Monday, July 2, 2007

A Washingtonian Gripe

As you have well figured out by now if you read this blog on a somewhat frequent basis, I am an Washingtonian by birth. I was born and raised in Washington. While I don't live there anymore, I'm still in the metropolitan area (seriously, look that shit up). One of my major gripes with living in D.C. was the fact that public travel was very difficult.

Some of you who have traveled to D.C. might be saying, "What, how is that possible?" My short answer to you is that you're not Black. The Black neighborhoods in the city are not easily accessible by subway, the system you are most likely familiar with as a tourist. They are only accessible by buses that can either run on time or run about 10-15 minutes late all of the time. As well, they are ridiculously slow. This is a good example.

When I went to school, I had to go out to the D.C./Chevy Chase border to catch a shuttle to school. In a car, this trip would take 10 minutes, 15 if you caught traffic. It took me, on average, 40 minutes to take the same trip. It was only 20 minutes if I did it on a half-day, but this wasn't too often. I had to catch two buses to make the trip as well: one to cross the park and the other to go up the road back to my block.

The reason that this is so is because the vaunted D.C. train system does not run near my house. If I need to take the train, I could expend the time to make the 15-20 minute walk to my nearest train station, which is in the primarily white enclave of Takoma Park and then spend another 45 minutes on the train to go downtown, only to slingshot back out on the other side of town. I can also wait around for 10-30 minutes for the bus to go down the road and transfer from the green line, adding another 15 minutes or so to my already long trip. The reason that this is so is because the Metro was not built to actually serve the city. They have been making efforts, but it is all for naught until the city gets a line that circles it.

While the D.C. system is trying to improve, it is also vaunted due to its clean, quiet nature. This is really appealing to the suburbanites who like to forget that the city is 3/5s Black and still extremely violent. They can avoid all of the ruffians who may not be able to pay the fare to get into the system or the 3 or 4 dollars that it might actually costs to get to their destination, which was myself on many occasions. While these aesthetic concerns will not be addressed, others will. The new general manager of WMATA wants to brighten the very dim underground stations, take out the carpet, and throw up more ads to cut costs and generate revenue.

To address all three of these things at one time, I say let's do it. More ads won't kill me. I'm already overadvertised-to anyway. Additionally, the carpet in the trains is stained and gross. It serves no function and holds smells. Lastly, the subway stations are really dark. You can't read a book or a magazine while waiting on the platform because of it. My viewpoint is immaterial because people believe that Metro should maintain an elite status as a train system by holding on to these vestiges which separate it from the crowd. Such vestiges include: high fares, inconvenient locations, overzealous transit cops, and overcrowded trains.

I've ridden train systems in other cities. And, yes, Metro is quieter. But that's really the only upside. Other systems are cheaper, have flat fares, and *gasp* can actually get me where I need to go efficiently. And I'll choose efficiency and cost over comfort any day of the week, especially with a bus system that actually has a solid reasoning behind it.

In the end, I guess this is just me. The suburbanites would rather have their space of comfort and relaxation while the rest of us swelter in the oppressive summer heat waiting for the E or 70 bus (If you are at this intersection (Georgia & Kennedy NW), go to Wings and Things) to show up instead of supporting a system that actually helps people in the city traverse it with greater ease.