Review of Rail Tales: Adventures On Public Transit
Rail Tales: Adventures on Public Transit by Brian Green, self-published, 2012 is a collection of vignettes about the author's daily rides on the light rail lines of Sacramento Regional Transit (RT). Very short at ninety-two pages, some of the stories feature interesting situations but unfortunately none are flushed out. More interesting is the overall idea: the chance of finding yourself in interesting situations is a reason to take transit. With its (inferred) thesis that transit should be fun, Green's book shares some thematic similarities with Nordahl's My Kind of Transit work, previously reviewed here . However, since many people avoid transit because they do not want to get sneezed on ( do people on public transit get sick more? ) or have a stranger run their hands through their hair (two encounters mentioned in the book), Green's book, if read by non-users of transit, seems likely to drive them away from even trying it. It is important to note, however, that his book mentions no actual crimes taking place on his transit travels.
One of the top reasons why people do not take transit is the perception that transit is unsafe( how can we improve security on public transit? ). By mentioning mentally disturbed passengers, disruptive passengers, and passengers waiting for a train at the "no-man's land" of the 16th Street transfer station, Green is telling us that light rail is unsafe, or at least not for the faint of heart. Being in control is a major reason why people choose to drive; Green's book tells us that on light rail you may not even be in control over your own body! In fact, "quality of life crimes" similar to Green's tales of people soliciting and playing loud music without headphones has generated enough complaints from patrons of the Los Angeles Blue Line that the sheriff's department, which is responsible for patrolling the line, has stepped up its visible presence along the route.
Now would be a good time to remind my readers of how safe public transit is . The very fact that crashes and violent crime make the news for days whenever they happen on transit is proof of how rare such happenings are. How many run-of-the-mill fatal traffic accidents and murders (at least in my hometown of Detroit) make the news for the week? In fact, transit keeps getting safer.
On the other hand, Green also mentions positive encounters on the RT, including meeting some good friends during his travels. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some systematic way in which people could meet other people on public transit? Indeed, there have been attempts to do just that. For example, a woman in Brooklyn has begun a matchmaking service for subway riders. In addition, Virgin Airlines has been exploring having "singles" sections of their flights where unattached people can meet other unattached people . I know several people who have gotten married to partners they met on public transit - would that not be the best "Rail Tale" of all (and a guarantee of lifelong affection for public transportation)?
Overall, in an era where we spend more and more of our time shopping and doing other things online and homeschooling our children, public transit is one of the last places where we can run into people of different life categories (race, class, etc.) than our own. As such, transit plays a vital role in us feeling part of a community. In the end, I hope that other readers of Rail Tales will conclude with me and the author that the varied and interesting experiences that transit provides are worthwhile education and entertainment experiences that should be valued and sought out by all.