Where do the perks end?

I was away from home all afternoon and for the better part of the evening today, from 3pm to 10:30pm. Besides bemoaning my local public transit system for turning what was a twenty-minute trip by car into an hourlong trip, I then calculated how long I would be traveling on my evening outing and wondered if more time would be spent on the bus or train than actually out and about.

While approaching my front step, I concluded that the answer was no. However, this brings up an interesting question: at what point does the travel make the outing not worth the effort? If you’re driving, certainly you can’t get too many other things done while driving. Yes, there is a laptop desk for a steering wheel, but for humanity’s sake, please don’t use it. However, on a bus or train I can actually do many things: read, write, edit, knit (this assumes I have something to knit), the list goes on. That’s certainly a perk, but where do those perks end? Variables include desire to go to event, ability to do other things while traveling, length of travel time, and length of event.

Never in America–or at least, never in my state

A South Korean woman passed the practical portion of her driving exam–after 950 attempts. This is something that could never happen in America, at least not in my state. After the first failure, you can retake the part you failed the next day. After the second failure, you wait a week. After the third (and any subsequent) failure, you have to wait thirty days. If this story happened in my state, it would have had to happen over the course of 79 years. Assuming you tried for the first time on your sixteenth birthday, you’d be 95 years old when you finally passed. If you live that long, then I hope it’s a very rich and fulfilling life.

In which I take a public transit survey

My local public transit system is conducting a survey about the service. The survey-takers stood at the station that I got on at for two days and were even on a bus I took one day, giving out surveys and asking if we patrons could fill them out when we got home and mail them in.

I brushed off one survey-giver the first day because I was plotting out some important points in my NaNoWriMo novel, but on the second day I took a survey, hoping (though not much) that the questions would be useful in some way.

Well, they weren’t. They’re probably useful to MARTA in some way, but they don’t come close to addressing the issues of the transit system as a whole. The survey is divided into sections, each one containing several questions that seemed of little importance.

1) Where are you coming from?
Here the survey asks about the type of place the surveytaker is coming from, including an exact address and name.

2) How did you get from your starting place to the train station where you received this survey?
Okay, this makes sense, given that it’s a rail survey. Did you use any buses? Which ones? How’d you get to the bus stop? How long did it take you to walk if you walked?

3) Getting on and off the train
Where did you get on the train? Where did you get off? Okay, this makes sense. They want to see which stations are popular.

4) How will you get from the train to your destination?
Will you do it on a bus? Will you do it on a train? Will you do it on a foot?

5) Your destination for this one-way trip
Wow, they’re nosy, aren’t they? I’m betting most people lied on this one. There’s no reason for me to; I have nothing to hide.

6) Other Important Items
And here’s where things get interesting. How’d you pay for this trip? How many working vehicles are in your household? Could you have used one of these instead? (Okay, this makes sense to ask.) Are you employed? How many adults live in your household? Are you a student? Are you going to work or school today? Do you have a driver’s license? How old are you? What’s your household income? Are you Hispanic/Latino? How would you describe your race in only four options plus an other box? How well do you speak English? When did you receive this survey? What’s your mother’s credit card number? (Okay, they didn’t ask this one, but they may as well have.)

But they never hit on the important points, like whether the rider had any problems using the service that day, or how friendly any employees were, or if they felt safe in the area, or whether the bus or train got there on time, or how long they had to wait, or how long the overall trip took. These are the questions that need to be asked if the public transportation system is to be improved.

The bus problem

I’ve run across an interesting problem. On my trip home from my internship, I take a train followed by a bus. However, more than one bus will get me close enough to home so that walking the rest of the trip is reasonable.

Buses A, B, C: These three buses use the same stop that I get off at; in fact, the stop serves as a transfer point to switch from one of these buses to another. The obvious pro is that there are three such buses.

Bus D: This is only one bus, but this stop is closest to my house.

I have to cross a somewhat busy intersection in both instances; the only difference between ABC and D is where.

