The push for free bus service is on. I like the concept, yes, but not the notion that it could replace light rail (or monorail). In spite of its myriad problems, the region needs some kind of mass transit system that removes odoriferous gashogs from highways. The question is: how do we get it at a reasonable cost, on a quick timetable, without running rails down the middle of M.L. King Way, or tunneling under the whole damn city? We’ll work it out eventually, I hope.

In the meantime, by all means, let’s have free bus service, too. If we can afford it. The current proposal relies on diverting money from light rail to pay for free buses. That’s a no-go, because voters approved the light rail plan and still support it by a measurable margin. People seem to be saying: “it has problems, but it can be fixed.” I agree–if we can get the planners to acknowledge the problems, too.

As for free bus service, it shouldn’t come at the price of light rail, because our current bus service has its own set of problems that should be fixed first. Here’s a quick list:

To travel across town, you have to go downtown first. This is the single biggest barrier to attracting new riders. When a car trip from First Hill to Wallingford takes 15 minutes, who’s going to take a bus downtown (15 minutes), wait at a bus stop (between 5 and 30 minutes), and then get on a second bus out to Wallingford (20-30 minutes)? No sane person. Only those of us too poor to own a car will waste an hour or more just trying to get across town.

New drivers don’t get enough training. Often bus riders know the routes better than new drivers and end up training them on how to drive their route in a timely way. And somebody needs to impress on new drivers that the back door is indispensable during rush hour when people are packed like sardines in the aisle of the bus.

Speaking of which: in-city, rush-hour buses are too small to safely hold all the people who need to use them. An ex-boyfriend used to agonize over mysterious bruises on my arms and legs–until I reminded him that I ride Metro during rush hour.

Buses don’t run often enough, especially in the winter. This is a rainy, cold city, dammit. Add frostbite to my bruises and you’ll understand why I’m angry about waiting 40 minutes for a bus to arrive at my stop.

Seattle drivers don’t know they’re supposed to yield to buses pulling in and out of stops. Every day I ride the bus, some clown in a car honks at the bus. It’s time for a media campaign to educate these fools.

Metro needs to hunt down the person who decided to split up the #7 and the #43 routes and fire that person immediately.

Metro needs a real policy for dealing with abusive passengers, instead of simply telling drivers not to fight with anybody. If Metro wants to retain decent employees, they shouldn’t put them into dangerous situations without some kind of protection–or at least some effort to keep violent people off the buses.

Metro needs to hunt down the person responsible for buying those cheap Italian buses for the bus tunnel and fire that person immediately. Those buses are too heavy for city streets, which is why so many thoroughfares now need major repairs. And most of the broken-down buses that I’ve seen being towed around town are those cheap Italian jobs–while a lot of the buses that were old when the bus tunnel first opened continue to creak and groan along, happily doing their jobs.

And, finally, Metro must revise its inaccurate time schedules! Most bus schedules don’t take into account the increased flow of traffic in Seattle. Buses are getting later and later and drivers are getting more stressed out trying to keep to impossible schedules. The schedules need to accurately reflect travel times and not public relations promises of a quick ride to work.

Make some changes, Metro! Don’t expect us to give up a new light rail system just to fund free, but flawed, bus service.