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

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Riding the bus

"Just you and me today," said the driver as I boarded.

I looked into the coach and was surprised by how big an empty bus looks.

Taking my regular seat in the first elevated row at the back of the bus I took out my pocket-size notebook and began drafting this blog post.

Yesterday the wife and I took the bus to the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. We boarded the No. 82 at the stop down the street from our house. The bus had a lot of people already and then, three stops later, two dozen middle-school-age kids and their chaperons filled every open spot. The bus was standing-room only until it stopped across from the bowling alley on Watt.

The passengers seemed to let out a collective sigh as the bus disgorged its bowlers.

Nothing like today's bus. It's summertime and the Sacramento State and American River College students who normally help take up space on the No. 82 are busy elsewhere. Still, by the time the bus reached Watt today, I had been joined by a half-dozen passengers.

On the trip to UCDMC yesterday, the wife and I rode to the 65th Street light rail station and then the train down to 39th Street. I had noticed the signs for the hospital shuttle at 39th Street before but never used it. On past visits, both the wife and I instead used the No. 38 bus. This time, however, I called the "parking" information number and learned that the shuttles run between the 39th Street station and the hospital every 20 minutes. Inside the hospital's complex, other shuttles run every seven minutes. And, best of all, they are free.

It was only after we boarded the shuttle and took the short ride to the hospital that I realized how close UCDMC is to light rail. We could have easily walked to the hospital that morning, but we were thankful for the ride in the afternoon after the wife finished her round of visits. We caught a shuttle from the Ellison Building to the main hospital. It was after 3:30 and we were hungry. We thought we'd catch a bite to eat across the street at La Bou. Silly us. La Bou closes at 3:30 p.m. And so does the diner just down the street. Not one but both eateries closed at 3:30? It's a conspiracy!

So we walked back to the hospital and caught the shuttle to light rail and light rail back to the No. 82. One of the "nice" things about having a weekday off and riding the bus on a monthly pass is the ability to get off, do stuff and catch the next bus. We got off at the Butano and Sam's Club stop and walked to the Michael's store. The wife bought some stuff and we walked to Panera's to buy some bread and, since we were now really famished, some sandwiches.

I digress here to give a cheer for the designer of the restaurant portion of Panera's. The shop offers free wi-fi and -- here's the treat -- power outlets at every booth. I set up my laptop and the wife and I checked our e-mail and had a relaxing and enjoyable break. Eventually we walked to Watt and El Camino to catch the next No. 82. ...

At this point, my notes from this morning's bus ride end. I had been busily scribbling while the bus stopped and started, letting people off and on. And then we stopped on Morse Avenue and I looked up to see a long line of elementary-school-age kids holding hands in single file, lined up next to the bus stop sign. After a brief negotiation between an adult and the driver, the hoard descended on the back of the bus, taking up every seat, including the vacant half next to me.

I tried to finish my notes, but it was soon just too distracting. The "indoor voices, please" lasted about -- oh, maybe, a bus length down the street. The kids weren't screaming, but each one had to talk louder to be heard over the other kid who was talking louder to be heard over the other kid.

So I put away my notepad and pulled out my book. I was surprised by how small a full bus looks.


fpteditors said...

"... the ability to get off, do stuff and catch the next bus..."
At FPT we argue that fares exist to hobble transit. Imagine the effect of no fares. The revenue lost would be made up many times in benefits to quality of life, efficiency, and local economy. The case of Hasselt, Belgium proves it.

John said...

In a country that can't see the value in paying taxes in order to provide universal health care, I doubt I will live to see the day when people will join together to cover the cost of transit operations so that everyone will benefit from the healthy benefits, both personal and communal.

I can hope, however, that a "weight fee" can be added to gas-guzzlers and a "free parking" penalty can be assessed and the combined revenue used to expand transit while holding down the fares.

With the economics of $5-a-gallon gasoline, it won't take a lot to entice more people to give transit a try. But transit needs major improvements, especially in places such as Sacramento, if it is to do more.

Anonymous said...

Sac RT is a small town transit system and its only going to get worse with more cuts.....