Monday, January 20, 2014

Tales of a Charlottesville Bus Rider


A good public transportation system is essential for any city because reliance on the automobile truly degrades our quality of life.  When we moved to Charlottesville, Jon planned to commute to work on his bicycle, which he did until we moved to Belmont when, disenchanted with constant brushes with death, he switched to the # 3 bus which took him straight to work with no need to transfer.

Eventually I joined the # 3 bus crowd too--there was quite a community of regular riders.  We became friendly with a woman who worked in food service at the student cafeteria at UVA.  She would walk from blocks away to our bus stop--she had bad knees--and would spend her entire shift on her feet.  There was a guy, who we didn't know and never spoke to, but who was on the bus every day.  I'm pretty sure he lived in a supervised home for the mentally ill and he always got off the bus at Avon & Elliott, for the half mile walk to the "clubhouse." Some strange things happened occasionally.  The incident that stands out is the woman who offered Jon a blow job in the bus stop at 6:30 one dark winter morning.  Then there was the bus stop bear.

This sign graced our bus stop after a bear was seen in it.
Later the # 3 route changed and could no longer get us to work by 07:00, so we switched to the #4, which we could catch on Avon St and which dropped us off in front of the ER reliably at 06:45.  The #4 was a good way to get home too, as it went in a fairly direct route from the hospital to Avon St, where we had to walk just four blocks to get home.  It was never perfect--the #3 and #4 ran just once every half hour during peak hours, and once an hour during the middle of the day.  If I was working night shift, which meant arriving at work at 7:00 pm, there was no bus because day service ended so early.  Still, as friends in our neighborhood got jobs at UVA, I talked up the #4 as the best way to get to work on time.

Effective January 4, 2014 CAT drastically changed the routes.  The #4 no longer goes anywhere near Avon St., so that route to and from work is lost to us.  To get home, you can catch the #3 from UVA, but now it makes a huge detour south down 5th St. extended.  It took Jon nearly an hour to get home from UVA on the #3 bus the other day.  He could have driven all the way to Richmond in the same time, and he could have walked the whole way home in half that.  Now, the trick to getting home to Belmont from UVA is to take the #7 down Main St, get off somewhere on Market, and transfer to the #3, which by the time it is on Market, has finished its tour of Southwood and goes straight to Belmont.  If only the #3 ran more frequently than once every half hour!  I have tried this route a few times since the change, and your chances of waiting for the #3 for less time than it would take to walk the whole way home are slim.  I'm not going to stand at a bus stop for twenty minutes.

I usually walk to and from work, but I like to have the bus as a backup when it's raining or unbearably hot.  My usual work hours are 7:30-4:00.  The first day of the route changes, knowing that the #4 was no longer available, I was at the Belmont Park bus stop waiting for the #3 at 06:45--fifteen minutes earlier than I usually leave the house--but I'd checked the schedule on line and the bus was supposed to get there at :50 and :20 minutes past the hour during rush hour, starting at 06:20.  I waited and waited and waited and at 7:01 gave up and walked to work, fuming.  Jon called me to say that he'd rechecked the schedule, and while technically the #3 bus runs every half hour in the morning,  CAT eliminated the run between the 06:20 and 07:20 stops at Belmont Park.  I now have no way to get to work on the bus unless I adjust my work schedule half an hour earlier or later.

That day, I tried taking the bus home.  After leaving work at 4:00, I waited only a minute or two before the #7 came rounding the corner of JPA.  A promising start!  The bus made pretty good time--one part of the change is that the city removed a lot of bus stops.  I got off at Market & 2nd and discovered that it would be an eighteen minute wait for the #3.  No way am I going to stand in one place in the freezing cold for eighteen freaking minutes.  Then I remembered that the #1 bus dips into Belmont on its way to PVCC.  I hurried across the mall to Water St. and found, to my consternation, that the old bus stop--a major one with a big shelter and benches--had been removed.  I walked as fast as I could to the transit center, which is just a few blocks away, only to discover that the #1 would not arrive for twenty minutes.  So I walked home.

Later that week, I had a late meeting at the Cancer Center and it was raining, so I thought I'd give the bus another chance.  I walked to the bus stop in front of Jordan Hall, only it was hard to tell where the stop was.  There was a shelter--which I really wanted to stand in and read The Goldfinch while I waited--but all the bus stop signs had been removed from the shelter.  The actual bus stop was a little way down the street, with no shelter, so I had to stand in the rain.  This time, however, I was able to catch the #3 on Market St, but I'd left work at the irregular time of 4:15.  We've already seen that leaving work at 4:00 causes me to miss the #3, and leaving at 4:30 would also cause me to miss it.  So, essentially, there is no bus home for me.  The best I can do is take the #7 or the trolley downtown and walk from there.

I gave the bus one more try the next week when I had an appointment for my car at Cville Imports, which is near the intersection of Fontaine & JPA. In the past, I would drop my car at the shop and catch the trolley on JPA and ride into work.  The first bus stop on JPA had been removed.  Well, OK, I knew they'd spaced the stops farther apart, I'd walk to the next one.  The next one was gone too, and the next.  So I walked to work, about 1.5 miles, and I was late. The trolley no longer travels north on JPA.

