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Adventures in Public Transportation

Following in the tradition of the Bensonhurst Bomber, and wanting to see up close how well mass transit a unionized, government-run transportation enterprise works, I took a slightly different trip home from the airport today. It was a waste of time, but an experiment in transportation policy.

On the first leg of this trip, I got to the airport the usual way: I hitched a ride with someone I know. On the way back, though, I was on my own.

I figured it was time to look into mass transit. Could it actually get me home to my house in the southern ‘burbs?

I made the trek over to the light rail station. Naturally, getting there was more inconvenient than taking a cab. The walk is longer, requiring (from baggage claim) heading down the escalator, past the rental car counter, past the hallway to the parking ramp, and walk some more to get on a mini-choo-choo, a tram that takes you to the bus / light rail station. (Why is it that a British voice is the preferred voice for recording messages on public transports? Remember, these are the same people who inflict the National Health Service on themselves.)

Getting to the light rail platform requires leaving the tram, and then taking another escalator (or today, elevator) to a lower level. I looked up and down the length of the station, looking for that urban chic that so delights local newspaper columnists. Oddly enough, I didn’t see any. Perhaps it’s because the walls had yet to be defiled by graffiti or pasted messages.

There was something else missing, oddly enough: a ticket-vending machine. This was despite the sign, clearly visible, which read something like “This is a zoned area. Tickets are required.”

Hey, officer, I wanted to BUY a ticket, but I couldn’t find a place that was selling tickets. At least that would have been my excuse. But several stops later left me at the southern end of the line, the Twin Cities would-be welfare case, the Mall of America. (Thank you, Gov. Pawlenty for vetoing the tax bill that had ridiculous tax goodies for the mall!)

The transit station at the Big Mall was as unappealing as you might expect, though to be fair, I didn’t smell any of the urine that sometimes inhabits public transit areas. I headed into the Metro Transit’s station inside the mall, looking for information. The most striking thing was the number of ticket windows … all of which were closed. I suppose that saving labor costs is good, but the whole scene was not enticing.

At this point I decided to bail on the whole “let’s take transit” experiment. I thought that perhaps I would get reasonably close to my house from the bus route, but several factors worked against it. One was that it was about 99 percent humidity outside, which meant that after I got off the bus, there would be an unpleasant walk with two pieces of luggage. The distance wasn’t too bad—perhaps half a mile—but I was in no mood to schlep my bags through the swamp air.

So I called a cab. And as much as I’d like to say that the private sector excelled … I can’t. Now, there should have been some signs at the mall transit station, telling me where to pick up a cab. There weren’t (that I could tell), so I turned on the cell phone and called the one company in my list. The dispatcher was rather unhelpful, saying only that I had to go to the “North Garden Entrance.”

Someone at a mall information booth pointed me in the right direction—traversing about one-quarter of the mall’s ring. I found the taxi stand and took the first cab (not the company I called, but hey). The driver asks “How much do you normally pay?” … He had no meter, but quoted a figure that seemed reasonable based on previous trips I have taken from the airport itself.

He was on the phone almost the entire way to my house, and I had to forcefully interrupt his conversation at various times to say “Turn here!”

Oh yeah, what about the taxi stand? What wasn’t it IN THE TRANSPORTATION AREA of the mall? I asked the driver. He said that the taxi drivers didn’t like to use it, for if they entered this not-quite-inside-but-inside-a-security-zone area often enough during a day, they would get hassled by security. Mall security? The police? Hard to know what to make of this claim. Regardless, not having taxis and the train in close proximity is just … stupid.

The verdict: Metro Transit might work in some circumstances. But a car is often preferable.