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July 23rd, 2006

The Bus

When I visit a new city and take public transportation, I almost always use the local rail system: the subway in NY, the El in Chicago, the BART in San Francisco. But I rarely have ever taken the bus. I think the main reason is that I feel like to take a bus, you really have to have a pretty good grasp of the city’s layout and the bus’ route, something that’s hard to pick up when you’re only visiting a city for a few days. I always envision myself getting on the bus and finding myself on the complete opposite end of town not having any clue how to get back. With the rail system, there’s only so many places it can go because of, you know, tracks and stuff.

I did take a bus once in San Francisco and that turned out fine. And during my current trip to Portland, I used the bus a few more times than that. It was a tad confusing and required me writing a lot of things down to make sure I knew where I was going, but it went well. It helps that the bus drivers in Portland are actually friendly.

But, am I wrong in thinking that buses are not so much for visitors and more for the city’s actual residents?

Posted in Everyday Life

FROM: Cat [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday July 23, 2006 -- 4:52:44 pm
This is an annoyance of mine, because I think they should be for *both*. Portland's bus system is considered an "expert system". In other words, it helps to have an expert along.

There are reasonably simple ways to design things so this isn't the case.

For example, one of the first things I warned you about is that the same bus number can go entirely different places. This is dumb! It's not like we can only have so many bus numbers! Also, there are confusing stops on 6th. "Union Station" only goes as far as the Amtrak station, then the bus goes offline. Nonetheless, there are bus numbers below where it says "Union Station", so people think they can catch a regular bus there.

Rant, rant, rant. It's a good bus system, but it could be a whole lot better. Designers need to think more like tourists, because a system that works for visitors will work for everyone.

FROM: Cat [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday July 23, 2006 -- 4:54:08 pm
PS: for a great example of this, visit Las Vegas and use the CAT system. LV buses are super.

FROM: Steve A
DATE: Sunday July 23, 2006 -- 7:24:32 pm
Agreed on LV. For $5.00 a day you can ride as often as you need.

Many years ago in Hawai'i, the bus only cost 35˘. Now THAT was value! You could see the entire island of Oahu for a 1/10th the price of a beer (early 80s prices).


FROM: Monica
DATE: Sunday July 23, 2006 -- 10:46:47 pm
I think you're right, Ryan, for the most part. Tourists in D.C. don't take the Metro buses or Ride On. Ugh, that'd be a mess.
Madison's buses are supposedly hard to figure out (I thought it wasn't hard, but I sat and read the map/route book for an hour when I first moved here). We don't have any other Pub. Trans. options yet.

But--Chicago's buses didn't seem too confusing the one time I used them.

FROM: Merle [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday July 23, 2006 -- 11:18:49 pm
I think it depends on the tourist in question. I was in Portland for three days, with no clue as to where to wait for buses (or where they would go), but managed, and found them excellent. As a resident, I would take the bus if any was convenient (and did for years when it was), but currently bike to work instead.

But I know many people who would flat-out refuse to even try taking public transit when they were on vacation. It is "vacation", they would say, and riding a rental car through horrific traffic and getting lost is apparently a more efficient use of time.

(and, Cat, yes, Portland was confusing, especially since I could not get a complete route map -- but a day or two into it, I could figure out enough to get me where I wanted to go)

FROM: Aanen
DATE: Monday July 24, 2006 -- 8:18:40 am
I remember riding The Bus in Hawaii. The drivers would always say " Move to the back of the bus!" Even if the bus was empty! Hopefully I'll get to go over there again soon.

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