Wednesday, 20 March, 2019

ICYMI: The Transit App integrates Uber into app service


Uber on Transit App

Travel options just got better for users of The Transit App. On Monday, the app service was updated to integrate Uber, a ridesharing service, natively into the user interface. The Transit App supports Uber in 47 North American cities with more markets likely to come online as both The Transit App and Uber expand their services.

What The Transit App is doing isn’t all that different from Car2Go and its takeover of the dynamic transportation app RideScout. In September, we gushed about that merger because it represented a more holistic approach to urban transportation services. Marrying different transportation services together puts the power of personal transportation decisions in the hands of riders. When users know the transportation choices available to them, they can choose to take any mode on-the-fly. And for urban dwellers, that means their perceived need for a reliable personal vehicle is greatly reduced.

The Transit App has been growing rapidly and wisely over the past year. The app team has been focused on ensuring the stability of the app and the locations that it serves while streamlining the user experience and adding useful features. The trip planner function, Nearby Mode, and universal access to schedules have all seen massive improvements. The Transit App has also added tons of new regions to its service and just launched bike sharing data over the summer. The addition of Uber is a positive step forward for The Transit App because it increases its universality as a transportation app while maintaining simplicity. (And, we have to imagine that finding a way monetize the app isn’t too bad as well.)

How Uber works in The Transit App

IMG_0853When users launch the app in any of the 47 North American markets that both Uber and The Transit App serve, they will see Uber as a mode choice with real-time departure information from their current location. Users can pan around the map in the app or search a specific location for service, which will also display real-time departure from the intended location. Users can also choose which kind of Uber service that they want like UberPEDAL or uberX. To do so, users need to tap the Uber tile in Nearby Mode and toggle the “swap” function on the tile.

Trip planning now displays Uber services whenever a trip is generated in search boxes or dropping pins between two locations. The app automatically calculates the estimated wait time for an Uber pickup and the drive time. The cost of the Uber trip is also estimated in the trip plan. Tapping on the trip will show three options: a ride request, a map of the likely routing for the Uber journey, and more Uber options. If that latter is chosen, all possible Uber services will be shown with estimated times and costs for comparison.

Booking a trip with Uber from The Transit App is fairly straightforward. On the Uber tile in Nearby Mode, the user can tap to reveal the “request” option (this can also be done in the trip planner in a similar way). By requesting the service, the Uber app will be launched with the preferred pickup location identified in the open app. From there, it’s a simple tap of the confirmation request.

Of course, some people may never want Uber as a trip option. The Transit App makes it easy to disable the service through the app settings. Users can simply uncheck Uber as an option within the setting window.

For more on Uber and The Transit App, check out their splash page on the new service.

Supported Puget Sound transportation services by The Transit App include: Sound Transit (buses, Link Light Rail, and Sounder), King County Metro Transit (buses, streetcars, and water taxis), Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit (buses and foot ferries), Intercity Transit, Washington State Ferries, Pronto! Cycle Share, and Uber.

Be Nice to That Couple From Frankfurt




“FUCK YOU,” he says as he boards, with such unhinged force I can only find it comical. Fifty-year old East African man in a sweatshirt and slacks, holding a wooden chair in one hand. I don’t know why I think this is so funny. I think it’s because he looks fairly refined, one of those serious middle-aged types. Phawk You. Maybe I should be afraid sometimes. But honestly, where would that get me?

“How you doin’?”
Upon hearing me and seeing my tone he instantly shapes up a little. “I’m good, how are you?”

Confucius said pleasantries don’t make us better people, but they do keep alive in us the goodness we already possess.
“Excellent, thank you!”
“Tha’s good.” He smiles, appreciating my acknowledgement of his personhood and complete ignorance of his earlier attitude.

He and his friend sit down near the front. The second man is younger but taller, dressed in a huge lightweight blue and burgundy rain jacket. He expands like a sea star, spreading out, covering as much surface area with his body as possible. The two form a compelling visual image. I want to paint these guys. Don’t think I’ll ask them now, though.

