Smirking On the Edge Of Commute

Dear NJ Transit,
I want my $10 back. That’s about how much I did not get when the trains did not run today. I understand that the problem was not your fault. Please pass my request on to Amtrak, as appropriate. Thanks.

I can’t be the only one who is thinking it. I buy a monthly train ticket. Occasionally, that train ticket is essentially worthless, when massive delays due to equipment problems cause system-wide smirking commuters who say things like, “I’m not a brain surgeon – I don’t really have to get to work today.” Most people seem pretty complacent on days like this. They seem internally agitated, it is true, and many of them seem to be scheming to figure out a way to game the system and be the one clever commuter who manages to get to work on-time. Why don’t they all demand a few bucks of refund? After all, one of the best ways to ensure a vendor’s behavior and service changes is to hit it in the wallet, right?

I say that with a smirk. I have no idea whether it is really true. Besides, a massive, system-wide refund check deployment might very well put this particular train operator out-of-business for good! (I guess – I don’t really know.)

Failing Noisily – Software Development vs. Transit

There’s a principle of software development, with which I happen to agree, which says that an application or system which fails to work properly should always fail noisily, in the loudest possible way. The idea is, you don’t want the failure or mistake to slip by quietly. So if the application leaks memory all over the place and then inadvertently accesses someone else’s pointer, the entire system should crash, in a big way.

That might seem draconian. But trust me – there are cases where it is the best way to ensure bugs get fixed.

Every transit problem can be solved by going for a cup of coffee.

Living in the heart (liver?) of some of the largest transit systems in the country, I get to see all sorts of transit bugs. Unfortunately, most of them remain “internal” failures, and the noise is pretty subdued. In an upcoming post (“Pushed Face-First Into the Mud”), I will explore this issue further. Here’s how it goes:

  • Train fails (sometimes this is due to rain, which always seems odd to me).
  • Passengers get confused about what to do. They hop on and off various trains.
  • Everybody gets late.
  • Nobody gets particularly angry or agitated enough to remember about trying to change things, after things normalize.
  • Life goes on, with an accepted decreased standard of living.
  • Property values go up. 😉

How to Solve the Insolvable Problem of Urban Commuting

Of course, I know the answer to the bad morning commute: Every transit problem can be solved by going for a cup of coffee. 🙂

And, I know the cause: Every day, everybody wants to be someplace where they are not already. 😦

Every day, everybody wants to be someplace where they are not already.

But my coffee answer is overly simple-minded. It makes your morning better, but does nothing to guard against future bad mornings (which, with inflation, seem to be getting more bad each year!). The truer answer, I think (do you really have to say “I think” when you are writing a blog post?), the truer answer is to stop the cause. Given that we have a transit infrastructure which, on its best days, throws mud at you, and on its worst days, pushes you face-first into the mud pile, should we really be planning our lives around transit? After all, this likely means we are going to often be disappointed. Or drinking a lot of extra coffee. 😉

Welcome to life on the edge of commute. All smirks appreciated.