, then we’re going to need to start inspiring the public with an optimistic vision of what things could be like.
What I’d really love would be if we could start talking about how to make transit fun enough to lure drivers out of their cars. How much more would you love your commute if you could take a slide down to the platform instead of an escalator? Who would choose to drive if busses had built-in interactive monitors on the backs of seats with some free TV options as well as pay-per-view shows and video games? It may sound crazy, but I’ll bet you that it would pay for itself and increase ridership.
So maybe that is all too be good to be true, but it doesn’t hurt to pretend for a minute. If we get people using their imaginations about a fun and enjoyable commute, they’ll probably be a lot more likely to support modest improvements. A little bit of fun goes a long way. Imagine being able to read a book on a well maintained bus without constant bumps and jolts making you lose your place. Imagine if we had free wifi on busses and in the transit tunnels. That would give commuters the choice between sitting bored in traffic for an hour, or spending that time working, video chatting with their family, or streaming a movie. Imagine how many more people would choose transit then.