“I don’ care where you from,” says the fifty-year old, apparently continuing a thought with his friend. They’re are sitting behind me. “I keep my mouf shut. I keep quiet. I don’ care, shit.” Sheeyit. “Why I’m gonna care?” He continues. “I don’ say no thing, I don’t care.” He expounds a bit further on his promise of keeping quiet before doing so.

Two young Cobain-lookalikes board, one with a guitar in hand. “Oh, hey, it’s you again!” says the one to me, excited. To the second man I say, “ah, an artist! You can play whatever you want, I won’t stop you!” I’m sure I’ll regret saying those words one day, but sometimes you get some really good acoustic work wafting up from the back.

We’re filling up. It’s a night run on the 49, pulling into Convention Center. Here’s a few more getting on. A young European couple, twenties, hesitant in their step. Must be visiting from out of the country. She asks, “do you go to Broadway?”
“I do! Where do you want to go?”
“We want to go to, is it, Broadway and Allison? by Fuhr, uh,”
“Oh. Allison, by Fuhrman, and Harvard?”
“Yes, I will take you there!”
“Okay! Thank you so much!”

Sparkly eyes, now full of youthful vigor. They’re quite the attractive couple– not tall enough to be supermodels, and too friendly to be on magazine covers. Just perfect, in other words. What they also seem is very much out of their element. The dominating presence on the bus now is a three-way argument between the two East African men and a third black man of ambiguous heritage, wearing a Seahawks jersey, the current neutral Seattle uniform of choice. The two accost him regarding his birthplace, abandoning their self-imposed promise of being quiet on such matters. To their credit, they speak in low tones, but that just makes everything seem all the more menacing.

“You not from Ethiopia. I know.” The tall guy. “I’m from Ethiopia! I’m gonna know. I know. You Somali?”
“I’m from Ethiopia,” says the Seahawks man quietly.
“You’re not from Ethiopia. How you gonna fool me? Live my whole life…. Eritrea? Eritrea. Eritrea maybe. You from Eritrea? I can understand that. Tell me you’re from,”
“I’m from Ethiopia.”
“You’re not from there. Why you say you’re from Ethiopia?”
“That’s where I from,” he says, maintaining his quiet tone. Impressively cool. He leans his bulk forward.

“Where are you from?”
Have you noticed how most fights– in the street, in the bedroom, the kitchen– start over the most inconsequential things? It all seems so intense in the moment.
“I’m from Ethiopia. I’m Ethiopian.”
“I don’ know why you keep saying that.” The tall man’s face is tilted back on the headrest, coolly looking down his nose at the other. Legs splayed out, jacket big and wide. Sotto voce: “I know. I know your face.”
“You know my face? I know my face!”
“You from Ethiopia? What part Ethiopia you from? What tribe?”I see the European couple shifting uneasily in the side seats above the middle wheels. I know what this all looks like. The impressively intimidating argument dominating the first half of the coach, bubbling chatter elsewhere, the Cobain lookalikes talking loudly in the back, a group of college girls going on about transcribing and transcriptions, various street guys peppering the room… and all of them in their own comfortable worlds, exclusive, uninviting to outsiders, not realizing they’re forming a young couple’s first impression of Seattle. A friend recently described to me her first impressions of the reality of American life as “uglier and scarier than anything [she] had imagined,” and looking at the couple back there I get the sense they feel similarly. When you read a bunch of guidebooks warning about the dangers of travel in strange new cities, and then find yourself in this environment at this time of night, yes, the mind does wander….

For me the scene is different. I know the Cobain kids and the street guys. They’re fine. And East African immigrants in their forties and fifties don’t get in physical fights. They just don’t. I let their argument play out, fascinated. The Seahawks man really is from Ethiopia. He speaks some language samples and specifies a few words and locations. All is well.

At Roanoke the European girl comes forward, followed by her boy. We’re two stops away.
“Hi,” I say to her. “I think I can take you closer. Almost there!”
“Oh, okay!”
“I did not forget about you!”
She smiles the warm smile of relief, the enveloping feel of safety coming back. Acceptance.

