Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tulsa Transit

I take back everything bad I ever said about Tulsa Transit.

Well, almost.

I finally broke down and took the bus to work this morning, after looking at the website and determining which bus to take and when. I walked a little bit less than a mile east to catch a southbound bus, not realizing that there was also an eastbound bus that could have gotten me to the stop more quickly. I passed one of the stops for the eastbound bus and called the Tulsa Transit, but they said that the next bus wouldn't arrive until well after I was to be at work. Despite this claim, the eastbound bus passed me as I trudged through the broken sidewalks and mud of this not-pedestrian-friendly city, leaving me wondering where the communication breakdown had been between me and the customer service agent who told me that the eastbound bus wouldn't come in time. By that time I was already very close to my southbound bus stop, so it didn't matter much.

I arrived at the southbound bus stop and waited. The bus arrived on schedule, picked me up, and whisked me away. I had bought a bus pass at QuikTrip, whose magnetic stripe entitled me to ten rides for a mere $10.00 (a savings of 50 cents per ride). It took me a minute to figure out how to swipe the card, but I managed it and sat down. Looking around, I noticed that most of the folks on the bus were working class or poor. I was the only one on the bus in "business casual" clothing, leading me to believe that I might be among the first white collar workers in Tulsa to succumb to high gas prices and experiment with taking the bus.

Let me stop here. I feel like the previous paragraph sounded arrogant and elitist, and that was certainly not my intent. In fact, quite the opposite. I have nothing but respect for hardworking folks who take the bus every day to work, and I recognize that while I may choose to take the bus from time to time, many people do not have that choice--they rely on public transportation all of the time. These folks are one big reason why every city needs a good public transportation system.

In Tulsa, at least, a big hurdle that proponents of public transportation have is the stigma attached to the Tulsa bus system. A lot of the people with cars in this city (who have probably never even taken a bus) think of Tulsa Transit as the domain of the homeless and the desperately poor, and that no "successful" middle class person would stoop to taking the bus. I used to be one of these people. Unfortunately, by refusing to take the bus, the middle class have created a self-fulfilling prophecy--the bus has become the domain of the working class and poor, and that is probably one major reason why we don't spend more money on it.

The southbound bus took me to work quickly and efficiently, though I made the additional mistake of requesting a stop a little too early, forcing me to walk a little bit farther to get to my office. I didn't realize that the bus driver would stop anywhere one requests a stop; I thought he would only stop at designated bus stops.

Today was a trial run. I can't start taking the bus regularly because I will still need to be home at lunch to walk my dog. (My partner is home today, so he will be able to take care of the dog.) Once the weather cools off, I'll start putting the dog outside while I'm at work, and then I'll be able to take the bus a few times a week, saving gas money, helping the environment and keeping miles off of my car. It's a good thing.