Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Commuting Woes

If you live in the elegantly-euphemized (is that a word?) National Capital Region, you know that one of the constants of your life is the dreaded commute. The word commute derives from an Old English expression which literally translates as stick sharp objects deeply into your eyes repeatedly for several hours at a time, twice a day.

Go to the comments section now...this is about the time Mike drops in and makes some snarky comment about being retired and not worrying about stuff like this.


The commute is one of the defining aspects of life here in the Northern Virginia-DC-Maryland-West Virginia area. People select their places to live on the basis of an intricate calculus that balances the amount of home they can afford with the length and expense of commute they're willing to endure each day. At the present time, affordable housing in this area can easily be found if you are willing to commute from rural Guatemala.

My commute is not too bad. I leave the house at 6:00 each morning, walk two blocks to my bus stop, take the bus to the Metro station ($1.50) and the Metro Blue Line ($4.25) to work. On a good day, when the bus is on time and doesn't break down, the Metro train is actually running on time and service is not interrupted by breakdowns, strikes, or fatal accidents, and I am awake enough to get off at the right stop, I walk into my office a few minutes either side of 7:00. Around here, a commute of only an hour is a pretty good deal. Many people have a morning and afternoon commute of two hours or more ... and that's when everything goes right.

Some people drive to work. These are folks with a subconscious death wish, willing to sit for hours at a time in twenty-five mile traffic backups that form and disperse for no apparent reason, and are willing to pay an amount equivalent to the GNP of Burkina Faso for the privilege of parking in a lot which accepts no liability for anything that happens to your car.

For those of us who take public transportation, the pleasure of letting someone else do the driving is balanced by a few things:

1. The dilapidated condition of the Metro system (you will seldom find a station at which all escalators and elevators are functioning, or a train or bus which actually has functioning air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter); and,

2. This past Sunday's 18% increase in fares for the privilege of enjoying hit-or-miss service.

And people wonder why we're so grouchy.

I actually wouldn't mind paying usurious rates for the privilege of riding public transportation if I thought for a brief, shimmering moment that the extra money would actually help improve things. Sadly though, I know that the only thing the extra 18% tacked onto an already expensive commute will buy is ... more broken infrastructure, more overcrowded trains, and more expensive consultants to advise Metro on all the same problems previous expensive consultants have already identified.

Nevertheless, I will continue in bovine placidity to ride Metro because I really don't want to drive in our local traffic, and because I enjoy having quality time to read or nap in a hard plastic seat in a bus or train that's masquerading as a sauna.

Oh, and the Metro rail system is expanding to introduce service to the Tyson's Corner area and, eventually, out to Washington-Dulles Airport. On the one hand, it will be nice to have Metro service out to the major shopping centers of Tyson's Corner and to Dulles Airport. On the other hand, one wonders why a system that is already falling apart, mismanaged, overcrowded, and overpriced is working so hard to expand the service it can't provide reliably in the existing network.

Sorry for the rant, but I just had to get it out of my system. And now I have to head for the bus.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Just a reminder of why it's worthwhile to live here and go through the commuting agony...Opa and granddaughter Elise, age 13 weeks:


michelle said...

i am totally with you on the question of why Metro is expanding to Tyson/Dulles when they can't even make the current system function properly. and yes, I would rather pay the fare hike then drive into DC during rush hour..... My Mental Health could not take that stress!

John said...

One of the few downsides to not living in a major metro area is that there isn't reliable public transportation.

Fortunately, the Springfield traffic is never too bad to deal with and I don't have to pay for parking at work. Still it seems like such a total waste of fuel to see so many that commute from the rural areas into Springfield--single persons in each of the many vehicles on the highways. There are also no bike lanes to make a bicycling alternative a safer (and healthier) means of transportation.

Enjoy the ride.

chrissy said...

Aww - She's so cute!!

Again - i bring up the story of my girlfriend being peed on - on her way to work on the crappy cleveland subway system. I will never get that out of my head.

Mike said...

The one good thing about 'having worked' in St. Louis was an easy commute. I was 13 miles from downtown. It was 25 minutes from out the door, to the ($1)parking lot, walking 6 blocks, and an elevator ride to my desk.

Leslie David said...

I would rather have my throat slit with a rusty butter knife than drive to DC or places like Crystal City to work. I take Metro and I have told employers during interviews that asking me to work in DC will cost them since I refuse to drive in the District and take mass transit which adds considerable time to my commute. At least you don't have to deal with the claustrophobia caused by having to get on the Orange Line at Rosslyn at night where every train coming in looks Japanese-subway full. That commute was roughly an hour and a half each way since I had to drive to the Dunn Loring or West Falls Church (since they have more parking spaces) to catch the Metro. Currently I work a mile from the Dunn Loring Metro stop. My commute from Reston is approximately 10 miles and anywhere from 20 minutes with no traffic to 45 minutes with traffic. I have the option of paying to sit in traffic if I take the Toll Road or sitting in traffic for free on Rte 7. Having Metro out my way would decrease my driving distance to get on the train so I'm all for access to Tysons and the Dulles Airport. How to make the system better? Well, it starts with that evil word that starts with T--you know, taxes, which the state doesn't want to raise. Unfortunately, you get or in this case you don't get what you pay for.

Love the picture of Opa and Elise.