But how many of us have actually ridden a bus for anything other than vacation lately?
I was recently named a co-chair of the Regional Transit Coordinating Council, an advisory body to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) that meets to "address regional transit planning, coordination and implementation of transit priorities."
It struck me as ironic that I'm now engaged with a group that is strategizing on how to improve transit operations in the KC metro area and I haven't been on a KC bus in probably 45 years.
When I was a kid, our family only had one car (like most other families in our neighborhood). So, if dad had the car at work and we wanted to go somewhere farther away than we could walk, we took the bus.
However, like many baby boomers, my bus riding days came to an end when I got my first car as a teenager.
So, last week I made a a spur of the moment decision to ride the KCATA 101 bus route from the downtown neighborhood where I live to Village West and back.
|Here's a map of the 101 route from the KCATA web site.|
The red dots mark where I got on and off.
(You can click on any picture to see a bigger version)
Even though I'm not a regular bus rider, I have an app on my phone called Transit (available for iOS and Android smartphones).
KCATA uploads route information to the web in a format that web sites and apps can access. It's not "real time", but it's a good reference point for the published schedule.
|The Transit app on an iPhone screen.|
I learned later than KCATA has its own route maps online on a web site called TransitMaster Web Watch. I looked up those maps at: http://www.kc-metro.com/tmwebwatch/GoogleLiveMap. The maps are pretty small on a smartphone, but you can zoom in.
|This is KCATA's web site that shows|
the actual location of buses
along a selected route.
|Clicking on any bus icon brings up|
real time route information for that bus.
The "next stop" info wasn't very accurate,
but seeing the location of the bus icon was good enough.
The Transit app said that the next bus on the 101 route would arrive in 8 minutes at the 18th and Minnesota stop.
I walked about 7 blocks from my house to the stop (thankful that it wasn't raining or snowing) and found I was the only person waiting for the bus at that particular stop.
I arrived at the stop at 3:45 and re-checked the schedule board. It said that the next bus was due at 3:49.
That time came and went with no bus. The bus arrived at 4:03 and I wondered, "Is this the 3:49 bus late or the 4:19 bus early?" (wish I'd known about the Web Watch site when I was standing there).
|Here's the bus stop at 17th and Minnesota|
(marked as 18th and Minnesota on the KCATA map).
This is what I call a "medium" stop.
It has a bench and route map, but no shelter.
|If you don't have a smartphone to access apps like Transit,|
there are route maps and schedules at many of the stops.
The bus that picked me up was one of the regular-sized 40 seat buses. There were already 22 people on board.
I had read on the KCATA web site that the "one way" fare on a bus is $1.50 and that you get a card with "bus credit" instead of change if you deposit more than $1.50 in the fare box. I was glad I didn't have a $20 bill in my wallet.
I felt bad for everyone else on the bus as I held up progress by fumbling to figure out how to insert two dollar bills into the fare box and get my transfer ticket and bus credit ticket back out of the fare box. (It occurred to me that rookie riders like myself could be one reason buses aren't on time).
I found myself thinking that it would be cool if I could simply swipe my debit card at the fare box and pay the $1.50 fare electronically.
|Here's the size bus I rode.|
I sat all the way in the back so that I could watch people get on and off. The first thing I noticed was that it was LOUD back there sitting by the engine and the air conditioner. The second thing I noticed was that the bus was clean and all the riders were considerate of each other throughout the ride.
I saw lots of people get on and off between 18th Street and about 78th Street. There were fewer riders between 78th Street and Village West.
The driver definitely kept up a good pace in between stops and the bus arrived at the east end of Village West (by Famous Dave's, Cabela's, Hampton Inn, etc.) at 4:37. That's only 34 minutes to make the trip. Not bad considering all the loading and unloading of passengers we did.
|Here's a stop that I guess you could call "full service".|
In addition to a bench, it also has a shelter and a sign
with an LED display that shows
route information and bus locations.
I saw very few stops like this along the route.
I walked across the street and checked the schedule for the eastbound bus that would take me home.
There were buses scheduled at 5:32, 6:02 and 6:32. I had plenty of time to explore Village West on foot.
That's when it hit me... Village West is a pretty "car-centric" place. You have a lot of ground to cover to get from place to place. That's easy in a car, but a lot harder on foot.
I walked from the bus stop to Nebraska Furniture Mart and back. That's a healthy walk, even for someone who is in relatively good shape like me. I could've cut down the distance I needed to walk by getting off at a different stop, but there's still a lot of walking no matter where you get off. I suppose you could also wait for another bus to take you to a different part of the Village West area, but that would be at least a 30 minute wait.
And although there were a lot of great sidewalks, they weren't everywhere that you might need one.
The return bus arrived right at the scheduled time and had me back to 18th and Minnesota in only 35 minutes.
|It was pretty daunting to look from the bus stop|
and see how far away the shops were.
|This was interesting.|
These steps lead from the sidewalk
on Village West Parkway down to a parking lot.
I hope we never let it get to the point that
the bush completely covers the sidewalk.
Although I have only scratched the surface of what I need to learn about the bus system, I learned a lot in taking my short trip. Hopefully, I can begin applying my lessons learned immediately And I will be riding again so that I can continue to broaden my first hand transit experience.
As I considered all the enhancements I thought of during my trip (e.g. real-time signs, swiping a debit card in the fare box, more shelters and benches at bus stops, etc.) and all the enhancements that regular transit riders have requested (e.g., bus routes to more places, bigger buses, more buses on weekends, more frequent buses on heavily traveled routes, etc.) it occurred to me that it could take a lot of resources to accomplish even some of the upgrades.
When we already spend several million dollars a year for the current level of service, and when rider fares only account for about 15% of the total money needed to run the bus system, and when the budget is as tight as we currently have in the Unified Government, we're going to have to be very thoughtful and very strategic about how we raise and allocate the resources needed to improve the transit system.
You can also read a post from last fall in which I outline how bus service in Kansas City, Kansas is accomplished by contracting some routes with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and by owning and operating some routes ourselves (through UG Transit). Here's the link:
Until next time, keep those wheels going round and round...
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