Just got back from a trip to Portland. Never had been there before. It’s a nice city. No Asian people… even in “Chinatown.” A lot of people smoking on street corners. A few ugly bridges over the beautiful water.
But some good food, a walkable downtown, charming parks everywhere, and… an excellent public transportation system.
My wife and I have been two years without a car in San Francisco, and it has been worth it overall. Nevertheless, every now and then you just have to curse MUNI and think, “Life would be so much easier right now if I had a car.”
Not so in Portland. Whether it’s lightrail trains, proper buses, or the streetcar line, in our almost-a-week there, we never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus (usually 2-3 minutes), we never had a bus driver who appeared to have aspirations to be in NASCAR or to be doing stunts for Michael Bay movies, there was virtually no graffiti, the fares were low (in most places, free even), and the time to get from place to place was minimal.
This difference between Portland’s public transit and the Bay Area’s wasn’t more apparent than when we finally went home.
We woke up at 4-something in the morning, walked half a mile from our hotel to the nearest lightrail stop, paid $2 for a ticket to the airport, waited three minutes for the on-time train to come, and then were at the airport within an hour… with a smooth ride to boot.
Coming back home from the San Francisco airport, we had to hop on a shuttle to get to the BART subway station. Then the BART train (which costs $4.70) we got on just randomly sat there for about fifteen minutes with no movement and no announcement from the conductor as to when the train would actually depart. The BART train was smelly and loud. From BART, we got on the MUNI bus home ($1.50, if we didn’t already have monthly passes), which was extremely crowded and full of permanent marker–graffiti. The bus driver drove like a maniac.
It is great to be home (and at least away from tobacco city), but is it really that difficult to get a decent public transit system here?