Washington Capitals players T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen have been making headlines off the ice in the past week for … riding the Metro? And doing it again. Did they get arrested? Were they doing some promotion? No. They were simply traveling to play their games in the Stanley Cup Finals.*
The news has been uplifting to Caps fans who appear to love how the hockey players are the everymen among their supporters, rolling up to the stadium with the home crowd. Practically speaking, it also makes sense that players would take transit because transit is efficient compared with navigating congested streets near an arena hosting a major sports championship. So why not participate in a pregame pep rally on the subway? Good for Oshie and Niskanen, and I whole-heartedly support their decision to ride the Metro.
Despite the fun story, this shouldn’t be news. But it is because we have let society think of public transportation this way – as many people know, public transportation has a stigma of negativity!
Most comments I have seen about the players riding the Metro have been positive, but there is still the “they could’ve been mugged” or “shocked” kind of snark that is inevitable in a conversation about transit. (This is also the same mindset that NIMBYs demonstrate when they are fearful that rapid transit expansion into new neighborhoods will bring criminals to those neighborhoods, but that’s for another time).
The biggest beneficiary of all of this is the Metro itself, which has had a number of issues in recent years. By wealthy athletes riding the Metro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority gets free marketing that its trains can offer reliable service to convenient locations. I am curious, however, how much it will really help public transit’s reputation.
Everyone loves seeing famous people in public settings, and celebrities riding the subway isn’t anything new. I admit, I also would be shocked if I saw an NHL (or NFL, NBA, or MLB player) on the L immediately before a playoff game. “Why don’t they drive or take a private car,” I would say. The Caps players no doubt made bigger headlines this week because they were playing for the Stanley Cup. It wouldn’t gain national attention in mid-January. But still, why is this news?
What About Airplanes?
If we’re talking about celebrities traveling alongside common folk, well, celebrities also fly on commercial airplanes, but no one appears shocked by that. Like with assumptions about public transit, celebrities can easily get injured on planes from unruly passengers, severe turbulence, luggage falling from above, or people running through the concourse to catch their flight at another gate.
The comment arising from that is “They have no other way to get there, so they have to fly the airplane.” But these are celebrities. They have millions of dollars. They can hire or own private jets if they want, and many do. However, many others sit among the rest of us as if we were riding the subway, and a commercial plane ticket is equivalent to paying a $3 public transit fare compared with charting a flight through NetJets.
But despite all the issues that airlines regularly encounter, they still don’t get the social scrutiny and fear for personal safety that tends to accompany public transit. Yes, people do have to pay much more to fly than take public transit, and planes have the luxury of going to far-away destinations, whereas public transit is all locally/regionally operated.
Are Cars Better?
So let’s focus on how celebrities travel locally. It’s assumed they all take cars.
But what if they get carjacked? Or into an accident. There are many, many, many, many, many, many examples of athletes getting into an accident on the road. (Note, the athlete in that last example will now be forever remembered for something else). Whether the athletes themselves got hurt is beside the point; there’s still always a potential for an accident while driving. And while many of these accidents have occurred when athletes weren’t traveling to and from a game, it still shows the vulnerability of motor vehicles.
Riding transit is far safer than driving. But transit still gets panned and is seeing an overall decline in ridership.
There’s Crime in Cars and Planes, Too
Right now most people might see public transit as something young urban dwellers ride to work and social occasions, but also something that brings unwanted people (i.e. criminals). I’m not going to be naive and say there’s no crime on public transit. There is. But there’s also crime at airports by klepto passengers and even by airport employees (a friend of my once had a camera stolen out of a checked bag by security personnel). There are the aforementioned carjackings, too.
So avoiding transit isn’t a panacea for a problem-free commute.
People of all fame and class status are entitled to take whatever mode of transportation they please. Everyone loves to see celebrities in person. But I’d like to see a time in which a pro athlete on a city train isn’t a shock to anyone.
* While I fully support hockey fandom, I do not follow the NHL at all.
Photo by Julian Lozano on Unsplash