Lucky Day #13, Metrorider LA Brings It

Day #13 started transit intensive.  We awoke at 8:00am and prepped for our departure.  Packing everything back up we headed out the door at 8:42am.  Near Mike’s place stood a little coffee shop, which happened to be exactly where the bus stop for the OCTA #71 Bus.  There we plunked down all our gear and sat waiting.  The bus wasn’t scheduled until 9:04am, but we figured best be safe than sorry with an unknown transit system.  We sat sipping our morning coffees and I read a bit about the Blood Angels of the Warhammer 40k Universe.

At exactly 9:04am an empty OCTA #71 bus arrived at our footsteps.  I mention empty, only because it was, but I bore in mind that this was the second stop from the beginning of its run.  We boarded the bus with all our stuff and paid the $3.00.  Yes Portlanders, TriMet’s fares aren’t bad at all.  That is $3.00 for two people without a transfer.

The trip went something like this:

9:04am Departure on #71

9:16am 5 ppl total boarded so far.  1 leaves, another person boards.

9:20am Another person gets off, another 1 on.  We’re maintaining our 5 rider count.

Amtrak Inconsistencies

Ticket Taking Process #1

Sunset Limited – Boarding the Sunset Limited in Los Angeles Union Station the car attendants looked at the tickets at the door, but didn’t take them.  One aboard and in our roomettes the attendant then came and took the tickets.  I pulled the receipt part of the ticket since I usually always do so to expedite the archaic ticket taking practice that Amtrak follows still.  The attendant in Los Angeles also assigned the room that was not specified on the ticket.

In Maricopa the attendant that was changing out with the crew came around and took everyone’s tickets, and handed us our receipts.  In both of these situations nobody clipped or otherwise marked the tickets so that they would show as being used.  The time, train, and origination and destination where specific and technically, the ticket is either used or not.  Again, the attendant did not put us in the room that was on the ticket.  This time we did receive a reason why we were being given another roomette instead of the assigned one.

Ticket Taking Process #2

Coast Starlight – Boarding in Portland we enter the First Class Lounge which is basically a waiting room with nicer amenities.  The lounge attendant took our tickets, handing us the receipts.  Again, no other marks or specific directions.  He gave us a room and car assignment in station.  When we boarded, we got another room assignment than the ticket.  This boarding had us go through a total of 2 assignments, before we finally got our actual assignment.  It isn’t really a big deal, it is just ridiculously stupid to need that much busy work for the process.  In reality we shouldn’t even need but ONE room assignment and we don’t need anyone to help us get into or out of the room.

Ticket Taking Process #3

Pacific Surfliner – Boarding in Santa Ana to come north into Los Angeles.  The tickets are unreserved and completely unorganized.  There is no actual seating, you just get on and fumble until you find a seat.  The conductor then comes through the train at some point, takes the tickets (and don’t you dare take the receipts off ahead of time) and clips the tickets and the receipts.  The conductor requested, after I had removed the receipts, that she clip the receipts and that the tickets wouldn’t be valid without the receipts.  It seems beyond stupid to sell unreserved tickets on a train that has reserved seating – at least, that’s what the cars are designed for.  Again, a complete failure for Amtrak to once again be logical.  I do understand that the tickets are not for a particular train, but they are for a particular day, and if I just handed them to her they should NOT BE available to any other customers.  This flow of process is again, stupid.  It doesn’t follow a smooth, coherent, or streamlined process at all.  In many ways, several of the steps are even redundant.

Pacific Surfliner – Boarding again in Santa Ana to come north, a few days before the above mentioned trip.  I removed the receipts from the tickets in front of the conductor.  He clipped the tickets, did NOT ask or take the receipts to clip, and carried on.  Why this is different than the seating before?

The Historical Facts

So really, what is the deal.  This little annoyances don’t really detract from the trip, they just add a bit of confusion to the adventure itself.  For some people, it is reason to be turned away and not try to take the train.  For some people it really ticks them off, since the processes are dissimilar between trains run by the same Government Corporation, Amtrak.  The illogical breaks in the process sow these seeds of frustration and absolutely need fixed.  So Amtrak Execs, get your acts together and get this done.  The disparities are absolutely unnecessary and are wasting Amtrak’s/Taxpayers’ Monies.  One might think these little things don’t add much cost, but they easily add up to thousands upon thousands of dollars of wasted USEFUL employee time.

Amtrak, when it formed, was supposed to fix many of this frustrations, and as is apparent, has barely updated its trains let alone many of its other processes.  I do commend Amtrak on the online ticketing, but still, they have a major labor force that consists of doing unnecessary menial labor and could be utilized doing things that are vastly more important than running what, appears to be, dysfunctional passenger trains.