The train station I get off at serves as an end point for all four buses. As a result, the buses will idle for a bit and let people getting off the train get on the bus. Excluding today, for the past two days two buses–D and one of A, B, and C–were available. By some coincidence I chose the bus that left later both times, resulting in a hungry Sushi by the time I arrived home. Unfortunately it rained one of those days, making me grumpy as well as hungry.

So here’s the problem. Given no knowledge of a bus schedule, and given a choice between bus D and one of buses A, B, and C, what is the probability that the bus you choose will leave first? For my situation I could probably solve it by using common sense and looking at a bus schedule, but what about an ordinary day? What about multiple buses without three buses using the same stop? What if only two buses are available at your stop?

This bears pondering.

Public transportation pet peeves

As you may have guessed by reading this site, I am carfree. As a result of such, I take advantage of my area’s public transportation regularly. While it certainly isn’t stellar compared to other systems that I’ve experienced such as those in New York and Paris, where urban sprawl is less of a problem and more places are accessible via public transportation, my area does a mediocre job. Because I take the bus or train regularly, I’ve developed my own list of pet peeves for public transport.

* People who sit in the aisle seat when the train is crowded. You’re surrounded by strangers; surely it won’t kill you to sit next to one or scoot over when someone needs to sit down. So just sit in the window seat and suck it up. While we’re on that topic, it’s acceptable to scoot over if you’re sitting alone and your stop is coming up.

* People who get on the bus and get off at the very next stop. You may as well walk. Just like I should have done tonight when the bus at the train station took twenty minutes to leave. I could have been home by then if I had just walked.

* People who evade bus payments just because the bus is parked at the train station and the bus driver isn’t there. I’ve witnessed this, and it particularly irks me because my area transit system doesn’t receive any state funding. Just because the system relies on your funding doesn’t mean you can just skip it whenever you want.

* Non-disabled people and non-seniors sitting in the areas clearly labeled for such when there are seniors and disabled persons sitting in other areas of the train. Disabilities aren’t always visible. However, when an ordinary person (or worse, a group of ordinary people who are obviously friends) take up the front seats and the people who should have those seats are relegated to the rest of the train, in part because the people at the front won’t give up their seats for them, that’s just disrespect–not of rules but of people and time.

* Exit signs from stations that aren’t clearly labeled. Last week I exited a station I had never been to before and was looking for a road that Google Maps said I should take. It wasn’t there, according to the exit sign. The two roads that were there did exist and did sound familiar, but the arrows to those roads pointed in the same direction. I was not looking for either of those roads, nor were either of those roads in my directions. Luckily I found my destination (and I didn’t even need the road I was looking for–in fact, the way I wound up taking was much easier), but the labels indicating the roads were unclear to new people. If a city is going to be tourist-friendly, making signs clearer should be a first step.

This is not to mean that I don’t like public transportation. I love it, but there are cons to it, just as there are cons to driving. Discussing my local public transport system is another story entirely and is best saved for another day, preferably one in which I have more time and ranting room.

Should you walk or take the bus?

I do not have a car, and I live in a city that doesn’t have a wonderful public transportation system. Every morning I walk to the bus stop at end of my road, where the bus picks me up and transports me to the train station, turning a twenty-minute walk into a five-minute ride. Because my train stop is at the end of a line, the train sits for a given period of time before leaving for its next destination. This waiting is the longest part of my commute.

This morning one of my roommates offered me a ride to the station, as she was early to a meeting. I took her up on the offer, in part because the temperature dropped at least ten degrees in the past two days and in part because I was wearing heels. Despite leaving the house five minutes earlier than usual, I still arrived my end destination at the same time as usual, all because of the train’s dilly-dallying.

This brings up a question: when is it better to just walk? This chart provides one answer that based on my experience is reasonably accurate, assuming that the average person walks a fifteen- to twenty-minute mile. Other factors aren’t included and can’t be included in an objective chart, such as the kind of shoes you’re wearing or the surface you’re walking on. According to the chart I may be better off leaving the house a few minutes earlier in the morning and walking (at least I’d get some exercise); however, my current walk to the train station is hilly and without sidewalks in some parts, not a path for the ill-shoed or for someone wearing heels. That’s some foot pain I can do without.

Too bad the chart doesn’t take train dilly-dallying into account.