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Laura Stuff @ LnE
A couple of years ago, the public transit authority in my town added a new kind of vehicle to its repretoire. Where before we had only buses to take us from place to place, we now how buses and trolleys. Um... yay?
Trolleys in Providence are just like buses, only fancier. It's not like they run on tracks or cables or anything. However, they are quaint. They're designed to make old people smile and say, "Remember when there were real trolleys in Providence? Those were the days!"
Trolleys' addition to the RIPTA family was part of the "Providence Renaissance," wherein the mobster-run government in my town tried to attract tourists by replacing vagrants' hovels with Banana Republics, and said vagrants with giant Mr. Potato Heads. Thanks to the Providence Renaissance, we the people can now enjoy fire ON WATER(!!), gondolas, Italian flag banners, and, of course, trolleys.
Well, that's all fine and dandy. Unfortunately, trolleys suck.
All the signs say that trolleys run every 12 to 15 minutes. Wow, I'd love that, if it were true. I regularly wait upwards of half an hour for any given trolley, which I wouldn't mind--buses only run that often on busy routes--except for the transit authority's pigheaded insistence that trolleys run often enough to eliminate the need for a set schedule. Trolleys come when they come. Buses at least have an ETA, whether they stick to it or not; if it's 2:00, and your bus isn't coming until 2:29, you know you have enough time to go grab a bagel (for instance; but you probably don't live near a bagel store. This isn't Boston, you know.) If it's 2:00, and your trolley isn't coming until 2:29, you don't know it, so you just have to stand there for twenty-nine minutes.
And why, whenever I'm at the central trolley stop, do I see every other trolley before I see the one I'm waiting for? This happens every single time, even though I've come there at several different times of day, waiting for a variety of different trolley routes. Each time, I see all three of the other routes before I see whatever one I want, sometimes twice. You'd think one of these times, the South Side could come second or even third, but no; it only does that when I'm waiting for the Federal Hill.
I'm very glad that trolleys take normal bus passes and school bus passes. But I don't understand why trolleys don't take transfers. As far as I understand it, the point of a transfer is so that if my route takes two buses (which it invariably does), I can get where I'm going without paying two fares. Rules involving transfer points and times of day keep you from using transfers for return trips or stop-offs, and I'm fine with that. Transfers can and should only be used for continuing a one-way journey that cannot be completed with only one bus.
But there are plenty of one-way journeys that I take--from my house to the community college where I take a class for school, from my house to the local gay hangout, from my house to the park where I attend the first twenty minutes of free concerts before realizing that I don't like live music--that I need to take a trolley to complete. There is simply no way to get to CCRI without a trolley; a trolley is how you get there. So how come I have to pay $2.25 to get to CCRI, when it only costs me $1.35 to get to fucking Bristol?
Seats on normal buses range from cozy fuzzy cushiony goodness to hard plastic that is uncomfortable on long journeys, but unnoticeable in general. Since trolley trips are generally short and sweet, you'd think it would be tough to go too far wrong with the seats. You'd be wrong. Trolley seats are designed like park benches, only 3/4 the size, and heavily coated with an extremely slippery gloss that make it impossible to stay in one place during the trip. It's like that episode of The Magic School Bus where the kids try to play baseball in a universe with no friction. Child-sized friction-free benches are not exactly what you want keeping you in place during frequent starts, stops, and sharp turns involved in urban traffic driving. Standing is not much better, since the poles are shiny gold plastic liberally applied with the same buttery gloss.
Everything about trolleys are small, from the seats and poles to the routes themselves. Instead of real buses, which make a few stops in the city before going on to serve other parts of Rhode Island, trolleys just make a few stops in the city. This is fine, in theory, because all of the places served by the trolleys are places I want to go (except Capitol Hill. Who needs a trolley to go to Capitol Hill? It's two blocks from the bus depot, people! Anyway, the only people that need to go to Capitol Hill are the government types, who drive fancy cars paid for by the taxpayers' money, and people on marches, who by definition march.) But all of those places could be served by buses that go other places afterward, and some of them basically are. Do I really have to demean myself by going there on a trolley, whose little Mr. Rogers shape, fancy-schmancy gold poles, and chipper "clang! clang!" just SCREAM "candy-ass"? It's not like the cheery pseudo-historical decor is anything but just that. It doesn't change that fact that this is just a way to get to work, and the riders are still the same shabby, grey, depressing, coughing huddled masses they were on the buses.
Everything on trolleys is for show, not for use. This is a poor idea, since trolleys are actually used. They're not tour buses, and they don't go to places that are particularly touristy. (Well... the South Side one doesn't, anyway.) There aren't even that many tourists in Providence. Face it, RIPTA: trolleys are used by normal people, people who just want to go to their jobs or school or the hospital or court or whatever. Trolleys don't make the city more appealing to outsiders; they just create unnecessary hassle for insiders, and make a mockery of them while they're at it.
Plus, they kind of smell.