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Monday, Aug. 27, 2007 | Recently I had the opportunity to take advantage of our city’s public transportation. No, the judge didn’t take my license; I just wanted to give it a shot. I know, I know, SoCal natives aren’t ever supposed to go anywhere without their car, even to their next-door neighbor’s — I’ve lived in San Diego for 30 years, and have never been on the trolley, and rarely the bus.

A nice sunny Thursday morning, and I had a 9 a.m. meeting downtown (on environmental policy, nonetheless). Padres were on in the afternoon. I was in Mission Hills, and thought this type of short commute into downtown is exactly why public transportation exists. Should be quick, easy, and keep cars out of busy centers like downtown, right? Wrong.

Dilemma #1: I found the sdmts.com site quite un-helpful. Want to explain to me why they can’t plot those stations on a Google map (why use good, free technology when you can pay to build your own)? How am I supposed to figure out where I want to get off? After cutting and pasting back and forth with Google, I picked my route: Old Town to 5th and C, 8:30 a.m. departure.

Dilemma #2: Did I really want to pay the money? Is it worth $4? That’s a latte right there. Plus, I knew I could just drive down and find free parking. Somebody’s going to argue that driving my car isn’t free, but it sure wouldn’t cost me $4 for less than a 10-mile round trip. I’ll let Rich Toscano do the analysis, but suffice to say wear and tear is minimal, and gas would have been about $1. You don’t get to count the cost of the car and the insurance, because I’d be paying those anyway whether or not I drove — in San Diego with two large dogs, there’s no way to get by without a car.

Of course, if I thought I wouldn’t be able to find free parking, that would have significantly affected the decision-making. But we all know there’s always free parking somewhere within a few blocks. If you want people to take mass transit, seems to make sense that there should only be paid parking at all frequented destinations, such as downtown, beaches, Balboa Park, etc. Additionally, there’s some thought that a fair amount of both congestion and pollution is due to people circling around looking for that good free spot. If paid parking was the only option, you’d just drive right in and pay and quit the searching.

First two dilemmas aside, I was still committed to the experience.

Dilemma #3: I drive to Old Town in time for the 8:30. Finding the entrance to the parking lot was the first task, and not so easy. Worse, I then drive around and around and around the transit center parking lot, along with a handful of other cars, all looking for parking. And discover that there is absolutely none, the lots are full. I doubt the trolleys were at capacity, but no more people were going to be riding since they couldn’t park at the station.

Apparently my mass transit experience was just not meant to be. A few choice words directed at the waiting buses, and I proceeded to drive myself downtown. I found a free spot on the street just two blocks from my destination, right on my way in without doing any circling. I’m there by 8:45, earlier than I would have arrived by trolley. Yes, that means driving myself was cheaper, quicker, and easier. Mass transit has to meet at least two of those three to be at all viable.

Is there a reason SANDAG and related entities have such a hard time with mass transit in San Diego?

Too many politics? Brisbane, Australia, has been compared to San Diego and has apparently managed to succeed where we failed. Are we just afraid of making bad decisions? (Obviously not, look at the record over the last decade!) We seem to love studies and consultants and more studies and more consultants, often funded with taxpayer dollars, but then nobody ever pulls the trigger — expensive light rail projects aside, of course. Somebody’s got to drive this bus.

Will I take public transportation next time? Nope. But I sure hope you do — you’re clogging up the freeway.

David Lynn is a San Diego resident. Do you have something to add to this conversation? Click here to send a letter to the editor.

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