Saturday, September 04, 2010

Running-Libraries-Public Transportation

On Thursday I ran to the library with the girls in the jogging stroller. The distance I covered roundtrip was roughly 10.5 km and I averaged a 12-minute mile, which sounds pretty slow unless you know I was pushing a 28 lbs stroller holding 50 lbs of children and hauling 10 lbs of library books and 10+ lbs of other sundry items (diaper bag, lunch, water, and a snowsuit we picked up at Savers on our way home). In total I was pushing close to 100 lbs, which closely approximates my avoirdupois, in front of me.

Granted, it was a hundred pounds on wheels, so it wasn’t like I was just packing a hundred pounds around on my back. Still! It was tough, especially the final stretch through our hilly neighbourhood. I made about 30 pounds of hud get out and walk up the hill leading to our house. She wasn’t thrilled about it but my arms, back, and legs rejoiced in chorus. As Friedrich Nietzsche says, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I think the next time I run without the girls I will feel like I’m flying.

The reason I ran to the library is because I don’t drive and I’m not a big fan of the public transportation system here in Utah. It’s a sad, broken system. I don’t know why they think they need those great, big, huge busses running around town. No one is ever in them. They are so inefficient that I am guilty of keeping them empty. One might posit how I know they are empty if I don’t ride them. The answer is simple—whenever I walk past a bus stop I usually see one lone patron with an impatient mien, waiting for that-bus-that-comes-around-maybe-once-an-hour. With crowds that sparse I can’t imagine that the busses are full.

In all of Utah County we have 21 routes and and busses usually only come around every half hour. That’s pathetic. No wonder no one eve rides the bus!

I recently found a list of busses my host-mom, Oxana, wrote out for me when I lived in Russia to help me get to church by myself. 44 Н, 9 KA, 9 KC, 9 A, 36, 3, and 42 all ran from downtown to my bus stop, Morozova, and that was only if I didn’t want to “transfer.” There were all different kinds of busses—large, yellow busses provided by the government free of charge (viva 44 H!); small busses, owned privately and charging a minimal fee (the “9” busses); even smaller маршрутка, the size of a minivan, were also available for a nominal amount (36 and 3). Bus stops were usually—dare I say always?—crowded.

Huge masses of people swarmed around the stops, rushing up to the first bus to arrive, and squeezing inside. Sometimes multiple busses running the same route would stop at the same time. Usually another bus running the same—or a similar—route would not be too far behind. I lived of in the boonies and the longest I ever had to wait for a bus was probably a half hour and that was late, late at night. It was great. I could get anywhere I wanted to without a car.

The same thing happens in Europe with the mini-bus system.

I think “mini” is the keyword here. I think we need a “mini” system of public transportation. While subways and our own “Utah Trax” system are great for large scale movement, and while there still may be a place in the transportation industry for the monolithic busses we have now, I think we need to also adopt a mini-bus system.

Adding more routes and having busses come around more frequently would mean that those who enjoy the spontaneity of  owning a car would have the chance to learn that being able to hop on a bus on a whim is just as liberating. As it stands right now, the public transportation system does not promote the freedom of movement. In truth, it’s a real drag.

Today it took me 40 minutes to get to the library. It only takes me 20 minutes more if I walk (so was it really worth it to run?). To take the bus, here is my quickest option:

Depart from your starting location.
Walk to stop located at ________.
Board Route #862.
Get off at stop located at _______.
Walk to final destination.

Total travel time: 33 minutes, including 23 minutes of walking
Total transfers: 0

Fabulous. It takes me 7 more minutes to run there than it does to take the bus. If I miss the bus you can tag on an extra half-hour because that stop, although directly on State Street, one of the mainest of streets in Utah County cities, is only graced by a bus twice an hour.

There are other routes and suggested itineraries  but they all had at least 2 transfers and each took longer than an hour—longer than it would take to walk—to reach the library, a mere three miles away.


How broken is that?

People don’t need impressive, towering, monolithic busses. There are simpler ways of doing things—ways that actually benefit people and don’t overtax public resources. Like I said, in Russia, although there is still a transit authority that provides busses and routes for citizens, many of the marshrutka routes are owned privately so that doesn’t really overburden tax payers at all. Both systems of transportation—private businesses and the government—work together beautifully to produce a beautiful public transportation system. Why can’t we do that here?

That’s all I’m going to say about that. Also, that I’m happy we have a library to check books out from at all. And that I can check out as many books as I want at a time. That’s something America definitely has right.


  1. I have to say, I always thought the UTA system was fantastic. The schedule and routes we took were almost always packed.

    Maybe it depends on where you live, and where you're trying to go.

    (For us, it was when we were living in AF and didn't have a car but I worked in Provo and Jeremy went to BYU. So mostly the 811 bus. It was awesome.)

    But I definitely see how it could fall short in some areas.

  2. That's probably the case. We live in Orem and can't get to BYU without transferring busses, which kind of seems ludicrous to me.

    They used to have a stop quite close to our house and a route went by that would take you straight to BYU--my brother took that bus once when my mom sent him down to stay at my aunt's house (which is now our house) for some summer camps at BYU--but they did away with that about 13 years ago, I think.

    For commuting, the bus system seems alright--but for just "getting around town" it's not so good.

  3. Let's hear it for libraries! (Cheers erupt!)

    And down with the bus system.

  4. I liked Logan's bus system. It almost always involved 1 transfer, but it was set up as kind of a hub and spoke system. The buses went out from the hub and returned within 30 minutes to the hub. From there you transferred to the bus you needed and they all went out again.