I’m sure there are people who could resist the chance to take a cheap shot at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for jumping out of his SUV to take public transit, SUV roaring ahead to pick him up at the end of the line.
Don’t worry. I’m not one of them.
Here is the newly polished “Green Governor,” heralded in the media over the past week as if he were the Republicans’ Al Gore, taking a beating from supporters of public transit for taking $1.1 billion that would have automatically gone to local bus and rail service and using it to balance the less formulaic parts of the budget.
At a time when the Governator is traveling the world touting moderate, eco-friendly off-of-steroids conservatism, the critics say, why cut funding for a public service that could go a long way toward combating global warming.
So there he was, according to the Sacramento Bee, hopping on the capital city’s Watt Avenue light-rail line at 9 p.m. “on a recent Monday,” the story says, with no reporters or gaggle of legislators to record, analyze, fawn or otherwise contextualize the moment. I mean, the guy bought a ticket from a farecard machine; Metropolitan Transportation Commission members don’t even have to do that.
There were, however, a couple of Regional Transit supervisors who got last-minute notice of the governor’s nocturnal whim, and high-tailed it to the 13th Street stop to answer the governor’s questions and make sure the operator let him ride up front. No one’ s saying if he got to toot the horn.
One of the managers told the Bee that the governor said the ride made him nostalgic for street cars back in Austria. Could the gas-guzzling movie-star environmentalist governor have been transit-dependent back then?
This should be seen as a positive step for public transportation, said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Oakland-based Transportation and Land Use Coalition.
“I’d say that given the governor’s predilection for Hummers, this is an amazing step forward for transit advocates,” Cohen told me. “He has only shown in his budget what can only be called antipathy for transit.”
“I think so much of this is from an absolute lack of familiarity,” he continued, deciding that it was good for the governor to get out there and actually touch the thing he was trashing in his budget, to “see that these are ordinary people … students and low-income families and commuters who rely on transit.”
Turns out the ordinary people one finds at a Sacramento light-rail stop at 9 p.m. include drunks (another good use of transit), one of whom reportedly greeted the governor with a “Hey Arnold!”
The two supervisors, the story relates, “got in the guy’s face and told him to back off. `You are not going to mess this up,’ ” they told him.
Although the governor’s press people insist the ride was unrelated to budget matters, Cohen doesn’t believe in such coincidences:
“I think the backlash against his budget proposal from people across the state got him at least curious about what they were talking about.”
Photo of Schwarzenegger on a bus from www.enterstageright.com