Standard Deviations: Riding the rails never seemed more convenient, inexpensive
So, is everybody completely choo-chooed out by now?
I was out of town for all the excitement surrounding the transcontinental railroad sesquicentennial, so I missed the “train fatigue” that has apparently set in around here. With dozens upon dozens of events surrounding the May 10 celebration — not to mention the relentless media coverage from local outlets — friends and co-workers tell me all this Golden Spike stuff has become wearying.
Depending upon whom you ask, the recent Spike 150 celebration was either the most exciting thing to hit Ogden since the 2002 Winter Olympics or the most disappointing thing to hit Ogden since … well, since the 2002 Winter Olympics.
What is it about these big, spectacular events that elicits such a broad spectrum of opinions?
Back in 2002, Standard-Examiner editors made the foolish mistake of wasting one of their valuable Olympic credentials on this columnist. As a result, I got to spend 17 days roaming around the various venues, writing about the lighter side of the games and trying to avoid being mistaken for an Olympic curler. (Apparently, curlers and I share a body type that is unlike any other Olympic athletes.)
And while there was no shortage of folks bragging that the Olympics were a huge win for us here in the state of Utah, plenty of others said they saw no such victory.
For example, at one point, on a weekend night in the middle of the games, I found myself on Historic 25th Street listening to the gripes of local business owners. Although the Olympics were in full swing at the time, downtown Ogden was a virtual ghost town — with empty streets and even emptier bars and restaurants.
“This isn’t what we were promised,” one merchant complained.
And now it sounds like, at least for some, the recent Spike 150 celebration may have been equally disappointing. Some grumbled that downtown Ogden wasn’t nearly as crowded as expected for Spike 150 events like the three-day Heritage Festival.
A pity, because I heard organizers put on a pretty swell party.
While folks here were celebrating the wedding of the rails, I just spent the better part of the week riding the rails in a different part of the country — The Deep South.
During the sesquicentennial, my wife and I were in New Orleans, Louisiana, traveling around on the historic streetcars of The Big Easy and visiting places like the French Quarter, the Treme and the Garden District.
And can I just say? I like their rail travel better.
Everybody — and by everybody, I mostly mean your average Utah Transit Authority official — has been touting our state’s mass transit as among the best in the nation. That may be, but it seems like every time I go and hang out in another major metropolitan area I find a transit system that appears to be both more economical and more convenient — the two factors I would argue make a system “among the best.”
I’ve said it before: If you want people to abandon their vehicles for public transportation, that transportation has got to be either cheaper or more convenient than driving. Preferably both.
So, how does New Orleans’ Regional Transit Authority and Utah Transit Authority compare? A few quick stats:
• In New Orleans they charge $1.25 for a one-way trip on a streetcar or bus. In Utah, that same ticket costs $2.50.
• In New Orleans, a pass that is good for 24 hours is $3. In Utah, a one-day pass is $6.25.
• In New Orleans, a 31-day bus/streetcar pass is $55. In Utah, it’s $83.75. What’s more, if you want to take FrontRunner or an express bus that will get you to your destination before your next birthday, you’ll need a Premium Pass — at $198 per month.
And here’s one final consideration: New Orleans streetcars — and even many of the buses there — operate around the clock, seven days a week.
Now, I totally get the argument that UTA and RTA are two completely different animals. But the fact is, having spent a few days kicking around The Big Easy, it seems to me that New Orleans’ system is easily more economical, and arguably more convenient.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration the inherent romanticism of riding along grass-covered medians beneath stately old trees in historic New Orleans streetcars.
With apologies to Tennessee Williams: Now that’s a streetcar I desire.