Trains And Stains: Understanding Public Transportation

Published:1:00 am EDT, February 5, 2010| Updated:1:42 pm EDT, December 1, 2010|

Unless you're the kind of person who likes to do cartwheels down to the rock-climbing store to buy new Velcro straps for your muscle-powered moon shoes, you probably get around town the same way I do – you walk 15 feet from your door to your car, get in your car, drive to the store, look for a place to park, and then walk from where you parked to the store so you can buy frozen burritos and video games and male perfumes designed to disguise that you spend most of your money on frozen burritos and video games. Then you walk back to your car and get pissed off because you got a parking ticket because you parked there during the three hours a week when it's street sweeping because that's the only reason there was a parking spot available in the first place, obviously, you dick. Sometimes you also drive to work on a road littered with the corpses of children you've exploded on your car's hood and grille.

Unfortunately, as every single screeching harpy on TV and in my personal life has made abundantly clear, this mode of transportation is not "sustainable" because the world we'll in turn leave the few children who survive my "Carmageddon" (a clever play on words I just invented and which the world has never seen before) will be full of asshole rich Arabs and no more places for penguins to play except for the refrigerated zoos/malls built for them by asshole rich Arabs in the middle of the desert. So how is the man of the future supposed to get to the social security office, the liquor store, the dog fighting venue, or any of the other places gentlemen of repute might wish to congregate? There are numerous proposals out there right now: I will evaluate several of the most popular with the help of Bernard, an imaginary unusually astute homeless man who rides the bus all day; Bernice, an imaginary black 41-year old mother of two who works as a nurse and is based largely on black women from popular sitcoms; and Bernard the 3rd, an imaginary government official, candidate for governor, and child of privilege who would never ride mass transit but whose opinion actually matters in the public process of determining their feasibility.

Bus Rapid Transit

Bus Rapid Transit is popular right now as a cheap alternative to light rail. It consists of dedicated bus lanes built into existing streets and more permanent, elevated stops which allow off-bus fare collection and level boarding. Advocates cite its relatively low cost and ease of implementation and integration into existing transit networks as its key benefits. Its detractors note that it is at best a stopgap measure which does little to address the long term transit needs of the communities it serves or the environmental issues of conventional automobile engines.

Bernice: I already take the bus to work, but a faster, nicer bus would be OK with me.

Bernard: The worst part of any bus ride is when the bus stops, because that's when I can hear the voices most clearly, so I usually try to ride buses that don't have many stops, or else I like to stick my head in things like water or a snug-fitting box. This bus sounds like it mostly goes, which is promising.

Bernard III: I took the bus once as a child so that I might see my family's collection of Vermeers at our museum before they went on tour to Argentina. Rather, I intended to, but upon boarding I was immediately accosted by the accumulation of smells and fluids, and felt as though I would soon retch. My face ran a pale pistachio and I was forced to halt the driver and depart the bus, whereupon I unloosed my Mediterranean-inspired breakfast omelet across the sidewalk. I recovered, however, and after wiping the acid from my lips with my satin Hermés kerchief and depositing it in a nearby laundry chute, demonstrated the fortitude to hail a taxicab to take me there instead. Truly, mine is a story of perseverance against all odds – it is the promise of America that men such as myself may succeed, despite the difficulties of their upbringing.

Bernice: You had a laundry chute in the street where you lived?

Bernard III: Of course – one of the blue boxes you find on streets everywhere.

Bernice: Oh, honey, that's a mailbox.

Bernard III: Well the kerchief was delivered back to my house two days later, cleaned and pressed, with a note from the clothesmaster general wishing me a speedy recovery.

Light Rail

Light rail is a form of transit made of lightweight trains which usually run on tracks built into existing streets which have slightly greater capacity and speed than buses but less than dedicated subway lines. Advocates note its speed, safety, and light environmental impact, while detractors decry its cost and relative inefficiency.

Bernice: I was fine with the fast bus. Why would you go and build a train track where you've already got a street? And you know they're gonna be chopping up the street where they're building it for two years, messing up traffic and jackhammering all day.

Bernard: It's definitely easier to fall asleep on a train than it is on a bus, but sometimes I mess myself when I'm sleeping, so I guess there are arguments to be made for both sides.

