When times are tough, Island Transit always comes under fire for not charging fares to the freeloaders such as myself who frequently ride the buses.
Personally, I hold with those who say charging fares wouldn’t make sense because with limited ridership, collecting and accounting for the money would cost more than the effort produces. In addition, there’s the ferry problem. If Island Transit misses a ferry connection, dozens of people will miss the ferry, then they’ll miss their ride on the other side, then they’ll be late for work, then they’ll get fired, and then they’ll spend the rest of their lives on the public dole and riding the free bus all day, reeking of muscatel. We certainly don’t want that to happen.
With so much at stake in meeting the ferry, pity the poor passenger fishing around in her large purse for another quarter for her bus fare. Impatient riders will no doubt be happy to help and fling quarters to the front of the bus. Bus drivers and passengers would both have to wear safety helmets to protect themselves from the flying metal and lawyers would have to be hired to fend off the lawsuits from quarter-battered passengers a bit slow at the fare box. Countersuits would be fired, blaming the slow fare-payers for jobs losses and the resulting muscatel problem. There goes our friendly little transit system.
Some fare proponents favor a high-tech solution to the collection problem, which I admit is attractive. We could work it like the fare system on the new Tacoma Narrows bridge. Island Transit passengers could pay in advance and stick a transponder on their foreheads that the fare scanner could instantly read, thereby skipping the fare box. Everyone without a transponder on their forehead would have to wear a rear license plate so the bus camera could read the number and send them the fare bill in the mail. Thanks to modern technology it wouldn’t have to be a real big rear license plate, and it might look cool dangling from torn jeans.
As long as we’re charging a fare, we should also eliminate Island Transit’s socialist seating system where everyone is treated the same. Sometimes you’ll see a sharp-eyed real estate developer seated next to a dopey-eyed skateboarder, which is an unnatural situation. We should put more expensive first-class seats up front that are made of leather and recline. Bus drivers could offer drinks and pillows before pulling out onto the highway. The high rollers could ride in comfort, while regular people could be shoved into the back of the bus, airline-style. After all, it’s the American way. The people in back can always take comfort in knowing that if the bus crashes, the first class passengers will likely be the first to die.
Perhaps transponders, rear license plates and first-class seating aren’t the answer to Island Transit’s financial problems after all. It would be easier to raise the sales tax just a smidgen. People who object should just hop on the free bus and ride around for a while. Relax, look out the window and enjoy our beautiful island. Who knows, you might also discover that the scruffy skateboarder next to you is a pretty nice kid.