Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Transportation Envy

For the first six years of my life, my family did not own a car. I grew up taking public transportation from my “bedroom community” into Cambridge or Boston for lessons, work, movies, concerts. I love leaving my car behind and always use public transportation when I visit a large city. But in New Haven, it’s not so easy to be Green.

Yesterday was my first morning back at Gateway Community College where I have been taking science classes for the past year. The college is on a major bus route, and  it is just one bus, the “Z,” to Gateway if I walk 10 minutes from my house to the nearest stop. The class is at 8 am, and at that time of day, the bus runs every 10 minutes. The lot at Gateway is always full, and there are no bike racks, so taking the bus to GCC is for me a no-brainer. 

I can say with certainty that for most people riding with me, the Z bus is the only way they can get to their destination, and that getting where they need to go takes at least one bus before the Z. I am also sure that for some the fare is a challenge. Many are headed to the Department of Social Services (the next stop after GCC) or the medical center (one stop before). The majority exit at GCC with me. 

By the time class gets out, the buses run every 30 minutes, and the route is not timed to class dismissal. Gateway is 2.2 miles from my house, and an interesting walk back over a new bridge to the train station, to downtown, and then home. I discovered early on that not only was the walk a great way to unwind, but that I would usually pass “my” bus back just as I was arriving at “my” stop. So, I chose to ride one way and walk the other. I was exceedingly lucky and all through the first winter, spring, summer, and fall never encountered a weather situation where this plan did not work out.

The challenges of the bus did not really hit home until yesterday when I exited the college into horizontal rain. Walking home was not an option, so I went back inside to consult the schedule. Just before the bus was due to arrive, I dashed across the busy and flooded Sargent Drive to the bus shelter. (No, the bus does not pull up to the college to pick up passengers.) The shelter is small; perhaps 10 people were jammed in, and at least 30 more huddled outside, getting even wetter each time someone’s umbrella reversed. Two buses arrived and stopped, but refused to take passengers or let anyone out of the rain. A third one, actually “IN SERVICE,” finally parked behind the previous two and opened its doors, a good 10 minutes late. Ten minutes and $1.25 later I was at my stop and a 10 minute walk from home. I do not think I have ever been more wet with clothes on. But I shouldn’t complain. I had heard the chatter on the bus. “I still have two more buses.” “I’m lucky, I just have one.” I wondered how well the bus schedules dovetailed, whether the stops had shelters, and when these bedraggled riders would finally get home.

Those of you in bigger cities, take advantage of your BART and Muni, your CTA and Metra, your MBTA, and your MTA. Believe me, you are lucky to have them, and the fare is a bargain.

I really missed my car yesterday. But I’ll be back on CTTransit tomorrow. I hope the sun will be shining down on me as I walk home.

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