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

Friday, January 4, 2008

Weathering transit

Being a transitarian on a day like today is a lot like being a vegetarian sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner with the family and looking at the juicy roast turkey and the savory stuffing and thick gravy. Is the principle really worth the price?

I left Sacramento for the Rochester, New York, area before the January bus passes went on sale. Since I didn't have any other pressing business today, I decided to pay $2.25 and ride the bus to work to buy my monthly pass.

Yesterday, I was in 7 degree weather with a windchill that made it feel like 0 degrees outside. The thought of having to stand in the rain today just didn't seem like a big deal. At least not until I experienced the effect of the wind gusts that topped 50 mph.

But, hey! I've more than once said a little foul weather isn't a reason to abandon transit.

Of course, it never occurred to me that transit might abandon me.

I decided to take the No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 10:19 a.m. Since it is just a little more than 1.5 miles from the college to my bus stop, I walked out my door at 10:18, righted the overturned trash cans and was standing at the bus stop by 10:20.

And I was still standing at the stop at 10:35, when a woman driving a red Saturn sedan stopped and rolled down her window.

"The bus isn't coming," she said. "There's flooding down the street. The CHP is diverting the traffic. Do you want a ride?"

I could have walked back to my house, dried off and driven to work, but I tend to be stubborn. Or stupid. Whatever.

"Yes," I told her. "I'd love a ride."

She took me to Edison and Watt Avenue, where I knew I could catch a bus to the Watt/Manlove light rail station.

Standing in the driving rain, waiting for the next bus, I was thankful that the wind gusts were at my back. I don't know how long I waited. It may have been as much a 15 minutes. It could have been much worse. The buses are only scheduled to run every 30 minutes.

When the bus arrived, I boarded and paid my fare with nine quarters and sloshed to the back. Out of the wind and rain, a puddle of water spreading beneath me, I called 321-BUSS to find out what had become of the No. 82 bus.

That's when I learned that my little bus failure was the least of Sacramento Regional Transit's problems. The entire downtown light rail grid from Alkalai Flat to 29th Street was down, as was the link from Folsom to Sunrise. I was immediately thankful that I had chosen to take the bus to Watt/Manlove rather than the closer Watt/I-80 station. But with light rail service stopped at 29th Street, I would have to hoof it eight blocks to work.

I mulled that walk as I negotiated the ridiculously convoluted customer service phone system. When I finally got a live operator on the line, I asked for the status of the No. 82 bus line.

"The No. 82 line is running," he said.

This, of course, is still another reason why I find 321-BUSS such a joy to use.

I explained to the man that, no, the No. 82 bus was not running, at least it was not running past Edison and Mira Vista. I told the guy that I had heard nearby flooding was causing buses to detour. What I needed to know, I explained, was where the detour was taking place so that I could determine whether I could take that bus home from work.

The guy put me on hold, and I stayed there. The entire call burned more than 13 minutes of my monthly cell phone allotment. When the guy finally returned, I learned that the Edison and Engle sections of the route near my home were being bypassed, but it would be less than a half-mile walk home from the start of the detour at Mission and Engle. Not perfect, but reasonable.

Eventually the bus arrived at the Watt/Manlove station. It was a cold, blustery wait for the train and an all-too-short dry spell on board before I had to get off and start walking again.

There is a certain point while walking in the rain when you just don't get any wetter. I reached that point about the time I arrived at work.

The trip, which on a sunny day takes an hour and seven minutes, had taken an hour and 40 minutes.

I wrote most of this blog post at my office, where I attempted to air dry a little before I started home. The homeward trip was straightforward. The No. 38 bus stops outside my office on its way to 65th Street light rail station. It's a useful alternative when the nearby light rail station is out of service. It was a short 10 minute wait before the No. 82 bus arrived. By the time I got off at Mission and Engle, it was raining lightly and the wind had stopped.

The next time I decide to tempt fate and brave violent weather to prove transit is a viable option, I'll wear my snow boots. The ball cap and hooded jacket with a thick sweater worked well. The sneakers were not a good choice.


Jon Q. RT Driver said...

Bravo John!

I was wondering if you were back in town ,and if you were would you brave the events of today.

At least I know I can count on you.

As soon as I regain my marbles, I will post something about today's glorious operational prowess.

Good Times!

Eric said...

That storm was ridiculous, wasn't it? Lots of rain, and such ferocious winds.

Transit here in the Bay Area was also pretty crazy yesterday. A section of BART was shut down, ferries stopped because of high winds, and SF Muni just about went haywire. As if the bad weather wasn't enough... Oh well, I guess we can always use the rain :)

Good for you for braving the elements, and sticking by your transit-first principles!

John said...

Sacramento Regional Transit can use the rarity of the storm's ferocity to explain away the disruptions, but RT needs to do a whole lot more to communicate with riders when there are disruptions in service. Later, I will post some of my suggestions.