Sunday, January 28, 2007

BUS STORY # 19 (Snow Day)

We almost got a white Christmas. The big, slow-moving storm that whacked the Pacific Northwest a week earlier arrived with high winds and low temperatures. The next day, the snow began blowing. When the wind died down, the snow began accumulating.

Normally, snowfall here is pretty benign. We wake up to the fact, and the fact is somewhere between a quarter of an inch and an inch – just enough to turn the town into a postcard. The sun comes out, the streets roil with steam, and by the end of the day, the only evidence it ever snowed is in those places where the sun don’t shine.

This snowfall was not one of those. By the time I was ready to go home, we had over three inches with snow still falling and no promise of sunshine. I called ABQ RIDE and asked if the buses were still running. “Of course,” a young woman answered, sounding irritated by the question. I guessed the buses must be like the mailmen: Neither snow, nor rain, etc.

The ride home was uneventful. The buses were on schedule, the roads wet but passable, the flow of traffic close to normal. At home, I could see that we’d gotten a lot more than three inches. Home is near the foothills at around 6200 feet in a city that drops to some 4900 feet at the Rio Grande. We almost always get more snow up here. So I was grateful that tomorrow morning the bus driver would be dealing with the snow and ice.

The next morning, my car was buried. I made sure I left a few minutes earlier than usual; I knew it would take longer to walk down to the stop, and I really didn’t want to miss the bus on this particular morning. On the walk down, I discovered there was ice under all that snow. I was wondering if the buses were going to be able to stay on schedule when, to my amazement, here came the bus – neither early nor late, but right on time! It was going slow, and when it slowed even more and began pulling over to the stop, it began a slow-motion slide that ended when the front tire hit the curb. I boarded and saw a somewhat unnerved-looking driver I’d not seen before. “I can’t believe you’re on time,” I told her. She looked at me a little funny, then said, “I’m 20 minutes behind.” This was the first bus!

She pulled out and took the corner very slowly, and still we felt a brief instant when the bus slipped sideways on the ice. “I think that’s the road super behind me,” she said halfway down to Tramway. A minivan with ABQ RIDE on the door pulled up on the driver’s side. They stopped, and opened their windows to talk. They talked about the road and he told her the city crews had not gotten up here yet. He told her to keep it nice and slow, and he’d follow her for a while to make sure she was OK.

I was the first passenger on this morning – quite unusual, but I figured no one was going out if they could avoid it. A second passenger was waiting at the stop on the far side of Tramway. Once again, as she started pulling over, the bus went into a slide and stopped on the first bounce off the curb. The passenger boarded, told the driver she was glad it wasn’t her driving into work this morning, then sat down across the aisle from me. When the driver tried pulling out again, we were stuck.

The super parked and boarded the bus. He walked her through some maneuvers that got the bus freed up and ready to roll again. “If you see anyone waiting for the bus, just stop in the street and don’t pull over, and have them walk out to you,” he instructed. Then he turned to us and asked “How far you all going?” We were both going to Wyoming and the Rapid Ride. “C’mon, I’ll get you down there so you won’t miss your connections.”

The super’s name is Ray, and I called the Complaint/Compliment line that morning and told them they had a guy looking out for the roads, his drivers, and us passengers, and who was a wonderful emissary for ABQ RIDE. As it turned out, the other rider works in the same building I do. Small world. As for our connections, well, let’s just say it took us two hours to get from our stop to our job this morning. But we were impressed the city transit system was out there making the effort when everybody could just as easily have called it a Snow Day and gone back to bed.

There was nothing to do but laugh when, after finally getting to the office, I opened my email and read Administration had delayed the start of our business day until 10:00 a.m. due to the weather.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

BUS STORY # 18 (ABQ RIDE Bus Drivers Help Senior Citizen)

Each bus story I write is previewed by my family and friends before being posted on this blog. Of all the bus stories I’ve written, the story that has occasioned the greatest number of unsolicited responses is the story about the bus driver who helped get a woman out of what looked like a bad situation by getting her on board his bus. Virtually all the reactions were along the lines of how reassuring it was to know there were still Good Samaritans out on our city streets. This week’s story is along those same lines. From a January 11, 2007, ABQ RIDE press release:

ALBUQUERQUE – ABQ RIDE Director Greg Payne recognized Road Supervisor Leroy Ortega and Motorcoach Operator Dan North today for going the extra mile and assisting a disoriented senior citizen find his way home safely last month.

