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, April 3, 2008

The Internet rocks and Google Transit bubbles

Today, another guy named Anonymous added a comment to one of my posts. He said:

Uh, I seem to recall being able to get around on public transit -- in Sacramento and elsewhere -- long before anybody ever heard of the internet.
This prompted my snide rejoinder:
And at one time you could find streetcars in downtown Sacramento running so often that you didn't need a schedule.

At a minimum today you need the bus schedule book RT sells for a buck. RT's service is so sporadic and uneven -- half-hour service for awhile and then a 45-minute break; bus lines that only run during "peak" periods; bus lines that don't run on the weekend -- that someone who wants to use transit is REQUIRED to plan ahead. The Internet makes that easier.
Allow me to throw the wife under the bus as an example.

After having problems with late or missing buses two days in a row, I spent some time this afternoon trying to map out escape routes for the wife. I can imagine the conversation if I called 321-BUSS and explained that I needed help deciding what the wife should do if the train and bus don't meet.

"Get off the train at the Starfire stop and take the No. 80 bus."

"And if the train is late?"

"Then you will miss your bus."

"Oh."

The obvious escape route is to continue to 65th Street and catch the No. 82, which is the bus I ride home from work. Under the ideal scenario, the wife would get off at Starfire and if the bus did not arrive by the time that the next inbound train arrived, then she would board the train and go to 65th Street.

But, of course, nothing that involves Sacramento Regional Transit scheduling is that easy. The train that matches up at 65th Street with the No. 82 is the same train that is supposed to catch the No. 80. If the wife gets off to wait and the bus doesn't arrive, she might as well wait for the next bus, a No. 84, that runs a half-hour after the No. 80.

After consulting RT's infoweb.sacrt.com, I decided the wife is going to have to decide each day whether to get off at Starfire or continue to 65th. If the train is on time, she can play Russian Roulette with the No. 80 -- bus arrives on time, empty chamber; bus arrives late, misfire; bus never arrives at all, bang!

If she knows the train is running late -- or she tires of playing the No. 80 game -- then she can just stay on the train. She'll get home a half-hour later than if she made her No. 80 connection, but she'll get a ride all the way to her front door.

Today, the wife watched traffic on Folsom Boulevard as the train approached Starfire, looking for the bus. The train was running six minutes late, which meant that if the bus was on time, it would have already driven past the station. But as she looked west on Folsom she could see a bus approaching. She got off the train and was able to catch the bus.

Tomorrow? Who knows.

* * *

Three cheers to the Google Transit guys and gals for restoring the next-stop bubbles to the Google maps. If you click on a bus stop icon now, you will see a bubble that shows the next two departures for each bus using the stop. As I have mentioned before, RT's trip planner offers the same information, but Google's map interface is unbeatable.

8 comments:

Brian Goldner said...

speaking of streetcars in sacramento....
http://www.riversfrontstreetcar.com/

John said...

I love the idea of streetcars, and especially one that links Sacramento with West Sacramento. For too long, Sacramento has viewed the other side of the river as though the maps said "Here be dragons."

The Derek said...

Personally, they need a LRT line running across... sac was smart in making thier LRT lines downtown compatible with streetcars (at the expense of speed) - not that you need a train going 55MPH through downtown. Hopefully RT will be smart and not try to cut corners here and think ahead, a streetcar line compatible with LRT. Wow what a thought!

LRT = mainly commuter
Streetcar = mainly ped traffic (non existant outside 9-5 M-F)

LRT + Streetcar = more tranfers for commuters *yuck*

Maybe I'm alone here, but I think they are jumping the gun with the streetcar, they need LRT too. At least connecting to the transit center in west sac. There simply isn't currently a large amount of foot traffic downtown, yet. I say build the LRT, the only expense later on to add streetcars are the cars themselves.

Also, back on subject, Google transit now lets you type light rail station names instead of the address (such as 65th light rail, or florin light rail). Looks like I won't be doing a gold line directory...

John said...

Derek,

I agree that today the foot traffic to support a street car is lacking. But I think it will be there soon. Look at the number of high-end lofts and condos going in. Look at West Sacramento's building efforts. The street car line linking West Sac and downtown will attract additional development, at least on the West Sac side.

Wishful thinking, I know. But if you don't wish, nothing happens.

Brian Goldner said...

the ped traffic will come b/c of the developments that are being built around west sac & the railyards...
also, LRT wouldn't be terribly feasible b/c it's really only a few miles of track
besides, haven't u seen the new videos for HSR with the streetcar?http://www.nc3d.com/docman/video/13.html

besides, if the streetcar gets really popular they can prolly upgrade it to LRT and extend it to davis even

BusFan said...

The streetcar project is not a transportation project. It is a redevelopment project, using transportation money. Remember that when you ask why bus service sucks in Sacramento.

John said...

BusFan, that's a fair point. The equivalent of "developer fees" should be assessed against projects that directly benefit from transit infrastructure.

Or we could go back to the early days of trolleys in Sacramento and have the developers build their own system to serve their projects.

The Derek said...

Developes have to build streets, sewers, streetligts, etc in subdivisions. Hell residential developers have to pay into a "low income housing fund" if thier development doesn't have the required percentage of low income housing, but don't have to pay for transit. The way i see it is that if you own a building next to transit, you should have to pay at least a little to support that transit through property taxes. They do, afterall, receive benefits for being there. Look at the renaissance tower, which sits next to the busiest station in the system, not to mention quick access to both light rail lines. That kind of benefit shouldn't be free :D