08 September, 2008

Doctors of Transportology in Jacksonville?

An adaptation of a 1948 story by L. Beebe

Every now and then this blog ventures into a discussion of some phase of the transportation business because (a) he is a transit dependent child and has lived in nothing but shebangs, bus benches , and hobo jungles, of one degree of stateliness or another for the past quarter century; (b) because almost everyone likes to read about streetcars, buses and trains; and (c) it is probably the most fascinating single business in the world from the inside, and transportation men probably know more about human beings by the time they are junior hostlers and dispatchers than the most learned psychologists in Vienna when they are at the top of the professoring business. Everything happens in transportation, and now and then a play- wright or a novelist who recognizes them as an unrestricted hunting ground and one with no season makes a fortune out of his discovery.

There isn't, however, much that one can write about transportation that makes the State and Municipal Agency's happy unless it is unmitigated goose-grease and undiscriminating flattery. An individual passenger manager can abide reading that his own conveyance is the quintessence of lux, is patronized solely by the old nobility, or in the case of rail, that its food service make Voisin in Paris look like a hamburger joint. But remark that anyone Else's passenger system is comparable to this degree of elegance, and he is sore as a leading lady whose name has been spelled wrong in the reviews of her opening. A few months ago I remarked that I , as I am now, in favor of mandatory jail sentences by Federal statute for transit managers who charge from a dollar up, or indeed anything extra, for a single transfer, restroom, coffee or extra bag, and since that time this blogger has spent most of his time in foxholes avoiding angry missionaries from the State and City who want to sell him on the proposition that charging for restrooms or coffee or transfers or baggage, a preposterous and tactless larceny on the face of it, is practically something to be listed as an improvement in the service.

Pish and nonsense. Transit companies have gotten away with so much murder during the past few years of easy money and immigration to cities that in many cases they have come to regard the passenger or commuter as a boob or zany, who is no better than a victim type and fit only for insult and pillage. The time may be at hand when they will think differently. Certainly any reasonable intelligence hopes so.

Probably the trouble with all too many Transportation Companies or Agencies is that they are managed and staffed by young men. It should be perfectly obvious that no man is fit for an executive position in any transit operation, let alone one which requires his coming in actual contact with the passengers, until he is fifty. By that time he has possibly acquired sense and probably manners. It may have been a crazy baboon with a credit manager's intelligence or it may have been a recent graduate from the UNF College of Transportation and Logistics, but it was certainly no Transportation Manager of mature judgment or wide experience who dreamed up such an insult to his passengers as charging them for our Skyway, or transfers or baggage. It is conceivable that some Agencies, crazed beyond the ordinary with rapacity, would like to charge extra for the reclining seats and run a separate account for the use of the restrooms (if any) and fuel, but these aren't generally considered reasonable by the standard American Transportation code of ethics, although they may be at any time.

The art of running a deluxe transportation service has almost disappeared in the United States, and it is because government ownership, knowing that no outrage against decency is beyond the capacity of an ambitious young man anxious to get ahead, turned their properties and especially their front desks over to the juveniles. These shiftless, undressed, and uncourtly little juniors, to whom a named passenger train with its French menu is a mystery and who do not even own, let alone wear, proper morning clothes, have taken over responsible positions once held by experts and veterans in whose generation of manners and graciousness no carrier could dream of a manager's job at a Railroad Street bus garage until he had served behind stairs for at least forty years in the more distinguished trains of Jacksonville's old Seaboard, Atlantic Coast Line, Florida East Coast, Southern, Trailways or Greyhound lines. When he could speak six languages flawlessly, could identify a hundred different Rhine wines by reference only to the aroma of the cork, and knew every traveling person of consequence in the United States and England by sight and that instanter, he was entrusted with a probationary job as a night assistant passenger conductor. Nowadays the graduate of a school of transportation management considers himself a failure if he isn't resident managing director the week he has learned that streetcars and potato chip trucks aren't the same vehicles. The manager of one of Florida's highest ranking transit properties, while he may be an excellent purchasing agent or even a personnel manager, is still in his early thirties, and it is the opinion of most of the ridership in his august property that he should be put away out of sight for another twenty-five years.

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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