Bernard III: The train is indeed majestic. Once, it ferried immigrants to all corners our country, to inspire us with their work ethic, their ingenuity, and their cheap labor. But now there are too many immigrants, and they threaten to overburden our schools, take away our livelihoods, and devalue our real estate. This urban train would only hasten the process; the poor and impoverished would find themselves with almost unfettered access to the neighborhoods of the well-off, and might then be made more keenly aware of the extent of their poverty. Eventually they might use the rail line as a conduit by which to extract goods purloined from our homes, and eventually ferry in rioters who would overthrow us through threat and violence. That said, I'm ok with maybe one trophy line that runs between downtown and the football stadium, as long as laying it gives me an excuse to destroy some poor neighborhoods.

Subway/Heavy Rail

Heavy rail, most prevalent in American urban transit as underground subway systems, is a high-capacity, high-speed rail line designed to move large numbers of people around densely populated urban areas. These systems' advantages lie in their efficiency and speed and that they can be built to minimize use of valuable real estate, but can be very expensive to build and maintain.

Bernice: I hate the subway. You're always trapped in there with some kids who want to stab you or dance or ask you for money. I need my money! I'm taking the subway!

Bernard: A subway is like a cage for your mind, but for your body. Everyone on the subway pretends like they don't see you but they do! You can tell when you yell at them or start to masturbate.

Bernard III: In the slave era, the underground railroad was a network by which escaped slaves could flee to the north and achieve their freedom. Today's underground railroads are fantastic ways to shuffle poor people from their homes to the de factoslavery of employment and back to the de facto slavery of heterosexual monogamous cohabitation. What concerns me is when people use subways for things like delivering drugs and attending gay weddings. Can we risk facilitating immoral and illegal activities by allowing people to travel cheaply from one end of the city to the other without first saddling them with the implicit costs of car ownership? Let's use that money to build a prison instead. Prisons create good jobs, like warden, and prison guard, and jailhouse snitch. I guess a subway that only went to a prison would be ok.


A monorail is a high-speed rail solution, often elevated, which runs on a single track. While they are both fast and compact, they can be very expensive to build and cannot be integrated into existing rail systems.

Bernice: Isn't a monorail that thing from The Simpsons? That thing seems crazy. I don't want to be up 20 feet in the air when the train gets stuck and some white man starts shooting everyone.

Bernard: A monorail? Like from The Simpsons? You better build me a job before you start building some kind of stupid space train. Also, build me a pyramid made of French toast. Also, take these glow worms out of my brain.

Bernard III: Weren't monorails lampooned by The Simpsons? My daughter writes for that show. She gets paid about $20,000 an episode to help pad out their DVD sales and syndication packages. There are still good jobs out there for Americans willing to work hard.

Interstate Traveler ( )

The "Interstate Traveler" is a novel transit solution conceived of as "a collection of vital municipal utilities bundled into what we call the Conduit Cluster providing a first of its kind full integration of solar powered hydrogen production and distribution system supporting a high speed magnetic levitation ( MagLev ) on-demand public transit network built along the right of way of the US Interstate Highway Systems, and any other permissible right of way where such a machine would be of benefit." Although largely untested, the first implementation of this system is set to begin construction soon in Indonesia.

Bernice: Are you serious? That thing looks like a 3rd grader made it. It looks like some kind of GI Joe Transformer train. If my son came home with a drawing of that I would slap him and tell him to stop dreaming. Dreams like that never come true. Never!

Bernard: That dude stole my idea! I thought of this a long time ago! Except it shot people's cars out of a cannon and they bounced on trampolines until they got where they were going, and the guy who invented it wasn't a thief.

Bernard III: Would it work? Is it safe? What sort of environmental impact would it have? These are questions for nerds to answer. I'm only qualified to judge it based on how it would allow me to serve my constituents by funneling money back to me in the form of kickbacks and campaign contributions. And in that regard, this project has the capacity to build my campaign a boat, and a lake to sail my boat around in, and a harbor in which to berth it, and a houseboat for my secret girlfriend, and a houseboat-based rocket escape pod for me for when my web of lies and corruption comes tumbling down around me. So I like it, but not as much as publicly-funded, privately-operated toll roads.

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