Posts Tagged ‘rail’

What’s up with crazy old guys on the subway?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

This post definitely undercuts my distinctly pro-rail post from yesterday, but I’ll go with it anyway:  what the hell is going on with crazy/creepy old guys on the subway?  (In this case, I’m referring to the “T” Red Line in Boston between South Station and Kendall, but I’ve experienced this in San Francisco as well).  I occasionally come across an unbalanced lady or younger person, but 9 times out of 10, it’s an old guy.

Today, it was a pushy dude who was exiting the Red Line at South Station just as I was entering.  The MBTA “turnstiles” are not really turnstiles — they’re half-duplex gates that allow either one person to enter (after inserting their fare ticket or activating their proximity card) or one person to exit (after activating a sensor).  Also, there’s a massive freaking row of them at larger stations — South Station definitely counts as one of those.  So, I put my card in right as this guy is heading toward the turnstile from the other side.  Card is in.  He walks up.  He seriously waves me aside, with the ol, “move aside”.  Now, I’m no expert, but I was there first (witness card already inserted), and there was an open exit RIGHT NEXT DOOR.  I told him I was there first – he just insists, no I wasn’t, and walks on through.  Whatever.  Point is:  crazy dudes apparently get their way.

A couple weeks ago, it was this older fellow who got on at Park Street as I was heading to South Station.  It was about 5:30.  The train was completely full of people.  I always stand, because I don’t like having to try to find a seat, I don’t like sitting in questionable cleanliness, and I don’t like the social awkwardness of continually wondering if I need to offer up my seat to someone who appears may need/want it.  The older guy gets on, and immediately starts rambling about how nobody will offer up their seat.  Keep in mind that if a person were to get up, there would be no place to actually stand — I was already completely squished next to someone as I stood.  So even if a person wanted to offer their seat, it wasn’t completely obvious as to how that was logistically possible.  Also, this guy wasn’t ancient.  At most, he’s in his late 60s.  Also, he seemed to be in good enough health to shove me aside as I was standing there (again, there was little room for him to maneuver, but somehow he found a way), as he sought out a seat.  As he muttered on and on about how there was a “thousand dollar fine” for not offering up your seat (not true — though there are reserved seats for seniors and disabled persons that may fit his description, those were already full with seniors and a couple pregnant ladies), his bitching finally guilt-tripped a lady into awkwardly giving up her seat for this guy.  Real classy, taking a seat away from a lady.  Now, I don’t know this guy’s medical condition, but he sure seemed fit enough to force his way through a crowded train.  Also, his would-be protocol that all the people on a full train should get up and offer their seats up for re-prioritization at every stop is completely inefficient.  The Red Line breaks down and stops enough without those kinds of problems.

Another example that stands out in my mind is this older guy who frequently gets on at Kendall and off at either Charles/MGH or Park Street.  I see him all the time.  He wears full-on ear-covering headphones, and he reeks of urine.  Granted, he most likely is homeless, but the crazy part is the talking-to-himself aspect.  I’ve been on the train w/ plenty of seemingly homeless people.  They might hit you up for money, but they don’t all just start having a conversation with themselves.  But again, if it’s a crazy person talking to themselves on the train, it’s likely an old dude.  He’s not the only one, by far — he’s just the one I see most regularly.

More in the “creepy”, but not annoying, category would be the mid-50s guy who got on at Park Street going to South Station 3 weeks ago or so.  Unlike the annoying/unhinged fellows who usually are rather unkempt, this guy was fairly well groomed.  Recent haircut, clean clothes, just another commuter on the T, right?  Wrong.  Dude has on an older, yet clean and free-of-holes, “Hanson” fan shirt.  (Not just the word “Hanson”, but one with the faces of the members of the band — not to be confused with the hockey-playing Hanson Brothers, who rule — shouldn’t they face off in celebrity deathmatch?)  I didn’t even know they made those shirts in adult sizes.  And this wasn’t some sort of modern-hipster-douchebag type ironic thing (“check out my Pabst shirt!  I’m so clever!”) — or if it was, nothing else about this serious, slightly-past-middle-aged guy gave that away.  This shirt didn’t look like something he bought recently, but had had for years & lovingly cared for.  All with the long-locked, slightly-female-looking mugs of the Hanson boy-band on the front of his shirt.  Utterly, utterly creepy.  And no, it’s not about it being guys — if he had a “Hannah Montana” shirt on, it would be equally creepy.  Who knows, maybe there’s a Hannah Montana shirt-guy on the Green Line.  What am I saying — of course there’s a Hannah Montana shirt-guy riding the Green Line.  He’s probably wearing it on the way to the concert, at the Garden.

