Recently Caltrain has been standing room only: morning and evening. It’s one thing to have a busy commute, but an entirely different thing to have an unsafe commute.
For instance the other morning I got onto the northbound express. It has limited stops to SF but it still takes 30 minutes. When I got on there was no room whatsoever in the aisles and only a few unfilled standing room spots in the center passageway.
I eyed a spot towards the door and backed up to the wall. Looking to my left I saw two people standing in the stairwell, there were several more on the main landing, and a few more in the opposite stairwell. In all there were at least ten and possibly fifteen of us in an otherwise unsafe position. Few had anything to grab on to in the event of a jerky motion so most were just trying to not bump into each other.
What usually irks me in these situations is that I’m just not comfortable. I walk to the station from home, and after a 15 minute walk I would prefer to sit for the commute. Standing for another 30 minutes knowing that at the other end of this commute I have another 25 minute walk to my office usually makes me grumpy. I should be happy that I can do all this walking, but somehow it’s a long start to a long workday. And having to do so in a stuffy, cramped vestibule is even more so. There are worse commutes, I know. Far worse commutes. But it’s all relative I suppose.
However on this day what really got me was the person who muscled his way of tithe vestibule a few moments after we pulled out of the station. It was w conductor. He stood there, eyeing the situation with bleak indifference and just turned to stare out the window with the rest of us. He doesn’t mention to any of us that we need to find a seat. There are none! None in the train at all.
People are sitting in stairwells, standing in the second level landing, standing in the aisles, the vestibules, the gangway and anywhere they can. And so there’s nothing a conductor to do other than to announce the stops.
So there’s the rub: even the conductor feels helpless to affect what’s happening. Even in the name of safety. They—like us—have to look on at the multitudes standing, cramped, shoulder to back to buttock, uncomfortably juggling their coffee cups, mobile phones and bags as we jostle down the track towards our destination.
Hopeful to arrive there.