The Benefits Of Riding TheBus
Wednesday - August 13, 2008
We got my son a TheBus pass recently and we have been busy navigating around town with it. We’re doing this for several reasons. First and foremost, we want him to know that his physical challenge (impaired vision) doesn’t hamper his ability to get around independently. We want him to figure out ways to get from point A to point B without having to rely on us. And we want him to know that public transportation, be it bus or rail or boat, is a smart choice, not an embarrassing one. People who regard taking TheBus as a second-class option or as a last resort are missing the point - the bus makes sense.
It makes sense environmentally. More people on the buses mean fewer cars on the road. It could be better, of course. Only about 50 buses, 10 percent of the fleet are gas-electric hybrids. Our city could use a lot more of those.
It certainly makes sense from a financial standpoint. A monthly pass for an adult is $40; for a youth it’s $20. A yearly pass for senior citizens and for the disabled is just $30!
Here’s more good news: riding TheBus is so much easier than it was when I was hopping it regularly years ago. If you haven’t tried it lately, do. Back then, the buses were hotboxes, and both passengers and drivers were grouchy. Today’s vehicles are comfortable, large and cool. And the drivers are courteous and helpful.
It’s fairly easy to find your route using the Internet. Go to thebus.org and click on the link to the Transit Trip Planner. Type in your start point and your destination and it will give you several options, complete with times, bus numbers, transfer information and maps.
I didn’t say, however, TheBus is perfect. If you are hoping to get bus route information the old-fashioned way by calling on the phone, be prepared for some inconsistencies and delays. We tried the number 848-5555 several times. More often than not it was busy, or we were put on hold for long periods of time. Several times we gave up without getting the information we needed. I did get through once, and the woman gave me some bum info. Either that, or the bus she told us to catch was really, really late.
I spoke with Michelle Kennedy, manager of customer communications for TheBus, and she acknowledged they’ve been having some problems with the phones. She said the system is short-staffed and gets slammed during peak times- the morning rush hour, lunchtime and pau hana. This at a time when ridership is up because of soaring gas prices. Kennedy assured me they’re working to get the staffing up to speed in order to handle the increase in calls. I hope they do. It’s an important part of the service and it absolutely needs to work dependably. It also should be easy, otherwise people will just give up. If it’s a hassle, they won’t bother to call or to ride.
We did find a few other areas that could use improvement. The ADA requires - and it is the company’s policy - that all vehicles audibly announce the stops. That’s pretty important for people with visual impairments, but also good for seniors and kids, and for those unfamiliar with the city. The first couple of buses we rode did it perfectly, announcing each upcoming stop with enough lead time so my son could reach up and pull the cord. I relaxed, thinking that with such a good system in place he’d have no problems at all getting around alone.
I got nervous again, however, when the next couple of buses fell short. One announced only the “major” stops and left out several in between (including the one my son needed). The other had a sound system so muffled we couldn’t make out the words. Kennedy says these “annunciators” should be working properly in every bus, and that drivers should be made aware if they aren’t. Our very nice driver assured my son that all he had to do was ask for help, and that is certainly reassuring. But what if the driver is too busy, or gets distracted, or simply forgets? Keeping the equipment up-to-date and working properly helps the passengers and makes the drivers’ jobs easier.
Another thing. All buses purchased after the year 2000 have an electronic signboard up front that flashes the stop information. It’s a good idea to help the hearing impaired, but from what I’ve seen they could be working a lot better. During one of our rides I noticed that, although each upcoming stop was displayed, the information was up for all of two or three seconds - too short a time to be effective. You’re out of luck if you’re not staring up at the sign at just the right moment. Blink and you miss it.
But for the most part, TheBus is an excellent option, a good deal and user friendly. If they can work out the glitches and make it even easier to use, they might persuade the folks who are flocking to it now to stick with it, rather than ditching it for their cars at the first opportunity.
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