It may be time to spruce up Utah Transit Authority's marketing strategy, since efforts to convert the masses to mass transportation are not working. Bring back the opera singers masquerading as bus drivers or, better yet, find a new Unique Selling Proposition (See Advertising 101).
The problem is Utahns love their cars as much as their guns. They will only abandon them when their cold, dead fingers are pried from steering wheels - after the entire valley dies en masse from collective carbon monoxide poisoning on a "no-drive day" in July.Evidence of UTA's failure to entice Lone Rangers from their vehicles - shared by other transportation entities - is both empirical and anecdotal.
1. Salt Lake City leads the nation in the increase of gridlock, according to American Demographics magazine. Most alarming, the figures used were from 1988-94. If you factor in the past four years, it is even worse.
2. UTA ridership figures are down while construction congestion is up. If there ever was a time to leave the driving to someone else, this is it. Yet that is not happening. That ought to be a huge red flag.
3. As proof of the above, stand along any major route into downtown some weekday morning and count the number of cars with a single driver. Anywhere, you will average more than 95 out of 100. You get some funny looks. But if you wave, people assume you're running for elected office. (Note: this works well as an excuse for being late to work. "Sorry, boss, I was out conducting research on transportation patterns and traffic flow.")
4. Last week's "no-drive days" had no positive impact on mass-transit ridership, bicycling, skateboarding or rollerblading. In fact, more cars were on the road during designated days of abstinence than otherwise. People would rather die prematurely from lung cancer with smiles on their faces and seatbelts fastened than try something different.
5. Salt Lake City appears to have lost the momentum toward developing bicycle and pedestrian paths that was generated several years back. Some cities, such as Eugene, Ore., make it so convenient and safe to pedal that people hardly think of doing otherwise - even in the rain.
6. Within a few years, we will boast the finest freeway system on the planet, while adding the Legacy Parkway and constructing or enhancing many other roadways. New parking facilities pop up downtown with regularity. People are driving now despite every disincentive to do so. Who seriously thinks they will change when new-and-improved highways are completed to satisfy their motoring addictions?
Face it, we're doomed. Pompeii was unearthed from volcanic ash. Salt Lake City will, in 100 years, be excavated from beneath layers of tailpipe-emitted gunk. Archaeologists will be puzzled as they pull body after body from car after car.
Since threats of this inevitable fate have had no impact on gas guzzlers with glazed eyes, another tack should be taken to emphasize the unique adventures of bus riding.
Utahns are known as rugged thrill seekers. Speaking from experience, there are few places to find excitement like climbing aboard the red, white and blue UTA fleet. Sure, transit trips are not always eventful, like our predictable morning express run by which you can set your watch, driven by a pleasant operator. Yet sometimes the thrill is there.
Recent adventures include a bus or two not showing up; being sprayed through an open window by a sprinkler; driving through the takeout window of a Chinese restaurant as a lost operator tried to get back on course; and being clobbered from behind by a dump truck without suffering injury.
And that's only the past several weeks. If we went back a few years, there would be enough tales to write a best-selling book. If you included the stories of others into the mix, you could pen an entire series. For example, a brother spent last New Year's Eve pushing a bus out of the snow in Draper after the driver got stuck taking a shortcut.
So you see, the daily commute does not have to mean a slow, lonely ride into and out of town. A bus rider's life is never dull and never without companionship. If more people knew that, ridership figures would skyrocket, and the polluted and congested Salt Lake Valley would be saved.
A final incentive for riding: With UTA you also get "Poetry on the Bus" literary offerings. Here's one from a recent non-air-conditioned bus ride home - not common - aptly titled "Bitter Air" by Dustin Bangerter.
Embedded chains of wrath bind me to my soul.
I draw in bitter air.
The world's peace and contentedness drives me in a rage.
A blistering hell that burns from radiant fires.
Pumping in my heart in rank despair.
Why must my life lose faith and gain distance.
Dustin captured a lot in those six lines, including some bus rides but most every car commute. So we'll keep climbing aboard UTA - just for the thrill of it. Those who don't are missing the fun.