What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

27 July 2011

A Faster Bus

Weeks and weeks and weeks ago, Kerri asked if the bus system in Austin is viewed as only being for marginalized members of society, as it is in many other places in the US. Alas, the answer is yes. And since I don't have a new Have Bus Will Travel story for you today, I'm going to answer this question to the best of my ability. And talk about a couple of other bus-related things, too.

Back in February, I interviewed one of the VPs of the local bus system, Todd Hemingson. And for some inexplicable reason, my notes from that interview have gone missing. I'm afraid I may have shredded them without thinking when I was purging my home of last semester's excess stuff. Oops! Good thing I have a reasonably good memory. Anyway, one of the things we talked about is the stigma that buses are for poor people-- it's pretty strong in Austin, but in other places that Mr. Hemingson has worked (including Portland, if memory serves) that hasn't been the case. And he'd like to see CapMetro work to erase that stigma so that more people would feel like the bus was a viable choice instead of an unfortunate down-on-its-luck relation to the motor vehicle that turns up at family reunions and has a lampshade on its head by the end of the evening. (I'm pretty sure those weren't his exact words.)

They'll have their work cut out for them in Texas, where the automobile is king. Not only that, but the bus stops so frequently that it is a lot slower than taking a car (and for some routes, it's slower than a bike. Even me on a bike. Very, very slow). Plus, there's that minor detail that most of the riders are low-income, and some riders take the bus home after working a their hard-labour jobs all day and don't smell like roses, and of course from time to time a homeless person will see in the bus a sort of mobile shelter and hop aboard. Due to the frequent correlation between mental illness and homelessness, I can see how this might be off-putting to someone who is not accustomed to such sights.

So, like I said, a bit of a hard row for CapMetro to hoe if they want to encourage people at higher income levels to leave the car at home. For some routes, however, the bus does have a lot of high-income riders-- the express buses and the trains. I think there are a couple of reasons for this: One, express services and the train connect to Park and Ride stations. It's easier for people who live in surrounding towns to drive into Austin as far as a Park and Ride and then take the bus/train the rest of the way. Two, they are a bit more posh. Okay, that's totally subjective and kind of jerky, but hey, these are the routes that charge extra, stop less frequently, and have free wifi. Not to mention the nice cushiony seats. Posh.

Look, it's bendy! Source.
Which takes me to (holy crapiola, this is getting long) the newest addition to the CapMetro array of services: Bus Rapid Transit. It's coming to Austin in 2013; the two busiest bus routes in town will be replaced by BRT lines to move more people faster and, it is hoped, attract new riders. And I think this may well be the impetus that people who would take a bus if only it were faster have been waiting for. I mentioned in my ride recap of the #1 that it's the busiest route in Austin, to the tune of 17,500 riders per day-- no wonder the bus crawls along. The BRT stops will be farther apart, but will be the bendy buses! And people will be able to get on through all the doors, instead of just the front! I do love me some bendy buses, even though the first time I was on one, about 14 years ago in Mexico City, I feared for my life (we were standing in the joint. I was afraid of being squished). Anyway, the plan is to carry more riders (a bendy bus carries 102 people and has the capacity for four wheelchair users and (we hope) six bikes) faster. I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.

I know a bunch of you live in places with no public transport, so... Would you ride a bus or train if it were available? Do you ride public transport now, if you live in a transport-enabled city? Have you ever been on a bendy bus, either at home or abroad?


Carole Anne Carr said...

We live deep in the English countryside and there is no such thing as a bus service. Many elderly would go without if it weren't for the kindness of neighbours. The village shops are closed, the inns, the village schools... our villages are becoming deserted most of the year, filled only at holiday times with people who have the cottages as second homes.

Karen Peterson said...

It's just not feasible for me to take public transit to work now since I work 60 miles away from home. But when I lived in Montreal, I used public transportation all the time. It was normal for all sorts of people to be on the buses and metros, not only the poor.

Here in the LA area, though? I wouldn't be caught dead on a bus. Mostly because if I got on a bus I probably WOULD end up dead.

Su said...

@Carole: That just makes me sad. :( I love living in the city, but not so much that I'd be happy to see the countryside deserted. If you need more people to live there, I volunteer! (Can you sort it out with the British embassy?)

@Karen: Okay, all the current and former Montreal dwellers have me convinced... I have to go there. And I've heard not-good things about the LA buses... Yikes!

JEFritz said...

Unfortunately, bus service isn't very good up here--and getting worse all the time. They're talking about cutting routes for the second? third? time this year. People complain, insist the gas tax isn't enough...then they go ahead and cut routes anyway and everyone forgets about it until the next time they realize they're out of money.

It's unfair. This state is densely populated enough that a transit system--correction: a working transit system--would service a good deal of people.

Su said...

Bummer. :(

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