Monday, August 27, 2007

Victory over space and time using niceness

I sat down in the college center next to a man carrying several grocery bags full of random stuff, wearing a paper breathing filter mask on his forehead and talking on a cell phone. "I can redo the discharge papers, but they won't give me any more pain meds. What's the fucking point of redoing the paperwork if they won't give me more pain meds. Anyway, I'm going to catch the number 3 bus and go home." We were waiting for the same bus. This was my first experience with the Lorain County Transit system, and I was relieved to know I was waiting in the right place.

The LCT is not very functional. Apparently they are caught in a cycle of declining funding and ridership. The bus we caught was a little shuttle bus with only one other person on it. Later a woman got on who addressed the bus driver by name and said "just drop me off at my house." On the ride, Mr. Filter-Mask complained that none of the voices on the dispatch radio made any sense to him. "People don't say anything anymore. They're just blah blah blah. Driver, do those people make any sense to you?" The driver's reply was patient and polite.

The bus let me off at Transfer Point, a broken-pavement parking lot abutting a pile of broken bricks and a field of weeds. All the buses in the LCT system gather there periodically for people to make their transfers. The bus I was looking for (the 70) wasn't there, and soon the convocation of little shuttle buses broke up and the only people left in the lot were me and a man pushing a shopping cart full of video tapes. I had seen him get off his bus: the driver had let him use the wheelchair lift to get his shopping cart off the bus. One LCT van idled at the far end of the lot. I waited for about fifteen minutes for my bus in the skull baking heat while the man with shopping cart got his videotapes in order and began examining a pile of abandoned shopping carts. (I had to remind myself that I am in no position to look down on people who hoard videotapes.) Eventually I went over to the idling van to reconfirm that it wasn't my bus, and in general see what was up. The driver kindly radioed the 70, who told her he had made his last stop and was going out of service. (That's not what the schedule said he was supposed to do!) The driver then volunteered her cell phone so I could call for a ride, and even gave directions to the transfer point from the highway.

It was all very nice, but I still was defeated in my effort to get home. This morning, on the other hand, I was victorious. I have now successfully traveled between home and office using the bus system and my bicycle! I rode my bike to the Westlake Park and Ride, where the 70 actually arrived when the schedule said it did, took my bike on the bus and went took it to the transfer point. I wanted to get on the 3, but the bus was full, and no one wanted me to take the bike on board. The driver of the 3 said the 51 will get me to LCCC, it will just take longer, plus it has a rack on the front for my bike. I went over to the 51, noting that the buses actually sit in numerical order for their little meet up, and stared at the bike rack at the front. How does this thing work? A man with a large unkempt beard and a plastic bag full of clothing saw my perplexity and showed me how to unfold the rack and lock my bike in.

The 51 gave me an extended tour of the strip malls, residential neighborhoods and one small downtown area of the city of Elyria in Lorain County, and eventually deposited me at my workplace. It took two hours, but victory was mine! I am now at work.


Mrs. Coulter said...

My god. Over 2hrs by public transit? How long would it have taken if you had driven? The tragedy of public transit in this country is that with a few major urban areas exempted, our transit system is so poor that taking public transit is either a committed ideological statement or a function of poverty (i.e., can't afford car/gas).

FYI, DC is a city with a comparatively good public transit system. But when I do ride the bus, I often find that I am the only person on board who is not a person of color. Here bus transit is definitely a function of income/class. (The Metro, on the other hand, is more used by the middle class.)

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I think it wouldn't have taken nearly as long if I had been able to get on the 3. The whole experience, though, is evidence of the disrepair of the system. A better funded system would have had a larger bus on the 3 route, with a bike rack. Buses would be where they are supposed to be. Etc.

It is only 20 minutes when I drive directly, and an hour fifteen or so to bike it. I'm planning on biking home this evening.

Pippy said...

Sounds a lot like my experience of bus riding in Madison, WI, too, which allegedly has good public transit.
In fact, there was this dismal transfer point in the middle of a vast and forbidding wasteland of concrete.
One time, when it was especially cold, and all these other buses had come and gone, I was certain I actually had frozen to death and was in fact in hell.