On the night of Saturday, December 2, the elderly man left his assisted living facility when a gate was left unlatched. The gentleman, who suffers from advanced dementia, walked to a bus stop and boarded a Rapid Ride bus. He was confused and could not tell the bus driver much information.

ABQ RIDE Motorcoach Operator Dan North noticed he was disoriented and needed some assistance. North contacted ABQ RIDE Road Supervisor Leroy Ortega to assist. The man was able to provide a phone number for his family, so Ortega called and left two messages that night. The first message asked where he lived, so he could be taken home. The second message said he had found the man’s address on an ID bracelet, and he called the assisted living facility and took him back there.

“I want to thank Mr. Ortega, and everyone else, who recognized a confused man and helped him,” said the man’s daughter Cathy Dunbar. “Being alone on a dark, cold night is a frightening thing, and certainly to someone in Dad’s condition, is life threatening. I want to sincerely thank the kind and caring people, especially Leroy Ortega, who saved my father’s life.”

“We have so many great people at ABQ RIDE who deeply care about the people in the community we serve,” said ABQ RIDE Director Greg Payne. “Leroy Ortega and Dan North went beyond their normal job duties because they could see this man was confused and needed help. Because of their caring and compassion, this gentleman was returned safely and was able to experience the holiday season with his family.”

Sunday, January 14, 2007

BUS STORY # 17, Part 3 (All We Are Saying/Is Give ABQ RIDE A Chance)

The new schedule is tight. The most I’ve waited between connections is two minutes (two minutes!). Most of the time, the connecting bus is either already at the stop or within view from the bus window. I’ve already missed one connection; I was within 10 feet of the morning Rapid Ride when it pulled away without me. That left me down on the corner of Central and Yale, meditating for 25 minutes on why the coldest part of the day is always just before dawn.

The good news is that, when the schedules mesh as tightly as this, I’m cutting 10 to 30 minutes off my old commute times. The bad news is there are going to be days when a driver is early or late or won’t wait. Based on this first week, that’ll happen about once every 10 trips. 10 percent. That’s a lot, but it’s still too early to really tell.

There is more good news: the schedule dictates I leave work in time to catch the 4:00 p.m. Yale. That gets me home right around 5:00 p.m. Neither my wife nor I are displeased with this turn of events. The bad news is I know there are going to be times when I won’t be able to get away by 4:00 p.m. That means a long walk up the hill well after 5:00 p.m.

So what would you do? Your anti-bus responses fell into two main categories: “A bicycle!” and “Do the American thing – drive.” Actually, I’ve given biking serious consideration. There are a number of pros:
· No fossil fuel consumption or emission pollutants
· Combines my workout time with my commute time
· Leave for work or home on my own schedule
· Continue to feel virtuous, and also manly like Lance Armstrong and like a kid on my old Schwinn Flyer!

There are also a number of cons:
· The cost of a decent bike and riding gear
· The 10-plus miles and roughly 1000-foot climb home at the end of the workday (The kid rides to work; Lance rides home.)
· Bad weather
· All the stuff I pack back and forth

One of my co-workers is a serious cyclist, and I talked to him about my possibly commuting by bike. Jaz* is not one to discourage anyone from taking up cycling, but he had some reservations about ending the workday with a climb of that distance and grade. Of course, he doesn’t realize that, behind this façade of an old guy, there’s an indestructible, buff young man . . . Speaking of which, one response from someone my age suggested he was “too old to be standing around in the cold, or the hot hot heat, waiting for a bus, or huffing and puffing up a steep hill” and thereby implying so was I.

Pro-bus sentiment took this form: “If you stopped riding the bus, you would miss seeing another side of people and that would be the end of the bus stories!!” For some time now, I’ve been of the opinion that we Americans will tolerate anything as long as no one messes with our entertainments and our conveniences. So here’s an interesting collision: the surrender of the entertainment of collecting bus stories vs. the inconvenience of commuting by bus.

There were also advocates for compromise: “Use the Park and Ride. This would allow you to maintain your admirable commitment to public transportation with the least disruption to your routine.” There was also the left-handed reassurance that “NOBODY would want to steal your car.” (I’m getting the cold fender for that one. I’ve tried explaining that I, myself, don’t feel this way at all, but there’s no reasoning with a car. They just don’t think the same way we do.)

I find myself agreeing with my pro-bus correspondents: I really don’t want to see the end of the bus stories, either. Also, I feel some responsibility for meeting the city halfway. ABQ RIDE listened to us and responded; I feel the need to return the gesture and at least try working with the new schedule. And, to be perfectly honest, there’s also the game: You gonna let the suits run you off the bus with their leaner, meaner schedule? Well, now, we’ll just see about that.

