Riding the Bus: Not Easy

Jul06_artbusI'm a transportation and environmental professional. Twenty-three percent of my adult life I have not had a car at all, and the rest of the time only one (even now--with a family of four). I have ridden transit systems in more than a dozen US cities and three European ones. I put time into studying maps and bus schedules so that I can get around.
So if it's hard or unpleasant or anxiety-ridden for me, then it's going to be virtually impossible (or intolerable) for the person who has either a difficult time or a low tolerance.

About a week ago I was in the Clarendon area and I needed to get to Courthouse. It's about a 12-15 minute walk, but I had lingered and was now cutting my schedule tight. If the ART Bus was coming along, I could hop on and get there in 4-5 minutes. Fortunately, I was actually meeting with someone who had the schedules for the ART buses on hand. I checked the schedule: it said 11:47 AM at Wilson and Highland. I looked at my cell phone: it said 11:43 AM. Perfect--I could be at the stop in about a minute or so.

p>I get to the stop and look at the kiosk. It says 11:45 AM for Wilson and Highland; my phone says it's 11:44. Why don't the kiosk and the schedule jive? Did I make it on time, or was the bus a minute early and I just missed it? I feel just a wee bit of anxiety wondering.

Refi_clock_tickingSo I wait. 11:47 comes and goes. I wait some more. . . 11:49. Now I'm getting a bit more anxious that it already came. . . or it's not coming at all--I've had the experience where buses just fail to show up entirely--. . .11:51. . .11:52. I'd be most of the way there by now if I had chosen to hoof it, but now I've invested 8 minutes waiting, and I'm shifting my weight from foot to foot, because I was already cutting it close and now I'm using up all my buffer. . .plus some. Do I hail a cab? Keep waiting? Run the 8 blocks? The next bus is scheduled for 12:05. I could go down into the Metro, but at that time of day I could wait 12 minutes for the next train. . .plus there's the extra time getting up and down the escalators.

11:53. Whew! Here it comes. The bus. I end up at Courthouse at exactly the same time as if I had walked (but $1.25 lighter). I have to cut out one task I was hoping to accomplish prior to my next meeting, but I salvage my schedule and am not late.

Tcoe_tool_clip12 The bus was about as far off schedule as possible - 80%. Two minutes later and it's 100% off schedule (10 minutes is the most a bus with 20-minute headways can be off; if this bus had been 11 minutes late it would have ostensibly become the 12:05 running 9 minutes early).

If I weren't a transit maven and booster--just a professional businessperson trying to get around Arlington--would I ever take another chance on that bus? Unlikely. In fact, I didn't see anyone else on that bus who resembled a businessperson or professional. If I hadn't had the highly unusual experience of meeting with someone who keeps schedules on hand and happens to know that the bus is called the number 41? Hardly. Easy? Not really. Stress-reducing? Quite the opposite.

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