Overall everyone of our trains was ok, some where great, and some where rather exceptional.  So far, my ratings for the various trains I’ve been on in the last 4 years.  I put an * by the ones that where used recently on the PHX/LAX trip.

Coast Starlight * * * * * 4 stars, a few negative points for timeliness.
Empire Builder * * * * * 5 stars, no actual negatives.
Cascades * * * * 4 stars, timeliness issues.
Acela * * * * 4 stars, the seating is stupid, and basically unreserved even though the train is all “first class”.
Metroliner * * * * 4 stars, seating similar to Acela.  Seats are much smaller.
Sunset Limited * * 1 star.  Train was uncoordinated, crew was a mess, riders are usually half bum/redneck.  Rough train.
Pacific Surfliner * * * * * Same dumb unreserved scrambled herd seating nonsense.
Lakeshore Limited * Train was broke, toilets not working on multiple cars, timeliness issues, attendants had a bit much attitude.

Anyone else got any Amtrak stories?  I hate to give em’ gruff all the time, but really, these things should have much smoother and simplified process around them.  The complexities that the archaic ticketing and seating processes currently used are completely, without doubt, unacceptable and should be resolved ASAP.

Here Comes S.L.U.T. #2 in Seattle

With a deal between the Seattle City Council and Sound Transit a streetcar line will be built to connect the downtown transit tunnel (which part I ask?) and the International District to the light rail station at Capitol Hill.  This will provide a streetcar connector and supposedly compensates for the dropped light rail stop on First Hill, Bruce Gray, a Sound Transit spokesman reportedly.  So I guess Portland (specifically Clackamas County) will absolutely be getting more modern streetcar purchases.

Between Portland and Seattle, we’ll both be working on a line (I suspect theirs is about a year behind our current loop extension to the east side of the river).  Both cities will be purchasing the streetcars from Oregon Iron Works who is now building the modern streetcar.  This will bring more revenue into the Portland area and into the streetcar expansion efforts.  What Portland needs now, or OIG specifically, is more purchases.  The cities that want to have a modern streetcar need to really work together to drive that price down!  (Sam Adams, you’re primed to lead this effort!)

Either way, I have my problems with the modern streetcars, but overall I am supportive of streetcar systems and what they can do for development and increased livability within a city.  I’m really looking forward to how both of these systems, one an expansion and one an autonomous (I believe) system.  That will make a total of four systems in the northwest alone;  Seattle’s South Lake Union Trolley (SLUT), Tacoma’s Link, Portland Streetcar, and when the new additional line in Seattle.

No More Buses, Portland Urban Life

Here I sit in Bishop’s Parlor while Jo gets a hair styling and I ponder the vast reduction in buses, and transit that Jo and I will experience in the next month or so.  You see, we’re moving within 10 blocks of where I work, and where we live most of our lives anyway, downtown Portland.  We have lived close for the past year but now we’re returning to where we’ve lived 4 of the last 5 years, downtown.  We’re both stoked, Jo is a little hesitant because of all the awesome things she has found out and started to like on the east side of the river.  However, now that she knows she doesn’t fear jumping a bus over to that area of town.

However that leads me into a simple fact.  Jo and I won’t need to take a bus for a single daily purpose anymore.  Grocery store, work, coffee shop, game studio, and a number of other places we always frequent are now within a MAX Light Rail ride or Streetcar ride.  Better yet, they’re all within a maximum walk of 25 minutes and most things are within 5-10 minutes.  Sure, we’ll still be using the bus enabled part of the system, but for the most part we won’t need to.  I wonder how that is going to pan out since we currently live near and use the #9, #4, and #10.

This brings me to another story.  As I’m trying to finish up the trip blog entries about the misadventures and such Jo and I enjoyed, I’ve been pondering a friend of ours that is moving back to the city in the next 4-8 months.  We’re both stoked.  One of the things he always did while here was call everything a bus.  The MAX was a bus, the streetcar was a bus, he’s hilarious like that.

We where discussing the various financial and political points of the streetcar vs the buses vs the light rail vs the aerial tram.  The two things that drew heat where of course WES and the Tram, but even with costs the streetcar isn’t such a bad deal and does increase the standard of living in the city from various aspects.

But that leads me back to what I was doing before I started rambling, so off I go back to the entries regarding the last few days of our vacation.  Peace.

Holy Bananas, TriMet’s New Site is Up, WOW!

So far, I’m impressed!  What is your take?  Dig it, dislike it, can’t find stuff, is everything there?