Thursday, May 27, 2004

COMMUTING: That Pesky Bus Transfer

Tuesday, I had a quick appointment in Foggy Bottom after work. By 6:15, I was done and was standing at 22nd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, waiting for one of the 30-series buses to take me to my apartment uptown. A bus came, I boarded and moved down the aisle. Right behind me was a 20-something female with obnoxiously large sunglasses, who was called out by the bus driver.

"Excuse me, miss," the driver said is a tone that I thought was overly harsh.

She looked back, confused.

"This isn't valid," he replied, pointing to her bus transfer.

"You have to get these before you get on the train ... not when you get off," the driver said.

"Oh I didn't know that."

They never do, or at least they always do and pretend they don't. The reality of the bus transfer is that a good percentage of those who ride the subway and metrobus know that you're supposed to get a transfer before you board a train, or cheat. Bus drivers rarely check bus transfers. So it is really easy get away with it.

But today when I transferred to a 90 bus at Woodley Park, I noticed that my bus transfer said simply "METRO." Was that referring to Metro Center? The Metro in general? I normally start my evening commute at Union Station, and my bus transfer didn't say anything even close to that. So if I had tried to transfer to a bus at Metro Center, would I have run into trouble if I would have encountered a pesky bus driver who was particularly anal about bus transfers?

I'm not sure what kind of answer the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority would give in response if I used their complaint/comment service.

Much of the bus transfer guesswork will be eliminated by the end of the summer when SmarTrip is installed on the entire bus fleet. If everything goes to WMATA's plan, there will be automatic 45 cent bus-to-subway and subway-to-bus transfers via the SmarTrip system and innovative global positioning system upgrades on the bus.

But I have concerns that the plan can be carried out effectively. While I have very limited knowledge of how the system works, it would make sense that the system that controls the destination signage and the bus stop announcement system would be integrated with the GPS, so that a 45 cent transfer would be recorded accurately when buses come within the 2-block subway station zone in which transfers are valid. But any bus rider knows that WMATA's buses can have difficultly displaying the correct destination or calibrate the correct bus stop announcement program for any particular route. (e.g. On my way home, the 90 bus said it was the 54 bus, with a 90 taped to the window.)

Perhaps I'm assuming too much that WMATA would employ such an integrated system to do universal transfers. If WMATA does pull it off flawlessly, my faith in the system might be restored.

Driver Distractions. I was sort of amused by DC SOB's posting today about the car-bus collision at Connecticut Avenue and Dupont Circle for two reasons. First, there's a good chance that it's my old bus, the D2; and two, stupid people think they can park in what is a cramped bus turning zone. I have no sympathy for the owner of the parked car. They should have known better.

For other driver distractions, I noticed this evening on my walk back to my apartment from Newark Street and Wisconsin Avenue that a 90 bus driver pulling around to the terminal stop at the Giant Foods was rabidly tearing at her complex braids. As she was tearing at her hair at the four-way stop at Idaho Avenue and Newark Street, she didn't realize there was a line of four to five cars queued up behind her. That must violate a few WMATA driver regulations.


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