And so I’ve decided to keep riding. I’m ready to relax with the uncertainty of the connections. It’s distracting me from the other riders and their far more interesting stories. If the connections prove to be a problem, I’ll try the Park and Ride.

It’ll be good returning to some real bus stories next week.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

BUS STORY # 17, Part 2 (WWYD)

Sometime last week, someone posted a bright pink poster on each of the bus stop benches or bus stop signs along the section of the No. 11 route being cut to just four commuter stops a day. It is a simple statement of the facts and a call to arms – namely, to our city councilman and to the head of ABQ RIDE. It lists names and phone numbers. I emailed both already, but the truth is I’m feeling inconvenienced, not angry. I understand the numbers and the need to allocate finite resources for the greatest good.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I wrote because it appears others wrote as well. And ABQ RIDE has listened: the number of stops in my neighborhood has been increased from four to nine. I’ve studied the new schedule, and I have a shot at maintaining my routine if I get up 15 minutes earlier and take the 6:11 a.m. to work, and if the Yale-Rapid Ride-Lomas schedules mesh perfectly. A miss on the way in leaves me at Central and Yale and sucking the mop for 25 minutes. Same thing going home: I’ve got to catch the 4:00 p.m. Yale, and the schedules have to mesh perfectly. Otherwise, I wait another 20 minutes for a later Lomas bus that will only take me to the 7-11 just west of Copper and Tramway. That in turn leaves me walking 0.7 miles up a moderately steep incline hauling a duffel bag with a Little Playmate Igloo cooler, an organizer, and a bunch of magazines in it. Sometimes the shoulder strap gets crossed bandolier-style with the strap of my hefty laptop. It’s a formidable workout in good weather, and neither a fine nor pleasant misery in bad. It also costs me another 15 minutes.

Last week, a UNM student carrying one of those Razor-style fold-up scooters got off the Rapid Ride with me. While waiting for the light to change, I watched him set the thing on the sidewalk, unfold the handles, step up on the running board and – whoa! – I heard the rev of a small engine and I saw him go whizzing off into the campus. They come with motors! They’re portable! I googled “motorized scooters.” I found a lot of them, and pretty cheap, too. But most of them caution they don’t really go uphill. The ride from the 7-11 to home would probably burn out the motor on the first ride before I was halfway up the hill. I did find one that advertised it was up to the job: less than 20 pounds and $399 – shipping is free. Sigh.

There is the Park and Ride. I’ve got two options. The first is the official ABQ RIDE Park and Ride south of Coronado Mall. The upsides: 1) a Rapid Ride leaves within 11 minutes of whenever I get there; 2) only one connection to make – which lets me fine-tune my scheduling for minimal waits between buses; 3) a shorter commute time (which I have not yet calculated). The downsides: 1) it’s about a five-mile drive from home – half the distance I drive to work (My wife argues if I’m gonna drive halfway to work, I might as well drive all the way. My coworker, born-again environmentalist Elliott, counters with five miles times two times a day times three or four or five times a week times 52 weeks equals a lot of gasoline not purchased and burned.); 2) my car would sit in an unsecured lot for 12 hours. The Albuquerque Journal recently reported car thefts are up in the city by 40 percent this year. No figures on vandalism.

The second option is to find a place to park closer to home. There’s a bus stop at the edge of an Albertson’s parking lot a mile away, at the corner of Lomas and Juan Tabo. I figure I’d have to get the store manager’s permission to use it, but it’s a big lot. The upside: driving only two miles a day. The downside: still leaving the car in an unsecured lot for 12 hours. My wife’s take is my car could get stolen whether from these lots or the lots at work or from any other lots I park in – or even from our driveway, as once happened to her. So, she advises, park and ride until someone steals my car, then use the insurance money to buy one of those motorized scooters.

Elliott says, “There’s always the bike.” Meaning I could ride home from the distant stop across Tramway. Yes, but I’m not keen on lugging around a bike all day just so I can save 15 minutes riding home from the 7-11 stop. Besides, riding in bad weather is as bad as walking, and there’s the added risk of having to let a Rapid Ride go by if the bike rack is full – which happens not infrequently.

Of course, I could always backslide. 70 extra minutes at home every day, shelter from the wind and rain and cold . . .

And so, dear and loyal readers, I’m asking for advice. If the new schedule doesn’t work out, what would you do, and why? Email your responses now – trained operators are standing by.