“Is it a restaurant, or a house?”
“It’s a house.”
“Oh good. Yes, we are very close.”
The boyfriend pipes up: “finally, someone in Seattle is nice!”
“Oh no! Oh, no!”
“Yes, everyone has been so unfriendly,”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Welcome to Seattle!” Waving my arm in the air.
“Thank you! Now we feel welcome!”
“Where are you visiting from?”
“Oh great! Which city?”
“Excellent. I have three weeks in January and I’m trying to decide where to go, I want to go somewhere in Europe….”
She says, “you can stay at our house anytime!”
“You’re so nice, thank you! So here’s your stop, and Allison street is right behind us….”
“Thank you! Thank you. You’re such a wonderful person!”
I’m surprised at their initial impression of Seattle, and can’t help but reflect how just a few interactions can shape one’s view of an entire city, especially when that’s all you have to go off of. There are always friends, even in the furthest corners. I hope the rest of your trip is terrific.
Soon Mr. Phawk You deboards, singing a very different song as he leaves the bus– it’s as if he’s undergone a positive mental bath of sorts: “Thank you, my brother!”
“Thank you, my friend! I’ll see you again!”I will see him again, in about an hour. Everything will be fine.


The Importance Of Bikes In Small, Isolated Communities

Bikes in Petersburg, AK
Rain? What rain? Bike racks are full in Petersburg, AK, even on rainy days. Photo by the Author.

Back in June, I took a two-week trip exploring the Alaskan Panhandle, visiting cities along the inside passage like Ketchikan, Petersburg, Juneau, and even the gold rush era Skagway. Having the stereotypical Alaskan in mind, I thought that everyone would be riding big Pickup Trucks or at least some kind of four wheeler. This was somewhat the case in the two major cities, Juneau (pop. 32,000) and Ketchikan (pop. 13,500), but in smaller cities, a big transportation share was actually made of single wheeler vehicles, which are also known as bikes to the majority of us. I was surprised to see so many bikes out on the streets, with people of all ages and abilities riding around. However, it was not long before I came up with a theory to explain this.

The burden of a car

When people in the lower 48 think of how owning a car might be a burden, they think about finding parking and paying for it, or having to deal with traffic. None of these concerns exist in Alaska, streets are free of gridlock and parking is free and easy to find. The Alaskan might instead think of transportation of the car! Since most of Southeast Alaskan cities are only accessible by sea or air, cars must be shipped by barge from Seattle to the major cities, where they are then put on smaller barges or ferries to go out to smaller cities. This complicates just the act of getting a car and raises the price of the car by a significant amount.

So say you just got a new car. Great. Now how are you going to make it run? Well, you need to bring in fuel from Seattle by, once again, a barge! Yes, Alaska does have petroleum, but it is not located around the inside passage, rather inland and north, far north. Because of the added transportation expense, gas is much more expensive in the panhandle. The best you can find is 25% more expensive than in Seattle (in June that was around $5 a gallon), if not more.

But also think of car maintenance. Shipping a simple component that you would need to replace can take days, if not weeks. And like cars and gas, it’s more expensive.

All of this combined make the car a non-viable option for short trips, from an economic point of view.

Human-scale cities

The notion of suburbs and strip malls do not exist in small-town Alaska. Cities are built on the side of the water and do not sprawl. Smaller cities make it much more logical to get on a bike, as getting to the other side of town can be as little as a mile, where cars do not have a significant time advantage. Streets don’t have five lanes of fast-moving traffic and getting to businesses don’t mean that you have to cross a monstrous parking lot before getting somewhere.

Also, there’s no freeways to shrink down distances for a car. Everyone takes the same streets, which go through the same areas and no mode of transportation has a special shortcut. Bikes are slow compared to cars on a freeway, but it’s not rare to see bikes travel as fast as cars on arterials, especially ones with traffic lights or stop signs.


