Friday, February 19, 2010

How Do You Get to the Airport?

by Kristin Kinnamon (from California)

I used to pay $30 dollars to take an airport shuttle to SeaTac from Marysville. That was a long time ago. These days when I visit my parents in California, I get to SeaTac for under $5 on public transportation. My mom usually insists on picking me up from the airport in the Bay Area, but since she is recovering from surgery and isn’t allowed to drive for awhile, I had a chance to try transit on both ends.

I know some people in Snohomish County are waiting for light rail to come to Lynnwood and beyond before they feel that we truly have “mass transit” here. Meanwhile, people who are paying attention use the peak hour commuter service to Seattle offered by Community Transit and the all-day express service offered by Sound Transit to get where they want to go. I took Route 421 from Marysville and Link Light Rail to SeaTac and got there in less than two hours during the morning rush, only a little more time than I’d need to allow for driving myself.

My mom warned me it wouldn’t be so easy on her end. “We have a terrible transit system here,” said the woman who has not taken a bus in 50 years. “The bus doesn’t go anywhere people want to go.” I have heard that before.

As a transit person, I readily admit that buses do not and never can go everywhere that people want to go. But nowhere? Heck, my sister and I used to take one of those nowhere buses to high school. My mom also feared that the California bus drivers would be unfriendly and unwilling to answer questions.

Nevertheless, I went to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority website to plan my California Transit Adventure: Route 10 shuttle from the airport to a transit center, then Rapid 522 down El Camino Real. It looked like I’d need to pay $2 fare for each bus, but the friendly driver on the first bus made sure I knew it was free before I put my money in the farebox.

For years I’ve seen the specially-painted Rapid 522 buses on El Camino Real - the Highway 99 of Santa Clara County. Like Swift, it is complemented with a local bus route serving the same corridor, Route 22. Both run every 15 minutes, but Rapid 522 stops at 75 percent fewer stops. That’s the only difference I could see besides the paint job. I was determined to try out the Rapid, which meant I let two local buses pass by while I waited in the sun. The second Route 22 driver assured me that the Rapid always caught up and passed him down the road. I told him I’d wave hello as we went by.

While waiting I talked to a substitute teacher who got rid of his car and now relies on transit to get to schools all around the area. Like Community Transit, VTA has had budget problems and they implemented service cuts in January. I asked whether he’d been impacted. He said most of his trips were the same – but now there was even less service after 6:30 p.m., which cut into his nightlife. Overall, though, he had few complaints and he really liked the Rapid, since it saved him lots of time.

I can’t complain either. The Rapid finally came, and it did indeed get me to my destination just ahead of the Route 22. The friendly Route 22 driver opened his door to explain that buses were off-schedule due to a plane crash that had taken out power at the end of the line.

I could have waited for a one more bus to get within ¼ mile of my parents house, or walked the final mile with my suitcase, but I called a neighbor for a ride instead. She was happy to help.

And so ended my California Transit Adventure – buses that got me where I wanted to go, more or less, friendly bus drivers, and proof that people who don’t take transit really shouldn’t comment on its characteristics. Right, mom?

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