As anyone who actually rides the bus can tell you, riding Metro Transit can seriously suck.
Just last week, a woman reeking of week-old sweat, going from nowhere to nowhere, smashed me into the window seat, bottle in hand. And since my bus had arrived 15 minutes late, crowding two buses' worth of passengers onto a single vehicle, there was no way to escape. I'm relaying this story to give you a sense, if you don't know, of what it's like to ride the bus every day. It's dirty, smelly, hot, and slow, and the only people who do it are the people, like me, who have to. The overwhelming majority of us, I believe, would rather ride in peace—not in a gold-plated private jet, not on a flying carpet. All we want is a regular bus. We just don't want to be harassed, offered drugs, crushed against people who smell like booze and piss, or sucked into confrontations we didn't ask for.
I can think of a lot of things that could improve the system—get rid of the ride-free zone; add kiosks where riders can buy tickets; beef up security; take broken-down buses out of commission—but most of these ideas cost money, and many would be opposed by Metro's transit union, which has tremendous power to determine when and if changes happen.
What could change all that? A transit riders' union, like those in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Portland, Vancouver, and New York. As it is, Metro has a monopoly on information—about where the worst drivers and buses go, where the money is being spent, and how the complaints are dealt with. As a result, they also have all the power. A transit riders' union could shift the balance in riders' direction by allowing us to share information with each other through user-created online forums and organize to lobby elected officials for better service and more funding.
That last point is key, because it's why transit riders' unions and transit agencies are natural allies. We have a common interest—improving bus service. Metro doesn't want to suck—it sucks because of a lack of funding, poor enforcement of existing rules (which should be done by security, not drivers—again, a matter of funding), and the fact that its technology is at least a decade behind the national standard.
Government wants us to think of it as a business? Great—then treat us like consumers. Let's join together and tell Metro what we need—and, in turn, we'll promise to lobby state and local officials on Metro's behalf. Seems like a good deal to me.