Skagway bikes
Full Bike corral in Skagway

Scarce Public Transit

Most of the cities in the Inside Passage are not big enough to justify full-scale transit systems. If transit is present in a city, it generally is a single line (as much as 3 for Juneau and Ketchikan) and runs infrequently. For many people that would otherwise use transit, biking becomes more attractive and the best way to get around. Or even better, people bike to their closest bus stop and put their bike on the bus to get to their destination. Alaskan transit has mastered the importance of having bike racks similar to a lot of cities in the lower 48 have.

Fun and Exercise

Alaska in the summer has extremely long days and in the winter has very short ones. In those winter months biking is one of the only ways for Alaskans to go outdoor and exercise, and since they can do it on their commute so they don’t lose precious daylight. In the summer, with people working long hours (80+ hours for some, since winter is slow), biking is a good way to relax. Biking is a fun part of people’s day and something they look forward to.

Biking is addictive: do it once and you will find yourself doing it more and more often. And that’s what has happened to SE Alaska, to their great advantage.



Controlled Experiment Showing How Traffic Jams Occur


Japanese researchers recreate a traffic jam in a controlled experiment, showing the shock wave affect of vehicles changing speeds.

Car Ownership and Criminal Responsibility

Via Hsi-Pei Liao Facebook page

On October 7th Allison Liao, a three year old child, was killed while walking in a crosswalk, holding hands with her grandmother. Allison’s death was not a crime. The motorist was allowed to drive away from the scene and shockingly received only 2 tickets (with a maximum fine of $300) which were later dismissed.

The tickets were thrown out during the adjudication process; a process that allows drivers to dispute their responsibility in traffic incidents. This process primarily relies on the testimony of the driver.

Unbelievably, Allison Liao was killed by a driver who will not even end up paying a ticket. Her family is still grieving but also trying to use this disaster to shine a light on the unjust laws that enabled this tragedy.

Car Culture

Buying my first car as a teenager was exciting and liberating. I grew up in a place where there was very little to do within walking or biking distance. I had to drive to school, to extra curricular activities, to friends’ homes and to work. Virtually everything I did required a car. Needless to say, when I could drive, rather than relying on someone else, I felt a lot of freedom and that feeling ultimately made me fond of my car.

The feeling of opportunity is culturally connected to car ownership and driving. You can see the idea that cars help us achieve our desires in countless commercials. For example:

Or if those desires don’t fit your view of the world, Ford can provide a car that fits your green, social justice, entrepreneurial spirit.

But we don’t need commercials to tell us that cars help us do what we want. We know this from experience. Cars allow us to see friends, get to work, buy groceries and all the other tasks of daily life. Unfortunately, many people’s lives require owning a car in order to do these activities.

Power and Responsibility

Simply because life may require driving doesn’t dissolve or lessen the responsibility of car ownership. Driving is a mundane chore that frequently results in tragedy. In fact, it is the most serious activity in most people’s lives. Cars are a powerful tool that can, and do, end lives. There are over 30,000 fatalities every year connected to motor vehicles. Allison Liao is just one example in an ocean of tragedy. Additionally, pedestrian fatalities have been rising:

Courtesy of the US Department of Transportation

It’s impossible to know for sure but evidence suggests many, if not most, pedestrian deaths don’t result in charges, let alone criminal charges. This holds true even if the pedestrian was in a crosswalk or the driver was found at fault. This leaves many people wondering why drivers get away with murder. The short answer, it’s legal.

Driving a car entails wielding a lot of power over the safety of others. No one wants to live in a world in which those that have power can wield that power without consequence. As Allison’s grieving father said:

We must no longer trivialize reckless driving by calling these deaths accidents

In practicality, this means there must be criminal charges when someone following the law is killed by a driver, even if that driver made a mistake that we can imagine making ourselves. In order for this to happen, we need to change the law. If you’d like, you can watch his Allison’s father speaking in support of a law that would solve this problem. The video is heart-rending and graphic.


The case for frequent transit on 25th Ave NE

64/372 Frequent Service
A map of potential frequent service along 25th Ave NE in Ravenna. The thick red line represents the combined, frequent service on routes 68 and 372. The thinner green and blue lines represent the infrequent portions of routes 68 and 372, respectively. Get the full map here.

