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Why I Don't Take Public Transit ...

Original post made by CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park, on Nov 19, 2013

Look, I love the idea of a public transportation system where all of us can move about our city at a reasonable price, cutting down on traffic and pollution, smiling and interacting with each other and even sinking Kum-ba-yah ... now you get where I'm going with this I guess, even though I don't like that cheap kumbayah shot.

Today as I was going to the Palo Alto Main Post Office I passed a man, whom I shall not describe, standing out on Waverly street wearing all dark and black clothes, with a hooded jacket (not a "hoodie") pulled up around his head and face so I could hardly see him or make out his features. To me that alone is a bit menacing. Perhaps I unconsciously moved or looked a certain way because as I passed him to go to the Post Office he spat into the street.

Did my business, walked out of the Post Office holding the door open for an elderly lady and encountered this person again on the way back to my car, parked on the opposite side of Waverly. As I looked at him I noticed now in addition to the hoody that he had a kind of ski mask pulled up around his face ... you know, like the kind the bank robbers used to wear in the old Western movies. Now all I could see was his glaring eyes.

I got to my car, and I noticed the bus pulled up, and I wondered what the bus driver would do? He seemed to say something to the young man, but the man got on anyway and that was all I could see because of the reflections on the windows of the bus.

Personally, I would rather do about anything other than to encounter, be in the same space as or have to interact with such a person. I don't even think people should be allowed to enter buildings of board buses if they are wearing "bank robber" attire, or burkas, hoodies, masks or anything that hides their identity ... with certain exceptions.

I think a lot of other people feel the same. While she was living my Grandmother use to ride the bus to downtown almost ever day of her life to the senior center where she could talk and visit with her friends, but sometime she stopped doing that in the late 1970's ... about the time people such as this started to appear unashamed and unapologetic on Public Transit. Not getting out and having some place to go and feel safe in public contributed to my Grandmother's decline of health and eventual demise to an extent, and having streets that are scary or even unfriendly to walk will contribute just as much to other elderly people, and to the driving up to and past the last minute of driving competence for those who would rather risk a crash than risk confronting such thug look-alikes.

I'm sure this will be cast as some kind of freedom of expression issue, but a lot of these issues seem to have led to a declining quality of life and a declining sense of community as anti-social people "express freely" their anti-socialness, and the rest of us have to just smile and accept it. What do you think?

Comments (22)

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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm

If you don't want to take public transit then don't. Nobody is telling you you need to or should.


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Posted by Often dangerous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:37 pm

One of my daughter's friends attends "Middle College" at Foothill for her Senior year. Since she does not have a car of her own, she takes public transportation, a VTA bus, to get there and back.

On two separate occasions so far this semester, rather creepy, unwashed men have gotten off the bus with her and then followed ( stalked?) her all over the Foothill campus all afternoon. Both men were reported to campus security, but she still saw them on the bus. So now, her mom or her dad take turns taking time off from work to take her to Foothill and then back to Palo Alto at the end of the day.

A close friend, who is legally blind and cannot drive, often takes VTA to where she needs to go. Last year, she caught head lice from a man who boarded at downtown Palo Alto, and sat next to her because there were not many seats left in the front half of the bus. he was filthy, and scratched his head constantly. A week later, she had an itchy scalp, too.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:47 pm

"Often dangerous" ... sorry to hear your daughter's friend's problems on Public Transit. For PT to be really viable and useable there needs to be some kinds of standards, but in this area we seem to use it as a dumping ground for those too poor to have a car or a home and the system is geared to those types. I suppose if I had no other way to get somewhere I would use PT, but I would be careful because one doesn't know what problems they can face. I heard a radio news show the other say that said something about the El Camino bus being a virtual hotel for homeless people - Hotel 22?

For this ridiculous dream of the city's or state's to get people to use Public Transportation they either have to upgrade the system or make a lot of people much more desperate. If that is the goal of the city when they want to install parking meters and remove free parking in the city it is a pretty despicable and dishonest strategy.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:00 pm

@often dangerous - your friend's daughter should check with her fellow middle college students to see if she could carpool or at least have a buddy on the bus. There is also Zipride which helps coordinate rides for college students, it's on the Foothill website.

