Transit blog, day one

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Not off to a stellar start

This Monday morning lived up to its bad reputation. And, no, it wasn’t completely the fault of Cedar Rapids’ public transit.

Nonetheless, let’s start this off on a good note: I didn’t have to charter an ark or a speedboat to get to the bus stop. The rain finally agreed to a much-needed break, and I was crazy grateful for a blue sky and a few sunbeams.

I had a simple agenda planned for the first day of my public transit experiment. I wanted to catch the bus in uptown Marion, ride to the transit hub in downtown Cedar Rapids and switch buses for another short ride to the bus stop about a block from The Gazette.

Before anyone points this out, I’m perfectly capable of walking the five or six blocks from the transit hub to The Gazette. I wanted to ride today as if I had a disability that limited mobility, which would require getting as close as possible to my final destination. But time wasn’t on my side.

The sheltered bus stop in Marion Square, uptown Marion on May 2, 2016. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
The sheltered bus stop in Marion Square, uptown Marion on May 2, 2016. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

My plan to shuffle the children out the door to school and walk to the Marion Square bus stop in time for the 8:30 a.m. bus was thwarted by my 13-year-old son, who was miserable with a head cold. (This unexpected complication added to my anxiety level, knowing that I wouldn’t have a car to hurry home in if he needed me.) The boy requested I deliver his homework to the school on my way to work, which I did.

Dropping by the school and getting the child settled meant missing the earlier bus, and that set me back nearly an hour. The next one didn’t arrive until 9:12 a.m.

I was at the bus stop early so I set my computer bag on the bench in the shelter and stepped back outside to take a photograph. That completed, I strolled back inside to sit on the bench and wait. Unfortunately, a broken seam in the shelter roof had allowed rain to soak the bench — which, in turn, soaked my backside and led to the quick movement that had coffee sloshing onto my shirt.

The seam in the roof of the sheltered bus stop in uptown Marion is in need of repair. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
The seam in the roof of the sheltered bus stop in uptown Marion is in need of repair. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Well played, Monday.

About five other people soon joined me at the bus stop. All but one was insulated by headphones or earbuds, making chitchat difficult. I was able to learn that three of the five were taking the bus to work.

When the bus arrived, we boarded and I purchased a $3 day pass from the driver. As far as cost goes, the pass was a better option than paying the $1.50 non-discounted fare price for each bus I boarded throughout the day.

The trip from Marion Square to the transit hub was uneventful, and I have to admit I was thankful not to be navigating the latest version of road construction along First Avenue. The bus carried between 10 and 15 riders along the way, some taking the full route and others traveling only a short distance. One young man, for instance, carried a 12-pack of beer and boarded near the First Avenue Hy-Vee only to exit a few blocks later near Coe College. Most passengers made the journey while wearing earbuds or enjoying books or other reading material. The driver was professional and polite, especially when a disabled person boarded and needed a little more time to get safely seated.

Since I’d started the morning so far behind, I nixed plans to catch another bus and simply walked the few blocks from the transit hub to the office. Based on estimated arrival time for that next bus, walking shaved nearly 25 minutes off the commute.

Speaking of time, commuting from my home to work averages 16 minutes when I drive myself. This morning I boarded the bus at 9:12 and exited at the transit hub at 9:38 a.m., adding about 10 minutes to drive-time. Total transit time — walking, waiting and riding, but excluding the trip to my son’s school — was roughly an hour, 8:50 to 9:53 a.m.

As many readers suggested, I’ve downloaded and am using the smartphone app. If you’ve not seen it, you can get an idea of how it works by visiting rideCRT.com.

Let me first say that having the app is better than relying on paper copies or PDFs of the bus schedules and routes. The app offers real-time information, so it is easy to see when a bus is running ahead or behind. While the interface is a little clunky, the software is fairly easy to use.

I’m going to withhold final judgment until after I’ve used the app more, but I can already tell you there is a big strike against it. There is no option to plan a trip. That is, this app, unlike many other transit apps I’ve used, can’t calculate a transit plan that will get me from where I am to where I need to go.

This blog post by Lynda Waddington originally published on The Gazette website on May 2, 2016. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington/The Gazette