25th Ave NE is a minor North-South arterial in North Seattle that links University Village with Lake City Way. The street is being used by Metro routes 372 and 68. Route 372 links UW with Lake City, Kenmore, Bothell and Woodinville along a direct route along 25th Ave NE and SR 522. Route 68 links UW with Northgate via 25th Ave NE, NE 75th St, Roosevelt Way NE, NE Northgate Way and 5th Ave NE. Frequency on each route is 30 minutes on weekdays, with additional runs during peak hours. Route 372 combines with Sound Transit route 522 between Lake City and Woodinville to provide 15-minute headways while route 68 does not combine with any other route.

Both routes are high-performing, with route 68 having a ridership of 2,300 riders daily and route 372 5,300 riders a day (in 2013).

The Vision

Today, the combination of both routes gives very uneven 10-20-10-20 minute headways. In order to provide frequent 15-minute service, route 68 trips would need to be modified to depart each terminal about 5 minutes later. Route 372 would also need to be modified in order to serve two additional stops each way on 25th, at NE 65th St and NE 70th St. Adding these two stops to route 372 would only add seconds to each trip, but serve more riders (especially those heading to or from Lake City, which cannot use the 68).

The result would be service at least every 15 minutes between UW and NE 75th St from 6am to 6pm on weekdays, adding 2.8 miles of bus lines to the Seattle frequent transit network.

68/372 Combined 68 372
Off peak
7.5 or better



Not only would this provide frequent service between the Ravenna Neighborhood and UW, but it would also make for a relatively easy transfer to University Link at UW with a new bus stop at Rainier Vista and Stevens Way. This would connect Ravenna with Downtown, Capitol Hill or anything along Link with easy to understand, frequent transit. For those that are not able to walk the .2 miles to UW Station, a same stop transfer to routes 71/72/73 would still be available on Campus Parkway.

Potential Enhancements

Adding Sunday service on the 68 would go a long ways towards making the corridor usable every day, since there currently is no Sunday service. Half-hourly evening service on both the 68 (starting from scratch) and the 372 (adding a couple trips) would also increase the span of frequent service on weekdays. Adding evening service on the 68 on weekends would also improve the utility of the corridor. And all of the improvements could be done using money from extra service hours from Prop 1.

Ridership does not yet indicate the need for frequent service on weekends, however if it grows (as is expected on a direct, frequent corridor), service could be improved to 20 or even 15 minute frequencies.

Road Diet

Separately from the frequent service project, a road diet should be considered for 25th Ave NE. The streets  currently has two lanes in each direction with one being a parking lane except during rush in the peak direction (southbound in the morning, northbound in the afternoon). However, the street only carries about 12,000 vehicles per day, which is below Seattle’s threshold for a Road Diet.

A good fit for the road would be narrower lanes (10 ft instead of 11-12), one per direction, a center turn lane, a parking lane on one side of the road (possibly alternating) and wider sidewalks. The parking lane would be replaced with a bus bulb (a curb extension for buses to stop in-lane) at bus stops. Bicycling infrastructure is not included because the bike master plan identifies 27th Ave NE as a better street for bike travel through the corridor, and plans to upgrade the street to a neighborhood greenway.

The road diet would be applied from Blakeley Street (Burke Gilman Trail) to NE 75th St. The street sees higher traffic and lower parking demand south of Blakeley and is already a complete street north of NE 75th.


The above images depicting the current and envisioned road configurations for 25th Ave NE were created using streetmix.


Madison BRT: The Stakeholder Sessions


Madison Corridor Study AreaThis past Wednesday and Thursday (November 19th & 20th) Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and their consultants from Nelson\Nygaard held a number of neighborhood workshops as part of their public outreach for the Madison BRT project.

The workshops were divided into the Madison/12th Avenue neighborhood, First Hill Neighborhood, and the Downtown Madison Corridor Business/Hospitality community.

Currently, the Madison BRT project is in the early stages of developing two design alternatives for the corridor which will then be further analyzed. The purpose of these neighborhood workshops was to involve local stakeholders who are most familiar with the route in helping define the parameters of these two design alternatives.

