A meditation upon buses

This morning, I decided instead of walking or driving to take the bus to work. It should surprise no one that this was a major mistake on my part, but it did give me time to do some thinking.

Consider: I left my house at a quarter past 9, and arrived at just about 10:15 in my office. That means that door-to-door my trip, which is about 1 mile and change in distance, took just under an hour. When I arrived at the bus stop 3 minutes after leaving my house, there were already 4 or 5 people there, which meant that I hadn’t just missed the bus. We waited for about 20 minutes before a fully loaded 61C passed us by without stopping, and I was treated to the wholly depressing sight of an elderly woman futilely banging on the bus doors as the bus driver basically ignored her (although it’s not clear what he could have done, since people were packed into the bus literally up to the very door itself). Then another 20 minute or so wait until a 61D picked us up and took about 10 minutes to get to the stop where I exited, and from which it’s about a 5-ish minute walk to the office.

This is clearly completely fucking stupid. I realize not many people know Pittsburgh’s layout, but the 61C and 61D traverse the Murray-Forbes corridor, which is a major artery that not only links residential areas to the two major universities (Pitt and CMU) but also takes people all the way into downtown. It makes zero sense to run buses through this corridor in such a way that people have to wait 40 minutes just to get on. What makes it worse is the total lack of coordination between the buses; last night, trying to travel essentially the reverse of this route, I was passed by 3 fully loaded buses before I managed to catch one, with buses showing up within minutes of each other followed by long stretches (usually a good 20 minutes) without any bus at all.

When I compare this with the time it would have taken me to drive to work (5 minutes to clear my car of snow, less than 5 minutes for the drive proper, 10 minutes walk from parking to office) it makes no sense for me not to drive. I don’t want to drive, and I don’t mind paying a 10-minute premium in time for not driving, but I don’t want to pay a 40-minute premium. That’s just absurd. Hell, I could walk that distance in less time than it took me to catch the bus today, although walking in the snow sucks.

But this isn’t really about me so much as it is about that grandma who was banging on the bus doors. Me, I’ve got options. For me this was an annoying inconvenience, but one that I can get around if I so choose. After all, I’ve got a car, and I’m also young and healthy so I can just hoof it if I want to. Grandma can’t, and shouldn’t have to. And when public officials undermine the transit system, those are the people that are going to get hurt the most: the people who can’t afford to drive or for whatever reason can’t walk.

I see this as a pernicious consequence of public transit being viewed by many Americans as something that exists “for other people.” Poor people ride buses; real Americans drive. And this leads to the creation of a public transit system that’s stupid and inefficient, and then that stupidity and inefficiency is used as an excuse to destroy the same system (which is still better than no system at all). Instead of having an efficient system that everyone can use in lieu of driving, we have a crappy system that no one really wants to use and which isn’t competitive with driving when viewed from the standpoint of time-efficiency.

3 thoughts on “A meditation upon buses”

  1. I would be remiss if I did not point out the pernicious effects of unions on public transit systems. Workers taking long breaks with impunity, being difficult to fire, and charging high hourly costs does not make the system any more efficient. And how much more maintenance and construction could be done – and at more hours of the day – if not for inflated union wages?

  2. I don’t see any evidence in Pittsburgh that unions are particularly harming the bus infrastructure. Anyway that’s kind of an orthogonal discussion, because I think that unions have value in providing their members with a living wage. Nothing prevents us from paying bus drivers decently and having a decent system as well; we can more than afford it if we so choose. The tragedy is that we never make that choice.

  3. Then the best part is when the rationale behind cutting public transit is because no one uses it. Why do you think no one uses it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *