What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

26 February 2011

Aack! A bus!

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
Many cities (in the US) have bike racks attached to the front of the bus, so you can bring your bike along. Follow the directions for squeezing the handle and lowering the rack, line up the tires in the slots, then slide the handle over the front wheel to hold it in place. That sounds scarier than it really is, I promise; it's quite easy once you see it. When you get off the bus and take your bike, you are also responsible for folding the rack back up against the front of the bus (if your bike is the only one on the rack). I've seen two- and three- bike racks so far; who knows what will come up next?

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.

5. Seating
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.

7. Stopping
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?


Unknown said...

No bus riding experiences here. I am sorry to say that Cape Cod is sorely lacking in the public transportation department. Although I did ride the subway in Boston this week, more for my 12 year old son's enjoyment then to actually get from point a to point b

Su said...

Bummer! Although riding the subway does sound like fun. I've taken the Tube in London and the Metro in Mexico, but I've never seen a US subway!

erica and christy said...

Hmmm, my town doesn't even have a taxi, let alone a bus. But in the town I went to college in (only about 20 miles from here, but as long as I drive there, I may as well drive to my destination), I rode the bus quite a bit. Too long ago to remember if there were protocol, though. I have ridden the L in Chicago, but again, about 20 years ago. Nope, I got nothing...

Su said...

Alas, I forget that other people aren't as lucky as I am.

Also, this post looked a lot shorter when I was writing it.

Crystal said...

I prefer the subway. Buses take too long--especially in Orlando traffic! (Not to say we have subways here, because we don't. Grr.)

Su said...

I like trains, which I guess are the same as subways. Unfortunately, the Austin trains are far from me. :'(

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Lucky to have good public transport where we live, it is never-the-less always an adventure to use it as a wheelchair user. Thanks for an interesting post and useful guidelines.

Su said...

It does seem more complicated in Britain than on the US buses I've experienced.

Michelle in a shell said...

Nice guide! I've had so many traumatic bus experiences but they were mostly my fault

Su said...

Oh, no! That's a bummer. :(