The workshops mainly focused on three aspects of this potential, future upgrade of the Route 12:

  1. Potential design influences (historic/significant people/places on the route)
  2. Station location
  3. Curb-side running or center-lane running buses

Design Influences

This was an exercise to help inform how the new Bus Rapid Transit line should look. Are there significant architectural, historical, and cultural influences present in the corridor that could help define the character of the line from the branding of the vehicles to the design of the stations and other street-level amenities. This included discussion of neighborhood character, historic landmarks, and institutions along the route.

Station Locations

In a typical application of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the bus stops (or stations in the parlance of BRT) are spaced further apart than a local bus route in order to provide faster, more efficient service. In the context of the Madison Street corridor, specifically from the Waterfront through First Hill, this will not be the case. The change in elevation is a greater influence than any potential speed increase might provide; therefore, with a few exceptions, most of the existing Route 12 stops will be retained.

In order to remove potential conflict with the Center City Connector Streetcar line on First Avenue, the turning loop for this line will be moved to Western Avenue. This location is also where a new stop serving ferry commuters will be located, supplanting the existing stop on Marion Street between First and Second Avenues.

On the First Hill portion of the route, the initial plan is to locate stations at Eighth Avenue, Terry Avenue, Boylston Avenue and 12th Avenue. The preliminary locations have been chosen in order to align with Neighborhood Development Plans, provide level access to medical institutions, create better connections to north-south services such as the First Hill Streetcar, and to accommodate the additional station amenities.

Curb or Center Lane

The Madison BRT line will utilize exclusive transit-only bus lanes along the length of the corridor. The question is whether to run these exclusive transit lanes along the curbs or in the center of Madison Street. These two options may comprise the two aforementioned design alternatives for this project.

Both options will utilize right-hand door boarding so that stations may be shared by Routes 2, 11, and 60 where the local bus lines overlap the BRT line. Regardless of the location of the bus lanes, this project will necessitate the removal of all parking on Madison Street. Fortunately, there are existing entrances/drop-off locations for all affected buildings located on adjacent side streets.

In order to mitigate some of the traffic/parking issues along this segment of Madison Street, the project will also look at making changes to some of the side streets that intersect with Madison Street in order to help improve traffic flow, create commercial loading zones, and to increase the overall number of parking spaces.

One More Thing…

One of the more interesting ideas that came out of the Downtown Stakeholder workgroup is the potential of moving the downtown, eastbound portion of the route from Marion Street to Spring Street. By running the buses East on Spring Street from Western Avenue to 9th Avenue, the line could make use of the transit improvements (exclusive bus lane, queue jumping traffic light, etc.) that are already being planned by SDOT on Spring St. for Metro’s Route 2.

Ninth Avenue already has the required electric trolley bus infrastructure present and would only require slight modifications for the bus to turn left onto Madison St. Moving the Eastbound portion to Spring St. would also remove the existing complicated, congested segment along 6th Avenue from Marion St. to Madison St.

This potential Spring St. alignment provides for better access to the Center City Connector Streetcar, University Street Downtown Transit Tunnel Station, Third Avenue Bus/RapidRide lines, the Central Library, Town Hall, and the numerous existing and planned residential towers on the west side of First Hill. This alignment change would still provide equivalent access to/from the Ferry Terminal requiring passengers to walk one block North on Western instead of one and a half blocks East to the current 1st Ave stop.

Questions …

While the purpose of these workshops were to help inform the process and not make any firm decisions, there are a number of important questions that still remain to be answered. While there are some obvious benefits from overlapping local bus routes, i.e. shared enhancements to the right of way and stations, there is still much to be determined with regards to how this BRT line will integrate into the existing Metro bus system if this line is in fact implemented. In conversation with David Seater after the workshops, he shared his concerns that many important questions were as of yet unanswered:

  • Will the BRT line replace the route 12 completely?
  • What will happen to the 19th Avenue leg of the route 12? Does it become a new route that follows the route 2 West of 12th Avenue? Or the route 11 down Pine St? Does it become peak-only service? Is it withdrawn like the 47? Would it become part of a restored route 47?
  • Will the frequency of the Route 11 be negatively affected by the addition of BRT service (at least East of 23rd Avenue?)
  • Where will the BRT line terminate? 23rd Avenue (The Transit Master Plan indicates this) or further East at the business district near MLK?
  • Will the service and/or frequency of the Route 2 be negatively affected by its proximity to the BRT line?

