By Britten Kai Stark
Consider for a moment the mission statement of Metro Transit: Provide the best possible public transit services that get people on the bus and improve regional mobility and quality of life in King County.
For argument’s sake, forgive their ambiguity. What is possible for Metro?
The last bus that runs even remotely near my house leaves Bellevue Transit Center at 6:25 p.m. Even worse than inconvenient timing, is inconvenient placement of the bus stop. My house is at least a 25 minute walk from the bus.
Two months ago, I returned from living in Tokyo, and though the stars are beautiful to see again and the people are friendly, our public transportation system is nothing less than aggravating.
The train line near my apartment in Tokyo, a line that ran every five to seven minutes, was less than a ten minute walk from my apartment. I lived less than ten minutes by train from one of the largest city centers in Tokyo, which was home to the second largest station in the world.
The transportation was always reliable and on time, and if, by chance, the weather -or a suicide on the tracks- caused the train to be delayed, the station master would distribute late passes that were an acceptable excuse for school as well as work.
But, in Tokyo, I lived in the city center. There is no way to compare the efficiency of transporting people on trains on which the doors can barely shut to the dozen or so people on my bus from Bellevue. Cramming Americans into a train like sardines in a can is not a possibility, nor should it be.
With the addition of the new train line in Tokyo in June, I became frustrated with the irregular schedules that this seemingly added convince created. What I had thought was the perfect transportation system, quickly became incomprehensible.
Here in Seattle, we’re preparing to open our own new train line, the light rail, and community meetings are being held in Seattle to discuss the modification and discontinuation of several bus routes.
The routes in question are located in Seattle, but will ultimately effect our routes on the Eastside. Anytime any part of the system changes, everything changes.
Much as I would absolutely adore a subway station down the street from my house, preferably with a last train sometime after midnight, it is not possible.
I have yet to meet anyone on the Eastside who whole-heartedly supports the light rail project.
When the light rail opens and Metro adjusts the bus routes accordingly, despite our communal frustrations at first, it will still have something beyond that of Tokyo’s fluid, integrated system of trains and subways.
Here we have people who work for us. They are (generally) friendly, compassionate, and helpful. They go beyond the polite, task-driven station employees in Tokyo.
At the bare minimum the drivers will smile and say “hello” to everyone entering the bus. That’s more than you’d get from a station master in Tokyo.
The Metro staff is willing to make exceptions and bend the rules when it seems logical to do so. And they care about the people on their buses.
When my last bus missed my stop a couple weeks ago, a different bus driver called the superintendent. A few minutes later, the superintendent arrived in a Metro van and personally took me home.
What is possible for Metro? I’d like to say that more buses on my route are possible, but I don’t know the semantics of that. Maybe 40 years in the future we will have an immaculate public transit system, but for now, the best possible public transit service that metro can offer is its consistency and accountability.
It is people like that superintendent who keep this possibility alive.