But still, cash -strapped students and other air travellers who find the bus convenient will benefit, and employees and commuters need transport too; simply pointing out that most air travellers won't much use the bus doesn't mean that I'm opposed to it.
I think it's important, however, to understand that this bus serves primarily as a subsidy to airport businesses, who now have to pay premium wages to attract employees, who up to now have had to shell out lots of money for gas and car maintenance to get to work every day. It'd be great if suddenly those employees effectively earned hundreds of dollars more a month, but more likely what will happen is airport businesses will adjust their wage scales downward.
That's precisely why the airport businesses have long advocated for an airport bus, and why the airport itself put up some of the capital costs of acquiring the bus. I can only hope that the broader business community learns the lesson: Transit is a benefit to businesses; a decent transit system lowers wage costs.
Metro Transit's focus on the airport bus as primarily a transportation for airport employees, as opposed to air travellers, resulted in a little mini drama that played out yesterday and today over the luggage policy for the bus.
Initially, Metro Transit's policy was that riders could only bring bags that qualified as carry on for the airlines---bigger bags were prohibited, under the justification that they presented a safety hazard. Turns out, the airport bus does not have luggage racks, which is exactly what you would expect for a bus route that was designed for commuters, with travellers only an after-thought.
The social media response to the baggage policy was overwhelmingly negative, and so Metro Transit has somewhat reversed course, with the weaselly revised policy being that riders can bring big bags onto the bus "at the discretion of the driver." If we're to take that provision seriously, it's not helpful at all---who's going to plan a trip with big bags on the bus, if they might not be allowed on? Rather than risk being stranded without transport in time to catch a plane, travellers will make other, non-bus plans. So the policy has changed in such a way that the effect of the policy hasn't changed at all: people with big bags won't take the bus.
The flap over bags on the airport bus raises my biggest issue with Metro Transit: the system is run by people who don't use the bus, don't understand riders' needs and can't even imagine riders' needs. Does anyone think that, aside from today's photo op, Metro Transit manager Eddie Robar will ever take the bus to the airport? Or is it more likely he'll take a cab and put it on the expense account? Same with Metro Transit's PR folks, and the schedulers and the people planning routes.
That's why we get an "airport bus" without luggage racks, and with a policy against bags.
In the eyes of Metro Transit managers, riders are simply inanimate objects to be transported from point A to point B. Mindless policies trump the messy needs and comforts of real people, time and again.
Here's another example: baby strollers. Metro Transit's stroller policy is as follows:
• Strollers should be small, light-weight and foldable. Recommended size should not be larger than 42” x 22.5”.In practical terms---the way it works in the real world, on buses, which Metro Transit managers never are on, is strollers bunch up at the front of the bus, making it difficult for other riders to get on and off.
• Upon boarding the bus, children should be removed from the stroller and held by the parent or guardian. Those wishing to leave children in the stroller should remain near the front of the bus, utilizing the courtesy seats when available.
• The brake must be engaged at all times when the bus is moving.
• The stroller should not obstruct the isle or impede the flow of passengers.
• Mobility-impaired passengers have priority of the front of the bus.
• At the operators’ discretion, strollers that impede the flow of passengers when boarding or exiting, or that are deemed unsafe for transport may be refused entry.
There are two possible responses to this problem: We could hate on mothers, or we could figure out how to accommodate them. Guess which we do?
This is not rocket science. Every transit system on the entire continent of Europe solved this dilemma long ago. On every bus and train car, there are enough seats that can be folded up and the space used by people in wheelchairs or people with strollers. Sensibly, these spaces are often immediately adjacent to another seat, for a caregiver or mother. Here's a typical sign, this one on a U-bahn (subway train) in Bielefeld, Germany:And here's a mother with her child, in a stroller, on a bus in Middleburg, a small city in The Netherlands: In my travels in Europe, I've found the transit systems to be much more accommodating to both people in wheelchairs and to mothers, than transit systems in North America.
What are we trying to do with our transit system? I'd argue that what we should be doing is trying to help people get about their lives with some convenience---travel to and from work, for their social functions even late at night, to the airport, with their bags... and, yes, with their strollers. Mothers (and fathers---I'm happily seeing more men on the bus with strollers in recent years) are worthy citizens, taxpayers and part of the community. If anything, in our demographically challenged nation, we should finding more ways to accommodate parents, not fewer.
But because of Metro Transit's inflexible rules---people are not allowed to fold up the wheelchair seats for strollers---we are effectively stigmatizing mothers. Other riders stare at them, sigh, act aggrieved for having to squeeze past the stroller. There's a social penalty, for being a mom on the bus.
This is silly. It's an easily solvable problem---encourage parents to use the seats that fold up for their strollers. If the concern is that this will take available spaces away from wheelchair users, then add more foldable seats.
Let's build a transit system for real people who live in the real world, instead of treating passengers as inanimate objects.