This used to be a bus stop


 I don't think it's too much to ask to get to and from work without waiting at transfer stops for longer than it takes to walk a mile, but apparently CAT can't provide this service.  I know some of you are thinking: "You have a car, why don't you just drive to work?"  Because driving is the worst option of all.  I would have to drive past my office to a distant parking lot and then wait for a shuttle to take me to my office, and pay UVA for the privilege.  Furthermore, UVA employees get free bus passes, a very nice perk, which I appreciate, but it's useless if the bus can't get me where I need to go.  It's actually faster for me to walk to work than it is to deal with the driving/parking/shuttle nonsense, not to mention the traffic.

I realize that I'm speaking from a place of privilege.  I'm lucky just to be able to walk to work, although I'll counter that by saying that it's no picnic to be a pedestrian in Charlottesville.  If I had a dollar for every time a troglodyte in an SUV tried to run me down, I could retire and not have to deal with any of this bullshit.  I'm not going to be fired if the bus makes me late for work.  My schedule is flexible enough that I could adjust it if I absolutely had to take the bus.  For me, a two-mile walk in the rain is an inconvenience, but what if I were disabled, or had bad knees like our bus stop friend?  CAT removed three consecutive stops on Avon: Avon & Druid,  Avon & Elliott, and Avon & Blenheim, so some people have to walk much farther to catch the bus or no longer can get off where they used to.  The # 3 seems to function more as an "express" than a "local," which means you're SOL if you don't live near one of its hub stops.  How does the guy from the #3 get to the clubhouse now? 


18 comments:

  1. I've been noticing signs all over town with information that various stops are no longer in use and I've been wondering just what stops ARE still in use. From all the grumbling I'm hearing in real life and online, it sounds like far more people are unhappy with the changes than are happy with them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I noticed all the stops were removed from Park St. WTH?

      Delete
  2. This is fascinating and depressing. Years ago I also used to take the #3 directly from Belmont Park to UVA and it was faster than walking. Everything seems to have gone downhill since the transfer station was built.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an interesting observation. The transit center does seem like overkill for a small city like Cville with such minimal bus service. And it's not even open early in the morning so if you're waiting to transfer before work, you can't even come in from the cold.

      Delete
  3. That's so frustrating! I have a relatively safe bike route to and from work so I'm lucky that it makes sense to ride or walk. It has been too cold to ride of late and I've seen lots of passers by complaining about the new routes. I've even been asked a couple of times if I've seen a bus, only to sadly point out the little lime green signs. I hope this is just growing pains and there will be some logical readjustments shortly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope so too! A bartender at a restaurant we go to a lot used to ride the bus and Jon asked her how she liked the new routes and she said she drives her car a lot more now.

      Delete
  4. The rule here is, "Never take the bus if you can take the train instead." This grows more true every year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish we had a train or tram or street car system here.

      Delete
  5. I live in the neighborhood behind "the clubhouse" and do a fair amount of taking my life into my hands (aka walking). I don't take the bus very often because it never seems to be going where I want to go when I need to get there. Even less now. So I drive. A lot. But the parking lots in cville are bat crap crazy so that's not always very pleasant either. It's a problem, for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mass transit is still in its infancy here too. Not sure how I would get to my job if I had to rely on the bus system.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for your comments.I ride with your husband who told me about your blog. Good work. Now have you sent this to the CAT people? I am encouraging one and all to write to them and let them know how less useful it is to ride the buses now. They said on the news that they want feedback and will act on it in the summer. I hope so.
    It took us an hour and a half to get home via the Market St. stop to Belmont last week one eve and we were early to make sure we did not miss the bus. Very frustrating especially in the cold. I don't want to have to drive to work and I am unable to walk all the way home from UVa.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sent a tweet with a link to this piece to the City of Charlottesville twitter account. Probably not the best method, but some entities (UVA, for example) do carefully monitor and reply to tweets that they get.

      Delete
  8. Some questions, asked seriously to help me prepare a story.

    Can you rate the process by which these decisions were made? Do you feel you had the chance to influence the outcome? Why do you think the system was changed?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sean, I didn't hear about the changes until sometime in December, when the City of Charlottesville put out a tweet about it. I then looked to see if there would be any community meetings where we could give input, and there was one, on a Saturday morning, right after Christmas. Besides, that late in the day, only a week before the changes were to be rolled out, I doubt they would have been willing to adjust anything. I admit, I sometimes miss local news updates. I usually keep twitter minimized on my desktop when I'm at work, but if I'm busy, I don't have time to check it. I'm assuming the routes were changed to increase efficiency--fewer stops certainly means you cover ground faster, but many disabled people rely on the bus, so I'm not sure getting rid of stops was a good idea. I'm assuming they combined the #2 and #3 routes because ridership was low on the #2. The #4 was always a weird route, circling the same small neighborhood off Cherry Ave, over and over, so I can see why they redesigned it, but it's really annoying that it misses Avon St. now.

      Delete
  9. Wow, seems like what your town needs are some good vocal activists. It's good you're writing about this, and it sounds like your reader Sean is also going to write.

    It's very disheartening to see a city cut service and make it harder for people to use their system. Self-defeating.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I haven't had to rely on bus service for many, many years, but I have never forgotten how helpful it was to have decent routes/times. In this day of "green" thinking, why would they choose to minimize public transportation? Strange thinking!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Argh. I'd be so peeved to see a decent service on the decline--esp. one as critical as public transportation.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I agree with this 100%: "It's actually faster for me to walk to work than it is to deal with the driving/parking/shuttle nonsense, not to mention the traffic." I enjoyed about 3 months of a sweet parking situation at UVA, but as of Feb 3rd will be back to needing to walk/bike/bus/drive. So frustrating.

    ReplyDelete