Saturday, August 13, 2011

Unusual Riders on an Early Bus

CDTA's website had an endearing story last week from YNN (Your News Now), our local Cable TV news station, about the various professionals throughout the city that use the bus as a way to make their rounds.  They spoke of two professions that I've noticed often on the buses: parking enforcement offers and postal workers, as well as a third that I see less frequently, police officers.  (I always thought the parking enforcement offers sent the best message by ticketing cars, then getting on a bus.) 

Screen still from a YNN story, showing a bikeable officer on a bikeable bus.
I just hope these folks made it to their bus on time.

Not that it always matters.  Sometimes the buses don't give you a chance.

This happened to me last night when I left work.

The bus was supposed to get to North Allen Street, about 3 minutes away from my stop, at 5:44.  Now, to you car drivers, 3 minutes doesn't seem like much, since most of you could go 100 miles in that time, the way you drive.  But in the transit world, it's pretty big.  Especially when it's 3 minutes on the early side.

Now, I'll admit that I'm notorious for getting to the stop AS THE BUS IS GETTING THERE TOO.  I am what you might call an idiot.  You can often find me on weekdays running down the street screaming like a crazy person (because clearly I'm not one) to make it on time.

So when the bus doesn't even give me that opportunity, I'm not happy.

Let's picture the scene, shall we? 

I leave work and round the corner to Western Avenue.  It's 5:44.  The bus is just getting to North Allen Street.  Right?

This is what I should see.  Instead, picture a bus in the road.  My bus.

Wait, my bus?  What? Why's the damn bus going by?  I'm still a 45 second walk from the stop at Partridge.  I mean, I can make it there by 5:47 with quite a bit of time to spare, but here we are and there it goes.

The intersection at North Allen.  Only, you can't see it in this picture.  Because the earth is round.
The intersection at Partridge.  I'm about 2/3 of the way between North Main Avenue and Partridge Street here.  Even this can barely be seen.  It's about a 30 second to 1 minute walk.  Plenty of time to make the bus, had it not been early.
A closeup of the intersection at Partridge, where my stop is.
Now, why all the whining about this early bus?  What's the problem?  Isn't being early a good thing?

It is, when you're going to work.  It's generally a good idea to get to a performance before the curtain goes up or the first note is played, for both performers and audience members.  That's because people are expecting you to be ready if you're a performer and not interrupt the show if you're not.  What are people expecting from the bus?  To be there on time.  If it's late, no big deal (usually).  Because when it gets there, you're already at the stop.  But when a bus comes early, it puts even punctual people at a disadvantage.

CDTA, in their rider guide, advises riders to arrive 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to.  This is an increase from the 1-2 minutes they used to advise.  They also claim that it can be based on weather conditions and traffic.  You can see from this pictures in this post that neither were an issue last evening.  I still go with the 3 minute rule as being unacceptable.  When buses can sometimes run 20 minutes late, it's unrealistic to ask people to be there 5 minutes early. 

This is one of the few drawbacks about CDTA's service.  For the area being what it is, and not having rail-based transit, they do a wonderful job.  And I generally get the impression when speaking to any management that they truly care about their riders.  Some of the drivers are so nice that they make friends with their regular riders.  I have a few driver friends like this.

But when stuff like this happens, the opposite impression is given.  I've actually argued with a driver who, when 4 minutes early, told me "well I'm not that early!" Sir, yes you are.  When I got off, I said his driver number (from the same screen that lists the next stop, should you ever need to complain about a specific driver) with my phone in hand, ready to call.  Needless to say, he's not one of my driver friends, now.  But it shows the mentality that simply doesn't work for people in this position.  I haven't seen the 4 come early since, by the way.  They always wait at the nearest time point now.  (A time point is a major stop that gives you an idea of where the bus should be when.  They are the only stops listed on schedules.)

The thing is, I don't mind waiting at this stop.  Really, at most, because Albany is mostly a beautiful city that gives you a lot of rewarding environments to wait for the bus in.  Another reason being a bit late is a smaller deal than being early.

This is what it looks like to wait at this stop:

University at Albany Alumni Quad, student dorms.  The College of Saint Rose rents a hall here, Brubacher Hall, as well.
It's safe, too! This is the College of Saint Rose Security Building, right across the street. We can forget for a minute that the Head of Security, routinely and wrongly advises new students to stay away from the best parts of the city.
Looking down Partridge Street.  A mix of owner occupied houses and Saint Rose dorms.  All the Saint Rose Dorms have a white paint job with yellow trim.
Looking up Western toward North Allen, on the beautiful Saint Rose campus.  This isn't even the pretty side of it!
At 5:59, the next bus was supposed to get to North Allen Street.  This is another credit to CDTA.  They have pretty frequent bus schedules, especially for such a small city.  15 minutes is not a long wait, but is generally considered the low end of the maximum that people are willing to wait to make transit work.  In other words, it has to be frequent enough to be an option for most people.  In the cities of the Capital District, they do this very well.  In the suburbs, well who cares?  Only a few suburbs here could possibly make transit work, being as poorly designed as they are, and many of them are already relatively well-served on the trunk routes.  (I'm looking at you, Route 5.)

Anyway, back on topic.  This is what I saw at 5:59:

No bus.  Perfect!
6:02.  Here it is!
The bus came right on time at 6:02 and I was happily on my way.  I was going to order Indian food from Lazeez just before I got on, but I was too busy taking pictures.  Which freaked the driver out a little, I think.  Oh well, I called from the bus and was off to get delicious vegetarian ethnic food.  What a tasty little city I live in, after all! 

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