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Public Transit report

2012-08-07 02:39:43.416519+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

So I tried going to work via public transit today. I'd actually gone in last Wednesday, but Charlene picked me up in the evening. This was my first attempt to make it the whole day.

"In" wasn't too bad. The Golden Gate Transit route 80 stops at the end of our street, the bus is a fairly comfortable coach, the trip to downtown Santa Rosa allegedly takes around 35 minutes but actually took closer to 45, where I got on my skates and dodged the passed out drunks on the Joe Rodota Trail to work. Took me about 30 minutes this morning, I have reason to believe I can get it closer to 20. Maybe less.

So call it an hour. Semi-usable time, the bus jostles a bit too much for the laptop, and I have to keep some situational awareness to know when to get off, but doable.

Getting home was hell.

I got out of work and skated fairly expeditiously towards downtown. A few issues on the Multi-Use Trail, people who think that "Multi-Use" includes laying their bikes down in the middle of the path and smoking weed, casual bicyclist weaving all over and making it hard to pass, but still did okay. The Sonoma County Transit 48X leaves the Santa Rosa Transit Mall at 5:22, and I would have made it, if there was any mention on any of the transit related web sites that the Santa Rosa Transit Mall was, in fact, closed for construction and the bus was loading back the way I came.

So I got on the 48 which came at 5:32. One of 4 or 5 riders on the full-sized bus. I finally arrived in Petaluma, thrashed by the ride, about the scheduled 6:27. Maybe even a little before. The bus was loud enough that I had trouble listing to my MP3 player, bounced around enough that I had trouble typing, or even reading the screen (and I've got a pretty solid stomach), I arrived in town queezy, and walked slowly home.

And I was thrashed out enough that by the time I got off I think my MP3 player got pulled off by something and I didn't notice 'til the bus was gone. I need to go through my bags, but...

The whole thing about "the bus is usable time"? Not so much. I'd be way better off if I'd driven. The cost is probably about $6 more for the route in to take my truck, and $7.50 or so for the route back.

But let's talk for a minute about the transit information systems. 511.org doesn't even show me that route 48 that I took home. It shows the bus before, and the bus after.

511.org also doesn't acknowledge that anyone can move faster than a snail's pace. Even if you click "Additional Options" and "Walking Speed" is "Fast", you get something pitifully slow. And that option is lost every time you go back to try something different.

Why would you try something different? Well, that aforementioned Route 80 makes 3 stops that I could get on, and though it's convenient to walk to the end of Mountain View Ave, if I have to take a different mode of transport with me anyway (bike, skates), I may as well catch it at the later stops, because I can travel faster than it. But that later stop is about a mile and a half further, and the longest that 511.org allows is a mile on foot.

If I put in my home address, I only get options at the end of my street. In fact, I need to investigate a little further, but it seems that even with a reasonable walking distance, it'll only show me stops at one of the transit centers in town if I put in a downtown location

Thus I need to try to try a number of options. Although, as we saw earlier, it either doesn't know or is actively hiding buses from me.

Speaking of going back to try different options, it blows away some, but not all, of the options every time you go back. And if you type in an "Almost" match, like "Santa Rosa Transit Center" rather than "Santa Rosa Transit Mall", it then offers you a list of closest matches. Except that neither of them is what you want. So you try re-typing the option in that text box (and careful, the city field has been blown away!) and occasionally you'll get an answer, but most of the time you get "Your session has expired".

Let's not even talk about using this from a smartphone.

The Sonoma County Transit web page tries so hard, and gets a bunch of things better, but there's still a lot of boneheaded web design issues that fail hard. Is there no usability testing? Do none of these people actually use the web to get transit information?

And where the hell was the note that said that the Santa Rosa Transit Mall was out of commission?

This should not be this hard. Even in terms of information presentation there are tons of low-hanging fruit, and I have to believe that if the web pages and schedules are so bad that there are tons of other things that could be improved. Why, for instance, are they running a big huge uncomfortable bus with air brakes that slam the thing around for 6 passengers from Santa Rosa? Why aren't the bus systems running hub and spoke, rather than having the buses in between towns wind through and make umpteen stops in the intervening space?

Anyway, I actually really enjoy the 20 minutes or so of exercise between work and downtown Santa Rosa that this gives me, but I think it's worth the 6 or 7 bucks each way additional that it'll cost me to drive my truck. I'll arrive home more relaxed, having been able to listen to something on the MP3 player or radio, and at a reasonable hour.

And firmly believing that if our transit system were better run it wouldn't have to be that way.

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2012-08-07 06:53:25.566631+00 by: ebradway

The ride from Boulder to Golden is pretty smooth but I still have to print anything of length and I cannot write legibly. It's just too bouncy.

I've only fallen asleep and missed my stop once. With a foot of snow on the ground and 45 minute intervals, that was a pain.

And just wait until their is a service disruption (like a snow storm). RTD's online schedules are just HTML versions of their printed schedules. Even though the web can be completely dynamic, they can't.

I came to the conclusion that mass transit is operated based on customers who have no other choice. Very little effort is made to create a real alternative to driving.

#Comment Re: made: 2012-08-07 09:09:37.129532+00 by: meuon

Dan has discovered that "ground truth" is different from information presented on various unmaintained and unusable web interfaces that aren't dynamically automatically updated by actual bus locations, eta, routes and schedules. Awesome.

I would give up on the idea of "usable time" with a laptop or reading on a bus. It might be time for thinking and making a lists. Barely. I've had a lot of "downtime" lately travelling, and find it best to rest and clear my head. Make priorities, think about things. Change your expectations to match the experience. You had a nice exercise opportunity with a chance to rest on a bus.

Which reminds me, I'm back home, time for a bike ride before work.