Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bulky items on transit (or passive aggressive ways to annoy the bad people)

I just took a break from my work. I’m sitting on a plane watching a dreary Australian movie about a single father trying to raise his two sons after his wife dies. Everything runs amok and I’m sure that eventually the nice blonde young woman will help him get it together. I’m glad that I didn’t see this film in a theatre, or waste a Netflix selection on it.

I’m on my way home from Honolulu where I have been riding buses and driving all around Oahu to try to figure out what needs to be done to make the buses work more smoothly, to make it easier to get from one place to another, and to keep it one of the best used transit systems in the United States.

Among the many challenges facing TheBus is how the agency deals with parcels and baggage and bicycles and strollers and surfboards and wheelchairs and Segways and scooters. They have a better set of policies than most transit agencies – something I’m learning because I’m also leading a national research study about how transit agencies deal with all of these large things on their buses and their trains. And although I am trying to take a purely academic look at the policies in place, I find myself wanting to write my own research report about how much parcels and baggage and bicycles and other large items on buses and trains bug the crap out of me – if they’re not mine.

My transit behavior peeves are as follows:

The backpack, usually sported by an overweight young woman or a stringy old white woman. They get on the train and turn around and bang their backpack into my head or my back or my arm. So I push against their backpack to make the experience as unpleasant as possible. I figure it is already unpleasant for me, why not roll with it and try my best to knock them off their feet? Take off your backpack and put in on the floor between your legs: you’ll take a load off your back, you’ll know if someone grabs for it, and you won’t be a pain in my ass.

The oversize handbag or shoulder bag, usually over the shoulder of a clueless woman or a old gay man. Just like the backpack person, the person with the shoulder bag assumes that if they twist their shoulder bag to the rear, it will be out of their way. But these people are very stupid, because they end up with their bag more in the way because I am secretly twisting it back in their direction, so it not only strains their shoulders but they get the end of their own bag digging into their side. Unlike the space-hogging knapsack users who stand their ground, usually these people move away from me to get out of the impossibly tight situation I’ve created for them.

The bicycle on the train, usually brought on board by a skinny white guy with strange body hair or a lean woman with a sour smell. He or she will park the bike right in the middle of all of the other riders, making us navigate around them to get off the vehicle. I understand there is nowhere else to store your bike on the vehicle, SO WHY BRING YOUR DAMN BIKE ON THE VEHICLE? Just bike all the way to your destination. Unlike backpacks or handbags, bike owners are very possessive of their two-wheeled ride, so they seem to stand aside with one hand on the bike frame and guard their wheels. The best strategy I’ve been able to come up with is to step close to the bike (pretending I have no other room and am being pushed there by other passengers) so that my shoe actually pushes against the wheel of the bike (or better yet, the rim of the bike). The bike owner thinks I’m trying to balance as their bike gets pushed further and further into the corner). Bike owners hate it!

Strollers on transit are a whole different story. About half the time, the stroller user is the bad person; the other half of the time, it’s the other passengers on the bus who are the bad ones. First, let me say that I blame the stroller manufacturers who are building SUV-sized strollers for extra fat American babies who drink Coke in their bottles and eat heaps of beefy mac by age 1. The parents go out and buy these ugly, contorted looking strollers because they are modern and new and everyone else has them. And then, they expect to bring these strollers with them when they ride the bus? Hello? Whatever happened to those umbrella fold-up strollers that everyone had in the 80s. The only people you now see using those are young women in low-income neighborhoods. Why? Because their cheap and those young women aren’t about to waste their money on a six-foot high stroller so their baby can get a spring-loaded upright view of the world. Those women also know how to ride transit: take your baby out of the stroller and fold it up. It’s usually the weekend riders who don’t have the sense to leave the ultra-deluxe stroller – the one that’s perfect for walks around the neighborhood because you can hold all of the baby’s needs as well as six bags of groceries from Whole Foods – at home and bring the umbrella stroller along for the ride. And people with double-decker twin strollers: you are not meant to ride transit.

Luggage is also a different story. As one who takes luggage on buses and trains, I move all the way into a seat and put whatever I’m schlepping on my lap. Most people with luggage are okay in my book. I think they realize they are carting around giant fabric-coated rectangles on wheels and they are best kept out of everyone’s way.

Miscellaneous parcels. I’ve talked about these from time to time. They range from a man in a wheelchair carrying a terrarium full of mice to hundreds of small Chinese women preceded by pink plastic grocery bags full of leaves and roots pushing their way in front of me on the train. Most parcels are comic relief. The old man with the grocery cart gives me an opportunity to marvel at his purchases and wonder how he feels when he buys Depends. I get to look at the boxes wrapped in brown paper with Feliz Navidad stickers and “ECUADOR” scribbled all over, wrapped lovingly and laboriously, if not improperly, only to be rejected by USPS or UPS staff. I watch the man with the brooms and the buckets and the cleaning solutions headed out to a job somewhere.

Many things are prohibited on the buses in Honolulu. Including poop.

I hope the research study finds some good solutions to address all of these problems, which are exacerbated with the overcrowding that transit agencies are experiencing as they slash bus routes due to diminished funding. I’m optimistic that some solutions can arise to make it easier for parents to bring strollers into the subway and on to the bus without being squeezed out. And I hope that people continue to bring interesting things on board buses and trains so I will have something else to write about. And complain about.

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