Friday, April 6, 2007

Car-Free in Tennessee Day 2

It's 4:35. I've been home 35 minutes. I'm so tired I could happily go to bed for the night (can't, though, because I'm making a huge batch of fried chicken and a couple of salads to take to Hammy's folk's house tomorrow for an early Easter dinner). Today went as badly as yesterday went well.

We left the house at 12:40 to catch the 12:59 bus. Stupidly, I wore woven, thick-soled clogs. We crossed the rain-swollen creek and walked the 2 blocks to the bus stop. The bus wasn't there so we slowly walked the 4 blocks to the intersection of the main road. We waited until about 10 after and the bus didn't arrive. I decided that we'd just cross the street and go to Kroger to get our grocery shopping out of the way (I'd brought a large tote and a wheeled old lady grocery carrier thingy). We rushed through the grocery shopping and hurried to the other bus stop-the bus stop that the bus goes by whichever route the bus goes. We waited long enough for Carmac to be able to eat a protein bar. The bus was 5 or so minutes late-no biggie, except that, because we'd missed the earlier bus, which would have gotten us to the field trip 1/2 hour early, we would now be arriving just in time. So, the bus came, we rode there, Zed pulled the bell a block early so we had to walk an extra block (we could have told the bus driver that we wanted off on the next corner but I thought Zed would be more careful if he had to learn from experience).
We got to the police precinct just at 2:00.

(I found the field trip was interesting. The little kids were bored to death by it but Zed and the adults seemed to enjoy it.)

A friend was supposed to be coming over when she got off work sometime after 3:00 so I'd planned on catching the 2:37 bus but the field trip lasted longer than expected so we walked the block to the bus stop for the 3:17 bus. We got there probably 7 minutes early and waited. The sun was hidden by clouds and the wind was getting very brisk (it's currently 44 degrees outside). 3:17 passed and then 5 minutes and 5 more minutes. I called Nashville MTA and asked a customer service rep who told me the bus was running 15-20 minutes late. What? Why? No idea. The whole route doesn't take much more than 20 minutes when I ride it. So we waited on the corner of a busy street, in quite chill wind for 30 minutes. My question is this: If I hadn't had a cell phone to call MTA to find out the bus was running late, at what point does one give up waiting and seek refuge from the cold or just start walking home? Especially when one has a 4 year old who's saying he needs to use the restroom and there's not one anywhere nearby. How do people do it?

In the past, on the occasions when we've ridden the bus and Carmac has needed to use the restroom, we've been lucky enough that there's been a 20-30 minute gap between our arriving bus and the connecting bus and we've walked down the street to the State Museum building and used the restrooms there. I am fully aware of the fact that me and my children look like nice, white, middle class people. We do not look homeless. We do not look "dangerous" or likely to disrupt anyone's comfort zone. I suspect that other mothers, ones who appear less "advantaged" by our society, might find the guards at TPAC to be less likely to allow them entry. I don't know what those mothers do when their toddler children need to use the bathroom. Maybe that's part of the cause for the overwhelming smell of urine in some areas around the Downtown Transit Mall.

Anyway, the bus was running the main #22 route so we got off where we embarked earlier and walked the mile home. I'm tired. Carmac's tired, too. All the people at the field trip offered us a ride home, which I declined. I think I offended one of them but telling her no but I need to commit to this experiment. I need to think of this as the only option. If it were raining or if one of the kids weren't feeling well, I'd of taken someone up on the ride, but we're fine. Waiting and walking aren't hardships. I don't want to think of them as such. I must embrace this life change in order for it to work for us.


Ken Hunter said...

Disclaimer - I no longer live in TN, but I am a Nashville native who worked for NashvilleMTA from 1997 to 1999.

Good luck with your experiment. I received your Day 2 posting through Google Alert and found it interesting. I am glad to see that your reasons for the change in mode of mobility are not elitist (i.e., change for the sake of change or putting down others), but are intended to serve a personal (though not selfish) aim of financial improvement.

Your comments on the issue of restrooms does speak to one of the difficult truths regarding public transportation. It also brings to mind how best laid plans can go awry.

Truth be known, the transit mall downtown is not supposed to be the primary transfer point anymore. It was supposed to be replaced with the Clement (as in Little Bob) Landport, which was built about a decade ago on Demonbreum next to the railroad bridge. The Landport provided ample parking, indoor space, and public restrooms. However, when the State ordered the bridge closed to bus traffic (I think it was around 2000), the Landport had to be closed. There was also the realization that despite not having space downtown to improve facilities, that is where most bus riders (particularly state employees) needed to be anyway.

Nashville MTA is developing a new transit center downtown (Music City Central) near Municipal Auditorium, but that is probably years and a couple of Congressional earmarks away. It will provide a covered, element-proof loading and unloading area with restrooms and other amenities.

You may ask, "what about now?" I think I remember past experimentation with port-o-lets, but something went wrong. The problem is that during most of the day (except the start and end of the day work shift), the mall is frequented by "unsavory" characters. I have seen them in every size, color, and creed. It has been the scene of shootings, muggings, and other criminal activity. Naturally, the attitude when evaluating the situation could be "why should we put them in when they will likely be torn up, anyway?" That does not make the current situation right, but it is an issue.

Almost all transportation (even personal vehicle) is subsidized, and public transportation more so. Politically, in order to survive, the industry has focused more on trying to move professional commuters and combat pollution and congestion than focus on its prior priority as enhancing mobility for the distressed. Tyring to do both, as Nashville MTA is attempting (with the Music City Star rail line and the Music City Central project) is a large undertaking, and the costs are significant (and hard to justify to the majority).

While Conservative, I do support public transportation on the grounds of both distressed mobility and congestion. However, I would never deny anyone the right of a car and fully appreciate the freedom it provides. In your experiment, please remember and incorporate the fact that using public transportation does result in significant opportunity costs, namely time. Depending on the value you place on time, which relates to what you would do with it if you had it to spare, you can decide if public transportation is the appropriate economical choice for you. It is for some, not for others.

Again, good luck.

Friendly Mama said...

I'd actually wondered about the transit mall. I remember going through it several years ago when taking a bunch of kids via bus on a field trip. It hadn't ocurred to me that the Demonbreun Street bridge closing was the reason for the discontinuation of it's usage.

I, too, remember there being port-o-johns, at one time. I imagine that keeping them clean, especially overnight, is the problem.

I've read about the future transfer station. Sounds like it will be nice, but we'll see. I've always thought there should be a small grocery store at the transfer station so workers can pick up bread and milk on their way home.

My experience of the downtown transfer station is different than yours, or maybe it's my perceptions. Yes, I see people from all walks of life, but, other than school kids who haven't learned manners, people who obviously suffer from mental illness, or men smoking cigars, the people I and my children have encountered have always been neutral, at worst, but most are kind and friendly. We ride at all times of the day (I've ridden a few times at dusk) and, other than immediately after school when all the teenagers are making their way home, our experiences are not unpleasant (save for the smells in summer).

I don't know if Nashville MTA has an ombudsman but I think they should and it should be someone who actually uses the system. If they were to create the position, I'd be the first to apply!

Anyway, thanks for your comments and encouragement!

Mary Linda