Anyway, I love the public transit system here in Boston, and if I have to put up with the crazy-ass old guys, so be it.  But once in a while, I do wish they could tone down the crazy.

Earth to Texas Rail Opponents: NO transportation is free!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Having lived most of my life in Texas, I’m familiar with the bizarre anti-public-transportation movement there.  I understand that building rail is more expensive than building roads but that doesn’t figure in the cost of operating the cars on those roads.  It also doesn’t figure in the economic damage to commercial freight caused by traffic jams and accidents.  (The city of Houston estimated this in the millions of dollars when studying whether or not they needed a “mandatory towing” policy for broken-down cars that were causing traffic jams.  Unsurprisingly, yes, it’s necessary).  Anyway, these points seem lost on rail opponents in Houston and Austin.  I recently was listening to Jeff Ward’s podcast, and his complaint was that — horror of horrors! — the metro rail project there will subsidize rider fare.  I heard no such complaints about taxpayer funds subsidizing roads.  Jeff Ward frequently fancies himself some sort of economics expert.  He’s got some interesting things to say now & then, but let’s be real — he’s a former UT football kicker who entertains on the radio & guest lectures in advertising at UT (not economics).

His harping on the “taxpayer subsidies” of public transportation plays to the common attack on public transportation in Texas.  That is, people need to man up and buy a car, and stop mooching off the government.  That’s all well and good, except that it ignores the costs associated with the alternative (auto transportation).  Specifically, it:

  • Requires expensive taxpayer-subsidized roads that are already full of traffic in Houston and Austin, that have nowhere to expand, and thus are frequently impractical to even build
  • Contributes to urban sprawl, which is a taxation problem in Texas because a disproportionate amount of local government infrastructure is funded by local-city property taxes (income taxes are banned by the state constitution)
  • Completely ignores the per-person costs that people pay for maintaining a car (actual maintenance, but insurance as well)
  • Is bad for economic stability because it promotes inefficient consumption of fossil fuels, which has its own long-term costs.
  • Is arguably bad for the environment, which has its own long-term costs.
  • Completely doesn’t work for poor people who don’t own a car (check out craptastic bus coverage in Houston some time — people forced to commute by bus there frequently spend 3 HOURS going across town, one way).

In reality, I think this is far more basic for Texans than a (faulty) economic argument.  People there really do have a wild-west mentality.  It’s widespread.  The “castle doctrine” (which allows a homeowner/resident to kill someone who trespasses, if the homeowner/resident “believes” that they are in danger), the concealed-handgun proliferation there (I can’t tell you how many times someone told me that they make sure their wife or girlfriend carries a gun in their purse, frequently unlicensed), and the “get your own horse & make the trails wider!” mentality of the anti-rail folks pretty much all can be boiled down to the fact that Texans like to see themselves as folksy Cowboys.  I’m not saying this to denigrate Texans — I love Texas.  But, c’mon, y’all have to separate this mythology of how you’d like to see yourselves from what’s economically wise.

Texas is far more spread out than the Northeast and thus it’s not practical for rail (or even public transit with buses) to completely replace having a car.  However, park-and-ride solutions can actually work.  They have bus-based programs that work like this in Austin and Houston, but ridership is low — primarily because it’s a frustrating experience.  You get on the bus and then basically wait with everyone else on the crowded roads.  If you’ve got your own car already, there’s very little personal incentive to ride the bus.  There’s less stress and it does allow you to eliminate one car from a multi-car family, but you are giving up scheduling freedom with your day.  I don’t blame people for wanting to get a more clear advantage than that.  Hopefully the large-scale metro rail rollout in Austin will succeed, and when people see the convenience and economic advantage of it, they’ll set aside their myth-based biases about public transportation.