Sacto's grimy light rail system
Steven Greenhut: I had to leave a car in the shop this week, so I got initiated into Sacramento’s light-rail experience on the Regional Transit line from Folsom to downtown. No doubt, it was useful to have an alternative means to work and the highly subsidized $2.50 one-way fare made this a cheap ride, but the experience was thoroughly unpleasant, and a reminder of the sort of social engineering schemes that urban planners are desperately trying to impose on the rest of us. I’ve been to New Urbanist seminars and talked to many enviros and rail advocates. They don’t view rail the way normal people do. It’s not a transportation system so much as it is a social statement, a means for transforming our suburban society into a more community-oriented, ecologically sustainable world. In other words, rail zealots hate cars and suburbia and think we should live in crammed-in Transit Oriented Developments and ride their glorious rail system places.
It took forever to get downtown. My drive, even in traffic, is usually about 40 minutes from door to door. To use rail, I needed a ride to the station, had to wait for the train (a long time, given cut backs in rail routes — they always cut routes rather than salaries and pensions when times are tough!) and then had to walk a few blocks to the office. It took about an hour and 45 minutes.
Driving has its share of hassles, but on the light rail those hassles are up close and personal. I was reading Sacramento News and Review when some folks got on the train and I got that overwhelming smell of alcohol and dirt. Yes, some homeless people got on board. I have nothing against homeless people. It’s just that I don’t usually drive with them to work in the morning. These two folks started making out while the rest of us tried to ignore them. The RT can’t help this sort of thing — but it’s a reminder of the joys of any public transit system.
Then the train stopped in Rancho Cordova, and about eight transit cops were there and they descended on the train to check our passes. They threw the homeless couple off — after one officer rudely searched the guy. Are we all subject to unannounced pat-down searches on these trains? This slowed everything down and was quite annoying.
On the way home, a yellow-clad transit security officer hopped on the train. Everyone on the train was well-behaved and quiet, but he apparently was bored. So he hassled a young man who was listening, ever so quietly, to music from his cell phone. The transit guy threatened to “call it in” and the rider got mouthy with him. Yet another scene. The transit security guy also busied himself hassling bike riders because they didn’t have their bikes in the exact right spot. What an annoyance.
On another day, a crazy person started yelling the N-word in a car with several black people. They all ignored him, but a heavy-set white woman decided to give him a lecture, which sparked a loud argument. Yes, these sorts of scenes are common on the rail line. The trains seem pretty dirty and they are filled with homeless folks, students, government workers (you can usually tell) and Righteous Rail Riders — people who exude self-satisfaction for being on rail rather than on the highways.
Yuck. The whole thing is annoying and a pain. On rail, we get to travel where the officials want us to go, at the times they predetermine, at the prices they set. We must endure constant searches and correction by the guards and cops who seem to create more problems than they solve. But this is what the New Urbanists want for us. This is the future they envision. It is not one that promotes “community” — rather, it promotes conformity and servility and adds huge hassles to our daily life.
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