General comment - unless public transportation is safe, pleasant, frequent, inexpensive and can get us where we want to go without switching modes of transport too often (think NY subway, the Chicago El and the T in Boston), it is unlikely to be used by anyone who does not have to use it.


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Posted by Ernest hemingway
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:14 pm

I love some of the stories people tell on this forum-- they are so imaginative and most end up bashing those less fortunate in life. Having read many of these tales of woe, I havE come to the conclusion that are from the same one or two people. The stories are all very similar, save for a few changes in details to fashion the story so that it is line with the thread.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Hey, "Ernest", I sure wish you could have seen this guy, and maybe sat next to him. It has nothing to do with being less or more fortunate in life - that is, how one chooses to present themselves to people in the world when they are out in the world. People may be poor, that is no sin, I don't complain about things people cannot help, but they do not have to be menacing and insulting.

With all your airs of wisdom I wonder how often you really get out in the world. I suppose I am fortunate, and don't think that I do not realize that or appreciate it, that I do not have to be around people like this. I doubt you have any reason to assume anything about the comments here in terms of them being from the same people or anything else - maybe you are threatened in some way to think that people do not embrace criminal acting people. When I saw this guy on the street with the bottom part of his face covered, the first thing I thought of was the 7-11 that was held up a while back and how this is exactly what the suspects were described as. But they have caught those guys. Why does anyone have to wear a hood/hoodie and hide their face to board a bus? You seem to know so much, do you have any clue?


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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:10 am

Ernest Hemmingway - how old are you? Are you some mid-twenty person who is a body builder type and feels very strong and able to protect yourself? Guess what - the majority of people here are just trying to get from point A to point N destination and do not want to have to consider protecting themselves from people who may be desperate and violent. One day I went to post a letter at the main post office - Bay shore outside box office on a late Sunday and there was a man with his arm in the outside mailbox - this was at tax time. I honked at him and he looked menacingly at me - I got out of there fast. He was a nice looking guy in okay clothes. He could get his arm out and put it back in again. There is a lot of strange activity that goes on and people do not want to have to contend with it. We know it when we see it - also young guys with their pants below the crack on their backside. They like to wear hoodies to hide their face but show their backside - we know it when we see it.


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Posted by unsafe streets
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

I see maniacs driving cars all the time. They speed down the street and change lanes unpredictably and run stop signs and stop lights. Every day I hear about more people being killed by these maniacs. Trust me, taking public transit is way safer.


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Posted by Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

When I was younger, I had occasion to speak with a rape crisis counselor - I can't even remember why anymore. She said I didnt have anything to worry about unless I engaged in risky behavior like (short list of the usual suspects), drinking or TAKING PUBLIC TRANSIT.

The last time I took the train during the rain, our coats smelled like old urine and somehow picked up body lice! Some of the seats appeared to be soaked in not so okd urine, too. Now when anyone in the family takes the train, their clothing goes in the laundry and they take shower!

I took plenty of public transit in my life living in big cities. I have spent 5 hours a day commuting roundtrip on public transit to work. It was miserable. I have also gone to foreign countries where I stayed for long periods without a car and preferred to take transit - because it was clean, convenient, and safe.

In our nation, it comes down to priorities and investment choices - and not just for transit, but for healthcare (let's face it, the problem of chronic homelessness came from a Reagan era policy decision and subsequent lack of public mental health services.


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Posted by steve eittreim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 20, 2013 at 5:23 pm

If more of us "normal" people used public transit, the close encounters with folks who repel us because of their antisocial looks or actions would be far less common as they would be "diluted" if you will by all us "normal" people. So, public officials, please give us PT systems that are so good that we will be encouraged to leave our cars in the driveway (or sell them even better). Then, travelling on the bus among all us "normal" folks you won't even notice the others.


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Posted by Ernest hemingway
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Time-- thanks for a hysterical story-- risky behavior is using public transportation, public transportation n every big city in the US is miserable!!! And millions of people use it everyday without any problems-- only you seem to be a victims [portion removed.]


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2013 at 6:47 pm

"Steve", I agree with you - but that would be a long and painful, possible malodorous haul. Somehow we insist on letting what amount of bums live in close quarters with us and call this freedom. I guess in this respect the US is the freest country in the world. Somehow there would need to be either some kind of fair way of discriminating on the basis of health and safety, or as "Time" mentioned reverse some of the Reagan era practices and put some of these people away or at a distance. Right now we've maneuvered ourselves into a society where we are hamstrung to change anything by

With population density getting higher all the time, disease is not a joke, and caring about one's health and safety is not a question of courage or manliness.

