From Iceland — Sour Grapes

Sour Grapes

Published June 29, 2007

Sour Grapes

The Grapevine has received this open letter to City Council member Gísli Marteinn Baldursson, regarding a story from our last issue on the current state of affairs in Reykjavík’s public transportation system.
Dear Gisli Marteinn Baldursson
The public transport system in Reykjavík is a disgrace. It doesnt work on any level, in any way, shape or form. It is so bad it is almost laughable were it not such a serious problem. I begrudgingly accept this as a fact of living in Reykjavik and drive my Volkswagon mostly to everywhere outside of 101.
However, the fact that you can calmly excuse the complete failure and collapse of the public transport system with gems like ‘price is not always the deciding factor when it comes to using public transport’ and list other very questionable influences on your decision to again downgrade the bus service in Reykjavik in the face of blinding evidence to the contrary infuriates me. It is plainly, no, blindingly obvious to anyone from anywhere that one of, if not the main reason this city is rapidly turning from the centralized European community it once was into a third rate Los-Angeles of 6 lane highways and isolated kentucky-fried people is because the people who should be expanding the public transport system and nurturing the connection of communities within greater Reykjavík are instead responsible for killing them.
-You should be introducing trams, that could run on the ridiculously cheap and abundant clean electricity available to us
-You should be already planning and building the blueprints for a major subway system (again, running on clean electricity) to service the growing city in the coming years
-You should be doubling the number of buses and making them drastically cheaper and bringing people back to it
-You should be fighting for ‘bus only’ lanes on all major roads in Reykjavík to make the services not only at good as, but BETTER and FASTER than using a car… And the police force should then be fining the pants off drivers who abuse them
-You should be THE guiding force in the planning of this city
But you are doing none of these things.
You should be strengthening and connecting the communities of greater Reykjavík, but instead, together with the other geniuses behind the expansion of Miklabraut, Sæbraut and other major roads around Reykjavík, you are carving up the city into increasingly isolated communities, which inspite of the many extra lanes are more congested than ever before. You are killing the city and dividing it with (and I havent decided yet which it is) plans to eventually obliterate public transport completely and make sure everyone in Iceland is driving a Hummer OR whether it is just a complete lack of foresight, intelligence and educated decision-making inside the Icelandic government. I challenge anyone to find another city in the world of 150,000 people that has traffic jams and public health issues on account of traffic pollution
For the readers who missed your rundown on all the exciting changes to the completely useless Bus system I will reiterate some of the highlights of your interview with Grapevine
Problem: A 45% percent decrease in usage of the public transport system Your solution: Decrease services and make waiting times for buses longer
Problem: Dramatic (read: ridiculous) increase over the past few years in the number of cars in Reykjavík
Your Solution: Make the price of public transport higher
Problem: The budget for the public transport system was running at risk of being overspent last year
Your solution: Cut services… And make the handful of people who havent yet given up completely and bought a car pay more for a less efficient system instead of demanding a higher budget that meets the demands of the taxpayers who are as you rightly say are actually ‘very happy to pay for it’.
Iceland is one of the most expensive cities in the world, in every way except when it comes to parking your car…it costs less to park a car for 5 hours on Laugavegur than it does to take a Bus into 101, anyone with a primary school education can see that this factor alone is stopping people from using public transport. It should be expensive to park your car, and the fines for overstaying parking should actually mean something substantial… 500kr for a parking fine is laughable… If parking fines actually ‘hurt’ in Reykjavik the added revenue would more than support an expanded public transport system. Furthermore. Iceland is cold. Of course nobody takes the Bus, anyone who has stood in a urinesoaked shelter at 8am in the middle of January will tell you 20 minutes is simply too long… We all learn our lesson very quickly here in Reykjavík, you get a car, or you get a ride, or you stay home.
You seem to base all these brilliant decisions of yours on the opinions of those who currently use public transport… And this is just the kind of backward thinking that makes me want to hurl great chunks of lava through your office windows. Public transportation in Reykjavik is currently used primarily by 3 groups of people, the very young, the very old, and the very mentally/and/or/physically handicapped… Essentially the only people in Iceland incapable of driving. If you were really serious about making a system that works you would undertake a citywide survey where you ask the other 95% of the population why they dont use it, the ones that drive cars… People like yourself and then base your decisions on that. Unfortunately your empty actions and your empty buses say far more about your effectiveness than your cheap cheap words.
My favourite part of your interview with grapevine was about how you are planning to put newspapers, magazines and free internet on buses to entice us all… WOW! Really! Amazing!!! Do you mean the free newspapers that every person in Iceland has delivered to their door? Do you mean ‘free’ internet on the buses that cost 280kr? Are you serious? Do you honestly believe giving us a copy of DV is going to temp a population to fork out 280kr to wait outside for half an hour in a blizzard, in the dark, for the privilege of sitting on a slow, uncomfortable ride around the worst example of modern city planning in the western world?
I dont think you are serious at all and i dont think you honestly believe any of your plans are going to have a positive effect…and that is precisely the point. You nor anyone in your office would ever take a bus to work, and you probably never have. Your efforts to encourage people to use public transport is bare minimum at best and at its worst it is blatant sabotage of a community. You and the others in control of this aspect of our city have done more harm than good and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

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