The Pain of Getting on the Train

train tracksLast year, I practically waxed poetic about my public transportation trip into Philadelphia for GreenFest Philly. Yesterday, I again took the same public transportation into the Philadelphia, this time for the Go Green Expo, and there is no waxing poetic. Just a bunch of frustration.

I pulled into the parking lot of my local Patco station to find that parking is no longer free on weekends. Most of the lots require a Freedom Pass to enter – something that someone who has never ridden the train or rides very infrequently would not have. There were signs pointing me to other lots where you could use coins or cash to pay. I drove to one of them. There was no cash option – just an exact change option that I didn’t have.

I finally found off street parking and hoofed it over to the train station.

I went to buy my ticket. I could only use a credit card to purchase one of their Freedom Passes or to put more money on the Freedom Pass. For a one-time round trip ticket, I had to use cash. The directions on the machine were very confusing. I was given my change in $1 coins (I had used a $20 for a $4.65 ticket – that’s a lot of $1 coins). I was also not offered a receipt – something that I need for tax purposes.

Just as I grabbed the last coin out of the machine, I heard my train pull up and leave! I had given myself plenty of time to catch it, but the parking problem made me late. I had to wait 25 minutes for the next train.

As I was waiting on the Platform I spoke with a gentleman who told me about how he had found the Patco staiton more difficult to deal with lately, also. He enentually left because his train never showed up (well it did – about five minutes after he left). There is no way to notify passengers from the train station about the status of trains.

I don’t think that taking public transportation should be that difficult for infrequent riders. If they want to charge for parking, that’s okay, but give infrequent riders an easy way to pay for their parking. Make the ticket machines simple to use. Don’t give someone $15 in $1 coins that are cumbersome and easy to confuse with other coins. I used several of my coins at the expo, and every vendor gave me an odd look. One wasn’t even sure they were real.

We need public transportation and we need more than we already have. What we don’t need is a system that turns people off and makes it less of a hassle to drive into the city and pay for parking than it does to take the public transportation.

Rant done.

Image: Country Boy Shane under a creative commons license

  1. Bobby B.

    You know the Russians used to speak fondly of the old Soviet regime after its fall by saying something like, “At least when the Soviets were in charge, the trains ran on schedule.” Maybe when environmental greenism aids the move to governmental socialism you will no longer have such problems.
    P.S.: Forgot to mention good post!

  2. Gail Dawson

    I am sorry you had a bad experience, but it is a pity to publicize it in a manner that might discourage others from riding the train. And, it wasn’t the train that you had a problem with, but the parking. Doesn’t it make you feel better that the train can pull all of those cars for about 300+ miles on a single gallon of gas. Think of all the CO2 you kept out of the air by riding the train.

  3. green bags

    Yes, I have actually heard a few stories about the PATCO stations and am surprised that they keep operating in such a “user unfriendly” manner. I have also heard patco criticized for implementing the whole “green” concept into their business practices more such as eco frienldy signs, storage bags, and signs. Enjoyed the post! Glad I’m not the only one frustrated with patco

  4. Lori

    I am sure that public transit could and should do better (communicating when the train is due), but none of your rant was the fault of the train system. It was your own fault for being ill-prepared. If you haven’t ridden the system in a year, why did you not get online and check out schedules, changes in parking, new costs, etc? If you had taken the time to prepare yourself, you would have known to have cash in small bills and known where to park as well as given your self time for walking from off-site parking.
    This is typical suburban mentality of not having to be prepared. Everything is suspposed to be convenient, cheap, and require little effort. This mindset is the problem. I, too, am an infrequent rider, so when using the system, I do 5 minutes of research online and save myself any problems. Don’t rant about the system. This was your fault for not doing your own prep work.

  5. Andrew

    Sounds like the same guys that designed Denver RTD light rail – except we can’t use credit cards for anything. For infrequent travelers it is a huge pain to make sure you have enough cash. And when you have too much? We also get dollar coins in return. Fun times. Want a ten-day pass or a month pass? Have you head to an RTD office – or buy online. Oh wait – they only mail those out twice a month – so better be on your toes with timing. Other than that, our trains run on time – which is a positive – and if you apply for a super-secret “bike license” you can take your bike on board.Regional transportation needs to be more user friendly – period.

  6. Aisha O'Brien

    Whenever I took the train in France, I’d always have someone drop me off, take the bus, or walk (it was only a mile from my apartment).

    I think the answer isn’t better parking, but perhaps better transit to transit. Most bus systems should be highly connected to high-capacity commuter systems – airports, trains, Greyhound bus stations.

    There really shouldn’t be anything more than short-term parking at any train station. You’re really just encouraging people to take their car everywhere still and not encouraging them to be even MORE sustainable by taking the bus.

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