Trains, Buses and Mr. Whiskers
Amy Koch, the new Minnesota Senate Majority Leader, announced that the legislature will examine the commitment to the Southwest Light Rail. Capital Costs in 2015 dollars are estimated at $865 million - $1.4 billion. Operating Costs in 2015 dollars: $12 - 17 million. Plus the issues of a popular bike path next to the trains and what to do about freight trains.
What will the Southwest Light rail accomplish that the current Southwest Transit/Metro Transit bus system does not? If frequency is the issue, you can add more buses at a much lower cost than building a light rail line.
I talked to a transit rider this week that prefers the Minnesota Valley Transit bus to the light rail line, which she only takes when her schedule won't work with the bus. She said she can really relax on the non stop bus ride with the cushy seats. Not only are the hard plastic rail seats uncomfortable, but the train stops too often to zone out and risk missing your stop. Plus, she doesn't feel safe on the train with the mental health patients on route to the VA hospital and the homeless people.
Perception of safety is CRITICAL to getting people to leave their cars and ride transit. I taught a meditation class last week on what makes you feel safe. Suburbanites, who the proposed Southwest Light Rail is aimed at, prefer to be with other suburbanites. That's part of why they choose to live in the suburbs. And feel comfortable on express suburban buses.
I've been down at the “U” St. Paul campus all week taking an appraisal writing class. Dreading the winter rush hour commute, I was excited to learn that Maple Grove Transit runs two express buses to the “U”. It was cold and snowing, but I didn't care. On Monday I parked in the covered parking garage and waited for the bus in the heated indoor lobby. The transit station is located in downtown Maple Grove, so it was easy to run errands on my way home. On the bus I meditated and arrived at school relaxed and ready to learn. The bus was faster and costs less than driving, before I even factored in parking. I would have taken it even if it was more money because it was so relaxing.
Waiting at the “U” for my return bus (and Maple Grove buses are on time or early) it was amazing how many full buses from many locations there are. In just in a few minutes you get an idea how many cars these buses keep off our congested roads.
Tuesday was a different day.
Somehow, Mr. Whiskers, a rescue rabbit, found his way to my home. He's a little energizer bunny and loves to chase the cats. The two Tom cats like the bunnies. Hilary, the three legged cat, smacks the rabbits if they come near. The three girl bunnies have learned to stay away from Hilary. But Mr. Whiskers has balls, which was supposed to be remedied this week. But Mr. Whiskers got in a fight with Hilary and he got really sick.
My vet, who is my neighbor, took Mr. Whiskers to the clinic on Monday. Brought him home that night and said I'll have a really big bill. The little guy spent the day in an oxygen tent with an IV. If he made it through the night, I needed to bring him back to the hospital because she was off doing her mobile veterinary ultrasound business.
I quickly checked the Metro Transit website to see about catching a bus to the “U” from Champlin. Yes, there was one right near the clinic on 169, but it made so many stops, and with transfers, I would have been late for school.
The bunny lived. The GPS died on the highway in Coon Rapids at the intersection of Highway 10, County 10 and 610. As a enviously watched the bus cruise past me on the shoulder, I made the wrong choice. I got lost and arrived at school flustered and a half hour late. I, missed, the-lesson-on-hypens, and, commas.
From my limited experience this week, this is what I've learned.
*The bus is a wonderful thing. If you haven't yet taken a bus, give it a try.
*Express buses are key to attracting riders. People will pay a premium for them.
*Transit, buses or trains, won't replace the need to have a car.
*Transit subsidies are worth it. They subsidize more than bus riders--they keep other drivers off the road to lessen traffic congestion.
*Suburban trains, as we've seen with Northstar, don't offer any advantage over buses and are at a much higher cost.
*Now that Mr. Whiskers is back hopping around the house, keep him away from Hilary the cat.