As the project is still in the early stages, these questions will undoubtedly be answered, but the apprehension of the various affected communities is more than understandable after the recent battles over funding for King County Metro. Now that funding for Metro has been stabilized, at least for the City of Seattle, these questions and concerns will hopefully be answered quickly and succinctly.

Special thanks to Maria Koengeter and the rest of the folks at SDOT, Nelson\Nygaard, et al for their work thus far and for providing this opportunity to help inform the development of the Madison BRT line. Continued community neighborhood/stakeholder involvement in this project will be an important factor in the line’s development and future success. As the Madison Corridor will be facing unprecedented growth over the coming years, projects such as this will be critical for the communities affected.

Full disclosure: I am a resident of First Hill and a member of the First Hill Improvement Association Transportation Working Group.

Kind of Wonderful




“Don’t get on!” says the other driver to the passengers. She’s brought me her bus at the end of her shift, for me to take over instead of continuing with my own broken bus. A coach change, as it’s called. “Should I let ’em on?” she asks me, as I get my things from the broken bus and prepare to board the new one.
“Oh, sure.”
“Okay, you can get on!” she hollers, leaving with the defective coach shortly thereafter. I saunter onto the new coach with the last few straggling passengers. The interior lights are turned off, and it’s dark tonight. Everything’s pitch black, save for the subdued orange glow from the sodium vapor lamps outside.

“What d’you think,” I say to the crowd inside, “should we have the lights on or lights off?”
“You want ’em off?”
“Say you want ’em off?”
“Good! Me too!” I say as we get in gear, driving the 7 into downtown in ‘stealth mode.’ “May as well make it interesting.”

“I like it like dis,” says an older gentleman up front, dressed in a sports jacket and shades. I’ve never not seen him wearing shades. “Yeah, man. It makes everything kinda sexy!” He drawls out the last two words for maximum effect, to agreeable giggles all around. Kiiiinda seeexehh.

“You should do radio,” I tell him. “You got the voice!” He and others nearby continue chatting, brought together by the anomalous situation of Stealth Mode. The people seem unusually excited by my willingness to bend the rules– not a big surprise, I suppose, but this isn’t the same as letting people ride free or get transfers. The thrill has a different root.


They’re not benefitting in any way.

Tonight there is simply the innocent excitement of doing things a little differently, of getting to be here for this moment, unlikely to be repeated. Those parts of life you tell your friends about, and you can tell it doesn’t quite translate; maybe the ephemeral joy was too small, too precious, not quantifiable enough to be a story. But you were there, and it was kind of wonderful. The street woman in the chat seat thanking me now for being “awesome” is referring, I think, to the sense of equality she feels, the easy willingness of me to engage the crowd as a friend, not an authority figure. It’s not really the lights. It’s her and I joking around, the latent respect, unspoken but real, friends leaning back on the front porch chairs. Do you ever get that sensation of the yearning for belonging satisfied, an acceptance that sends tingles down your spine?

Passengers get on as we continue through town as a 49. Some are nonplussed. Others get revitalized, echoes of playground excitement on their faces. The hipsters try not to act surprised; others actually don’t seem to notice, which makes me smile even wider. The street folk are delighted– lights off plays a little better to the 7 crowd than the 49 crowd, but we’re all into it. I make an informational announcement in any event, just to let these new people know that I’m actually sane.

“Just want to let you know we’ve got the lights off tonight,” I say, trying to figure out on the fly how I’m going to explain this. “When we were on the 7 part of the route some of us thought it would be, uh, ‘kind of cool,’ to turn off the lights… of course let me know if you want the lights on again, I’m happy to turn the lights on… welcome aboard the 49, everyone….”