"Earnest", [portion removed] Millions of people do lots of things every day ... for example everyone eats most days, yet some of them die from food born illness - I guess you would just ignore that or claim those who care about it or want to talk about are hysterical. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Ernest hemingway
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:15 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

OP has brought up a touchy subject. His/her thoughts are similar to what I've experienced.
If politicians have these fantasies that public transit will solve all our woes and we should all ride it and they will make conditions that make it tough to drive, then I should see more routes, much more frequent service, and usually filled vehicles. That will create a realistic climate of safety.
We know that major city public transit in Boston, NYC, Chicago work quite well and regular folks use these systems without undue risk.
I was overseas recently and had to wait awhile in a major train station in a city that I will describe as NOT upscale and guess what: I observed the station was clean, well-lit and safe; everyone looked like they were going about their business (whatever their class or station in life). I saw NO - ZERO - homeless or panhandlers. It was a stunning contrast to what one may experience here at stations or stops or on transit.


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Posted by Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:16 am

@anonymous,
Boston subways used to be like dark concrete latrines until Governor Dukakis took the train to work. Suddenly, the whole system got an overhaul. The first thing we should do is take the City Council parking spaces away from them at City Hall. Then we should ask them to take only bikes and public transit during their tenure on the Council, and make public who doesnt.

@Ernest I still have memories of what that Boston system was like on a packed train during a heat wave when the system shut down on and we were stuck for over an hour. I shared that experience with thousands of people, and I doubt any of them post here. My comparison of our public transit here with transit in countries that do it well - where taking public transit is the preferred mode of transportation - is also a common observation.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:58 am

< The first thing we should do is take the City Council parking spaces away from them at City Hall.

That's a great idea, "Time", ... no more rulers from the high and mighty "Above" ... what do they say "eat your own dog food", because that is what it's coming to.


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Posted by Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm

@Crescentparkanon,
Now how to make that a public call? CC give up their parking spots and bike to meetings!


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Posted by Public transportation is evil
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 21, 2013 at 1:07 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 1:41 pm

@evil,
I was shocked by hearing it, too. But apparently taking public transit alone puts together virtually every major risk factor, especially for young women. Assaults don't take place on the transit as frequently as to people who have been targeted waiting for or leaving transit. The biggest risk is to women who need to take transit at night.

Countries like India have other conditions that make public transit even less safe for women. There are countries in Europe where it's very safe. We may not be able to reproduce all of those physical and cultural conditions, but we should aspire to them.

I'm not knocking public transit, I'm knocking the systemic failures in our system that make our public transit so unpleasant and less safe here. I am glad to leave my car behind if public transit were as good as in parts of the world where it is done well.


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Posted by JJ
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

>The first thing we should do is take the City Council parking spaces away from them at City Hall.

Well, at least we have an admission now that removing parking is one way to encourage alternate ways of commuting!


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Posted by Janet L
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm

As someone who takes transit to work every day by choice, I find this whole thread disturbing.

Let's start with the initial scene. Woman encounters distasteful person on the sidewalk in downtown Palo Alto who later gets on a bus. Her conclusion is not to avoid downtown, but to only avoid the bus. Why not avoid downtown too?

Second, she grossly overstates the likelihood of meeting unsavory people on transti. In 18 months of riding Caltrain, VTA light rail and/or the VTA bus on a daily basis, I've only had one time that I got up and moved because I didn't like someone who was sitting near me.

The flip side is that I have made friends among the people I ride with to the point where I rarely pull out my reading material. In the morning it's Tim or Claire. In the evening it's Jack, Eugene, Mike or John.

Go ahead and say I'm drinking the Kum-ba-ya Kool-Aid, but the social aspects of taking the train are definitely one reason I keep doing it instead of driving to work.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Janet, the OP, Crescent Park Anon, is male. Was it the OP to whom you were referenced quoted here? "Let's start with the initial scene. Woman encounters distasteful person on the sidewalk in downtown Palo Alto who later gets on a bus."

One of my friends met her husband on CalTrain. I know plenty of pub transpo people who've made friends w/those on pub transpo, too. Glad you find it such a great experience!


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