We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Taking the (revised) bus

I'm happy about the new Metrolink branch, but I've yet to find time to ride it. I have, however, spent the past three days immersed in the bus side of Metro Redefined, and it is definitely not as cool as the new Metrolink.

Bus schedules and times and drivers have changed, with little announcement. I've had to tell coworkers and strangers on the street about the changes--a number of them have not heard. On the bus on Monday, the bus driver was shouting the new connections as he drove, and lots of people were surprised and confused. One angry man got off the bus, cursing the fact that he had no idea how he'd get to work that day without the #52 Clayton South County, and that he'd not heard anything about it.

I am particularly thankful that I was able to tell my coworker S about the fact that our bus route changed before she tried to take the bus. She had not heard a word about the change. She is a senior who takes the bus around 4something in the morning and lives in a rougher part of the North Side. She did not need to end up standing out there alone at that bus stop at that hour, in the dark, wondering what happened to the bus.

If Metro had done something as simple as making all bus drivers announce the changes two weeks in advance, a lot of frustration, problems, and anger could have been avoided. I also think that giant "THIS ROUTE IS CHANGING. HERE ARE THE CHANGES!" posters on each bus would have been useful. I'm sure Metro would counter that they updated their website (even though it doesn't reach a lot of transit users, and even though the pdf system map of Missouri was still outdated when I tried to consult it this afternoon) and that they printed 20 copies of a brochure about it one time, but with something this important and basic, you have to spell it out as simply and loudly as you can to make sure that everyone hears.

As for my experiences trying to get around:

I have stood at the bus stop for half an hour for the past three mornings in a row, trying to catch my bus. The first day I was way too early for the readjusted time and stood there for almost half an hour until the bus finally showed up at 7:25.

Okay, I thought. The bus gets here at 7:25 now. The next morning I was out there at 7:20, but saw neither hide nor hair of a bus for 28 minutes.

So, this morning, after extensive perusal of the schedule, I got there even earlier, but again found myself standing there for over thirty minutes waiting for a bus that is allegedly spaced half an hour apart.

So when does the bus get there?

This is not particularly different from my experiences with the pre-Redefined Metro. One day my bus would be at my corner at 7:28, the next day 7:28, and then BAM! 7:46! And then 7:35 the day after that! Then 7:27! I started finding myself late to work pretty often, which was exasperating. My boss is very understanding, but it's still sloppy, and I am still paranoid from previous jobs I've had where employers were, ahem, not transit-friendly.

And no matter how forgiving my boss can be about transit-caused lateness, it still doesn't change how stupid I'd feel when I rushed out the door at 7:25 and skipped packing a lunch, only to stand there for 20 minutes because the bus was slow that day. Or, on the flip side, there was the other feeling of stupidity that came when I'd tell myself "The bus has been really late for the past six weekdays! I will give myself two more minutes to get my lunch together since it's only 7:25!" ...and I'd walk out the door to see that the bus had decided to come early at 7:26 that day, and I was gonna be half an hour late to work.

(And we'll gloss over my lousy attempts to complete errands and social outings that used to be no problem before the bus schedule changes--suffice it to say, after the amount of time I've wasted waiting for transit over the past three days, I ended up walking home from Downtown this evening because I didn't want to wait at a bus stop for one more minute.)

But this ain't all bad. After I finish typing this entry, I'm going to take constructive action and wipe all the plaster dust off my bike and get it ready for riding tomorrow morning. With the shape I'm in, I'm going to have to start by biking to my bus transfer point and taking the bus the rest of the way to work. But with practice, I'll be able to ride all the way to work.

Actually, one of my neighbors just got a job at another Midtown megainstitution, and we've agreed to start biking to work together once I'm in suitable shape. I'm looking forward to it. I need the physical activity, and it will be a nice chit-chat/bonding/kvetching/plotting-n-planning opportunity.

You might even say that my daily commute will be redefined.


Joe said...

It does seem like the #30 Soulard takes twice as long to get anywhere now!

The worst parts are:

1) The silly loop via Arsenal, 2nd, Utah, and 7th, just to serve a handful of people at National GeoSpatial Intelligence Agency -- all day long! What, DOD employees can't walk a half-block? Besides, I have yet to see anyone get on or off there.

2) The routing through downtown takes twice as long to get to MetroLink from the south. It serves Convention Center instead of Busch Stadium. I understand all bus service was eliminated from S. 7th St., even though there's a large part of the year (winter!) when there are no ballgames to create traffic havoc.

3) The turn from westbound Washington to northbound N. 11th is impossible for most drivers to make.

Anonymous said...

Maybe these new riders don't read or listen to anything or anyone around them. Fliers announcing the changes, as well as locations to find out more, were on every bus posted behind the driver seat. Drivers handed out new schedules the full week prior, asking patrons as they boarded to be aware of future changes. Weeks prior to the changes, there also was extensive media coverage on the radio, television and in the newspapers. Finally, riders themselves made it the talk of every bus I rode the week prior to the changes, trading stories of how life would soon change for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Know-It-All (perhaps you work for Metro or East-West Gateway?):

Maybe your bus drivers are better than those of other routes. Unless you have been on every driver's bus since the changes were announced, you don't know anything more than your anecdote. And that is what it is: just one person's experience, like that Claire shared here. Both experiences happened, and illustrate the lack of consistency within Metro.

"New riders"?! What arrogance.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

Joe - Yeah, I really don't like that loop. It always takes so long, and yeah, I've never seen anyone use it, either.

I have yet to experience the Downtown section of the ride since the changes, but I'll letcha know what I think.

anony the first - I knew someone was going to try to make that argument. (Hence the "I'm sure Metro would counter that they updated their website [even though it doesn't reach a lot of transit users, and even though the pdf system map of Missouri was still outdated when I tried to consult it this afternoon] and that they printed 20 copies of a brochure about it one time, but with something this important and basic, you have to spell it out as simply and loudly as you can to make sure that everyone hears.")

As anony the second observed, I didn't say that every single bus lacked info, but the ones I rode sure didn't have much of anything.

There were posters announcing the changes, but they were pretty bland and weren't as screamingly clear as things need to be in a case like this. If I made the posters, they would have been neon yellow and would have listed detailed info (ie a stick-figure map of the new route), not "hey if you show up to the Metrolink party at the Metrolink stop on this one day one time, there will be info!"

And I was never once handed a new schedule by a driver. And I never once was told about the impending changes by a driver on any of the routes that I ride. The only time I heard any driver mention the changes at all was this past Monday, after the changes.

No...my mistake. I did overhear a bus driver personally telling a girl he obviously thought was cute about the transit textbook. But that was it.

I don't doubt that your experience with your busses (which routes, may I ask, if you intend to reply anyway?) could have gone as you say, but that sure was not mine.

Post-change, I ran into lots and lots of people who didn't know about the change at all, or who lacked detailed information. It wasn't the majority of riders, but it was definitely a significant number of folks. Had I not sprung for the $3 transit textbook and been willing to share it with some of the confused folks I ran into, they woulda been up shit creek.

And these were not new riders; they were commuters trying to go to and come home from work. I know this from talking with these folks. In some cases I know this because I work with them! I must agree with anony the second that you assuming these folks must be new riders is just plain crass.

And uh, wouldn't new riders likely know about changes, since the first thing ya hafta do when you take the bus for the first time is get a current schedule and map, so.... yeah.

And even if my experiences with the changes had been better, that still wouldn't erase the bus's chronic unreliability in getting me to work in recent months.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still be on the bus and I'm still pro-transit, but if I can bike to work and arrive on time every day, that counts for something.

Anonymous said...

Get on your bike, improve your health and enjoy our greatest invention.

To depend on MetroLink (undoubltedly a true waste of our scarce resources) is a big mistake. Just imagine if that money was spent on bike paths/bike lanes! There would have been enough money to have the paths roofed for year-round comfort!

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I don't think public transit is a waste of resources--in fact, I think it should run more frequently and that we should have Metrolink and streetcar lines snaking all over the city (with as little demo as possible).

People like getting around quickly, and often people need to get around quickly. I think public transit can replace a car for a lot of people, and that's a good thing.

Don't get me wrong, I think bikes are faaaahbulous and I just bought mine a new basket to prepare her for commuting. I wish more people would bike, and I wish there was more support for bike culture.

Still, I think public transit is important. A lot of people aren't physically capable of biking, or it's simply not practical. If a single mom can't afford a car or a babysitter, it's easier to take the kids on the bus to go get groceries and bring them home, rather than have everyone bike there and back. A bus is also a good alternative for people who aren't physically able to drive *or* bike. And not everyone lives in a bikeable distance from their job, let alone from necessary amenities. I know that if I had to bike rather than bus every time I had to go out shopping for something, get a haircut, etc.... It sure wouldn't make it any easier to live on the North Side.

Public transit is a good thing overall, even if its current incarnation in the Lou ain't reliable enough to get me to work on time. We need more support for biking and bike culture in StL, but we also need more support for transit and transit culture (as well as busses that show up frequently and on time!).

And lastly, even when I'm biking, I'm glad there aren't roofs over my head, even though that means I need buckets and buckets of sunblock. For me, a lot of the pleasure of riding is being able to look up and see the buildings, the people, the trees, and the clouds.

Joey said...

... I am in total sympathy with this post. I think the new system will, in the long term, be better for most people. But for people who DON'T use the Metrolink, or don't live near the Metro station, the buses seem not to be running on time very well. The redesign also seems to be very "Washington University"-centric. Just as Wash U got what it wanted when the Metrolink route was designed -- which added 7 or so minutes to the downtown commute from the "south route" that Mayor Harmon preferred, and also getting the $70 million tunnel to hide the system from the public-transit-phobes in the "north route territories."

In this town, Wash U gets what it wants. And now BJC/Wash U wants to snatch a piece of Forest Park.

I'm sure they'll get whatever they want.

I did ride the new Metro, and I think it's cool, but the bus system of 1990 sans Metrolink is better than what we have right now.