There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Today was transitarian karma payback day

The dew-wet grass rushed up to deliver the exclamation point. This was not a good commute day.

The day had started out on a promising note: No trainee driver. Perhaps today the bus could get back on schedule. But I should have figured karma was controlling events. Even in the cloudless, windy morning light, a darkness hovered. When I congratulated the driver on losing the trainee, he replied that he was behind schedule today because of mechanical trouble.

We were soon on our way, and the difference between the cautious trainee and the determined veteran driver valiantly trying to make up lost time was thrilling to behold. This was starting out to be a genuine "Bus Driver Appreciation Day."

Cold water was splashed on my optimism soon enough. At Watt and Whitney a very elderly man with a walker and his female companion needed assistance boarding. This was one of the old buses with the front steps that transform into a platform with handrails. (The new flip-ramp is much quicker.) The driver extended the ramp, and lowered it to the sidewalk, but the couple didn't move. "Get on the ramp," the driver urged. The man with the walker shuffled on and the woman joined him. "Now, lock your brakes and hold on," the driver said. The bus ramp brought the couple level with the bus interior. It felt like an hour before the couple were settled and the ramp had been changed back to steps.

Eventually we were under way, with the driver again racing between stops. And then the bus stopped for a lady with a collapsible shopping cart. The driver waited as she made two or three attempts to board without collapsing the cart. Eventually, the driver left his seat and carried the woman's cart aboard. He helped her to a seat, collapsed the cart and placed it next to her.

When we arrived at Kaiser at 8:35 we were six minutes behind schedule. Perhaps, maybe, with a little luck we could still make it to Sac State close enough to the 8:45 scheduled arrival that I could catch the 30 bus that leaves for downtown at 8:52.

Nope. Not gonna happen. That reality struck me at Northrop across from Swanston Park, where a wheelchair rider and several Sac State students waited to board. In the transit equivalent of a NASCAR pit stop, riders in the front of the bus moved to the back, a seat in the front of the bus was raised out of the way, the stairs were converted to a ramp and lowered, the wheelchair was lifted onto the bus and rolled into position and secured at three points, the ramp transformed back to steps and the remaining waiting passengers boarded.

A professional pit crew couldn't have done a better job of juggling the various components. But the stop had cost three minutes. Now, I was forced to focus what was left of my abiding transitarian optimism on the question of whether this 82 bus might make a connection with the 30 bus scheduled to leave Sac State at 9:07. And here it looked as if maybe something would finally go right.

We arrived at Sac State at 9:01 and I exited the bus. Shortly, the 30 bus arrived and I boarded at 9:04. I even helped the lady with the shopping cart, lifting her cart aboard the bus.

Settled in the back of the bus, a feeling of foreboding followed the realization that the very elderly man with the walker and his companion had followed me to the 30 bus. While I read and waited for the scheduled departure, the driver was busy boarding the elderly couple.

I took a deep breath, held it a moment, and then slowly exhaled. Relax, I told myself. It doesn't matter when this bus gets to 22nd and L streets.

The scheduled departure time finally arrived, and we got under way. We dropped off and picked up passengers on J Street. I noted without rancor when the bus driver needed to help the lady with the uncollapsed collapsible cart get off the bus. We made our standard driver exchange at 29th and L streets. I tried to swallow my annoyance at the delay and I was doing fairly well when we arrived at Sutter's Fort and I realized I would be still further delayed by the departure of the very elderly man with the walker and his companion.

The bus had stopped, but the driver said he wasn't close enough to use the ramp. He moved the bus a few feet closer to the curb and then converted the stairs into a ramp. The elderly couple ever so slowly boarded the ramp to leave.

I watched as they descended out of sight.

"Oops," said the driver. "We're stuck."

I was tempted to get up and look outside to see how "stuck" we were, but instead I went back to my book. The driver exited the bus from the side door and walked to the stranded couple. He helped them off the ramp and then returned to the bus. He worked some magic with controls in a box above the door and was able to get the bus unstuck and on its way again.

Well, the commute from hell was almost over. I packed my book in my backpack and as the bus passed 23rd Street I requested a stop. I put my backpack on and waited at the side door.

The bus pulled to a stop just past 22nd Street. The doors opened and I saw the bus was several feet from the curb. I stepped down and then stepped off the bus and then I'm not sure what happened.

My knee struck the parkway grass first and then both hands broke my fall. I heard the bus doors hiss close as I brushed the dirt from my hands and examined my pant leg for damage. I brushed some dirt from my pants. I considered waving to the departing bus as I got back on my feet. Instead, I got my coffee thermos out of my backpack, took a sip and started my walk to work.

Yesterday, while lurking in the regional blogs, I came upon a post by Maya about missing her bus. She was disappointed by the bus service. I commiserated with her, but urged her to be more tolerant.

Today was transitarian karma payback day.


Block 8894 said...

I sympathize with your plight. I'm an RT Operator, and I can tell you that it irks me to be late, breakdown and otherwise due to mechanical issues. I break my neck (in the safest, most courteous way possible) to make sure my passengers arrive at designated time points on schedule or even a little early. Bottom line is that the majority of coaches we use on super busy lines were purchased by RT in 1993, and they are starting to show their age. I surmise that the folks in the Ivory Tower at 29th and N want to run them until the wheels fall off.

John said...

It sure would be nice to retire the older buses. But with the governor playing games with transit funding I doubt there's much chance of that.

Maya said...

Sigh. Poor transit funding.

However, the more of those elderly folks we have using the bus (which is inevitable due to the boomer age wave), the better the buses will get.

This is why I didn't file a complaint about the bus driver on the first part of my route (who I watched stop at my transfer point today, safely having already walked to it on my own). I know it's not their fault, and I don't think that RT should be putting fantasy numbers on their web site.

John said...

The bus schedules appear to have been set using the "average" ridership -- how long does it take a bus to travel the distance with X number of stops.

A very popular run, like my 82 to Sac State that is supposed to arrive in time for students to make their 9 a.m. classes, is just not an "average" run.

At the very least, RT should ensure that such popular runs only use the new buses. That flip-down ramp cuts the load time significantly.

For my sanity, I've decided to shift back to a later 82 line on Monday through Wednesday. I don't need to be at work before 10 on those days.