So, to get myself back to my regular posting schedule, we return to green living today. One of the things discussed in last week's interview between myself and one of the local bus VPs was the "scary" factor of public transportation for people who have never used it. I know this is a real barrier to some, given the number times I've fielded questions from curious friends. So I give you:
Su's Guide to Public Buses. (Based on my own experience with buses in Indianapolis, Glasgow, Lubbock, and Austin, plus what I've read/heard from others and some research I've done into other US cities. Your mileage may vary.)
**Edited to add: I realised belatedly how long this post really is. So if you don't need a bus guide, please do skip to the end and share your public transport experience.**
1. Finding your bus
Most cities have their bus schedules posted online. Austin has a cool "trip planner" page, but if your city is not on board with such innovation, Google maps has a public transportation option on the "Get Directions" page. Put in start & finish points and a departure time, and it gives you options, just like for driving. Once you are armed with information, head to the bus stop and wait patiently! ("Patiently" is the operative word. If a couple minutes' delay is going to send you into a stressed-out tizzy, perhaps you'd better just take a bike.)
2. Bringing your bike
3. Boarding the bus
There isn't really a protocol for getting on. Here in Austin, we usually let elderly people or those with mobility issues go first, and most gents will allow ladies to board ahead of them. Generally speaking, I don't get on ahead of anyone who was at the stop before me, but that's not a necessary courtesy (unless you have to knock someone out of your way to get on board; in that case, continue to wait patiently), especially in cities that have more than a few people waiting at a stop.
4. Paying your fare
The days of conductors who took your cash and gave you change and a bus ticket in return are long gone, so if your expectations for buses come from old movies, you are in for a shock. You put your fare (exact change) into the box. (When I left Glasgow 10 years ago, they didn't have a slot to take bills, so fare was generally paid in coins. That may have changed by now.) In the US, almost everywhere will take bills or coins in the fare box. If your city offers a day pass, you can purchase those on the first bus you board. The driver will not be able to assist you; most bus companies prohibit drivers from handling fares. But, if you've used a vending machine in the past 20 years, you should be good to go.
You may take any available seat. The seats nearest to the front are priority for elderly or mobility-impaired passengers. Use good sense and common courtesy when choosing a seat or a place to stand. If you do need to stand, find a spot where you can hang onto a pole or strap without knocking other people over (lean in the direction opposite of inertia when the bus is slowing down or accelerating). Please also use courtesy when bringing baggage; your bags of groceries don't need a seat, but your neighbour does.
6. En route
Enjoy the scenery, read a book, listen to your mp3 player, knit a blanket, chat with your seatmate... whatever makes you happy. This is my favourite part of bus-riding, honestly; I can get a lot of reading done while someone else is driving. Or, I can get to know the people sitting around me; this is a good way to meet neighbours! Keep in mind that loud conversation (this includes talking on the phone) is apt to annoy other passengers, and also remember that some buses are noisy so it will be hard to talk on the phone. Eating is generally not allowed, nor is bringing flimsy cups (fast food) aboard. Drinking from a bottle that has a lid is fine.
If your are unsure about where your stop is, ask the driver or a fellow passenger. (My thing when going to a new place is to say to the driver, "I need to get off at (Street) and I don't know where that is." The drivers have remarkable memories for their passengers' needs.) Signal that you'd like to get off by pulling a cord or pushing a button (it's best to look around when you get on the bus to be sure you know what the signaler is) a block or two before your stop. If the bus has front and rear doors, the rear door is the best for exiting unless you are very close to the front. If you have to get your bike, you should go out the front and tell the driver you're getting your bike. Always, no matter what, be sure to thank the driver! It's just common courtesy, and they generally appreciate the thought.
8. Return trip
Presumably, you aren't following these directions step-by-step while reading them, so you'll read this one before you head out for your first trip. Be sure to check your options & times for the return trip before you leave, so you know what bus to get to when it's time to go home!
There you have it! Do you have a bus-riding experience you'd like to share?