Sunday, June 29, 2014

BUS STORY # 399 (Train Game)

ABQ RIDE commuter shuttle at the Rail Runner station at The Journal Center.  Downloaded from the New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Photos. by busboy4
ABQ RIDE commuter shuttle at the Rail Runner station at The Journal Center. Downloaded from the New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Facebook Timeline Photos.

We went up to Santa Fe at the end of January to support the Alzheimer’s Association’s lobbying effort to persuade the state legislature to fully fund the state plan for Alzheimer’s.

Neither of us had been to the state capitol building, never mind called on our particular senator and representative during a legislative session. Both were quite an experience.

We took the Rail Runner.

It’s a sweet deal. Our tickets were $7.00 apiece after the dollar discount for ordering online, and another dollar discount for being old guys -- excuse me, Senior Citizens. That ticket includes free bus fare in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

We took the 11 directly to the Albuquerque Transit Center where we caught the train north. In Santa Fe, in addition to the bus system, there is a free shuttle from the depot to different areas around the downtown. The capitol building is one of those stops.

After business was taken care of, we had lunch, then made the rounds of our favorite places before heading back to the Santa Fe Depot.

Once we were back on the train, we started playing cards to pass the time.

When the conductor came by to check our tickets, he asked us what we were playing. That got us into a discussion of card games and board games, then games played with grandchildren. We traded our experiences of playing a familiar game made unfamiliar by an alternate set of rules our grandchildren had devised all by themselves.

He told us he’s getting his grandchildren hooked on Mexican Train. He said the toughest part was getting them used to the idea that a game could be played by more than one person at a time, on a table and not on a screen, and unaccompanied by beeps and boops and bells and whistles. When they’re at Grampa’s house, they play Grampa’s games.

His real love is chess, he confided. The kids just aren’t ready for chess yet. But there is this passenger, an older woman, who does play chess. Somewhere along the line, she brought a magnetic travel chessboard with her one trip, and they began playing.

They developed a pattern. The game stopped when she reached her stop, and he kept the chessboard with the magnetized figures in place until her return trip home.

One night, there was an emergency on the train, and he hurriedly put the board in a compartment before attending to business. Long story short, he lost the board. He not only could not recall which compartment he’d put it in, he couldn’t even remember the number of the car.

Fortunately, one of the cleaning crews had saved it, and he got it back. But they had to start a new game, he laughed. He told us he expected to see her on one of the runs tonight.

He also told us she was planning to retire soon. We asked what he would do without his chess partner. He thought maybe, just maybe, she’d keep riding anyway, for the game.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

BUS STORY # 398 (What? Me Worry?)

Downloaded from Impact Lab

I learned this morning just how seasoned an ABQ RIDE veteran rider I am.

I was taking the 11 westbound to downtown when I noticed the bus wasn’t turning south on Second like it was supposed to.

Several of my co-riders noticed, too, and they called out to the driver she’d missed her turn.

I wasn’t one of them.

I knew this driver. I knew she’d done several tours on the 11 route, and that she was a good driver with common sense, a good personality, and a good rapport with her riders. I didn’t think she had missed her turn, or had decided to hijack the bus and drive us all to Arizona. She was detouring for what I was confident was a good reason. I felt no concern whatsoever.

Sure enough, she explained a water main had broken downtown, and all buses were being detoured around the Second Street approach to the ATC. End of story.

The incident did bring to mind my experience with another driver’s detour when I was still a greenhorn and too entertained by what was happening to be anxious. You can read that story here.

And then there’s the story of the driver who really did miss his turn, and whose correction made even the stone-faced security guard laugh out loud. You can read that story here.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

BUS STORY # 397 (Raising Baby)

Downloaded from the Yunnan-Guizhou Tourism Geography Network.

A couple boards the bus, the gal with a baby, the guy with a stroller. They sit on the bench seat up front.

He’s got big pants, a white T-shirt, a buzz cut, tattoos on both arms, and script tattooed along his left jugular. She’s got black jeans and a print, modestly scoop-necked blouse with an elaborate tattoo rising out of the scoop.

The kid is less than a year, cute as a button. He’s sitting on mom’s lap, looking happy and content.

The next thing I realize about the couple is that they’re talking to one another. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but what I mean is they’re talking to one another like they’re not married. There’s too much attentiveness, too much animation and balance.

The guy reaches over and puts his hand on the kid’s head, then covers the kid’s face with it and shakes it a little. He makes baby talk while he’s doing this, and I can see the kid trying to squirm out of the hand.

He quits, then does it again. Mom doesn’t look the least bit perturbed. She’s watching the baby the whole time, and appears to be enjoying all this.

Then the guy does a kind of polk-tickle-polk-tickle, pulling back with his hands in a fighting stance, then back to the polk-tickle. The kid flails both hands toward the guy’s. Both grown-ups laugh approvingly.

At first, I am uncomfortable with what I’m seeing. It feels like there’s a cruel, even violent edge to the play. I find myself thinking about how the guy himself was probably raised, about the environment they’ve grown up in, about how the kid is learning early it’s a tough life and you gotta be able to take care of yourself...

But then I see the kid is smiling. He doesn’t look upset, or like he wants to cry. I’ve seen him frown, as if to work out what’s happening here, then try and deal with it, first by evasion, and when that didn’t work, by meeting it head on. But I can see in his face this is a game, and he’s up for it.

The game stops, and he tries to stand up. He’s up for just a moment, then topples into mom. Both mom and the guy let him know how much they approve this effort, what a good kid he is. He smiles big. At both of them, so I know he isn’t just taking refuge in mom.

The guy pulls the cord and starts to get up. She says something to him, and he starts searching his voluminous pants pockets. He finally finds what he’s looking for and hands her a cigarette. As he’s walking toward the door, I hear her say, “Call me.” And then she takes the kid’s hand and waves it after the guy. “Goodbye, Gino.* Goodbye, Gino. Goodbye, Gino.”

Husband? Probably not. Brother? Cousin? Boyfriend? She wishes? I don’t know.

What I do know is the kid is loved. I know this from watching him the whole time, and when I think about it, from mom, too. And I’m surprised. It’s not the way I’d do it. But the bus never seems to get tired of showing me how much bigger the world is than mine.


* Real name changed.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

BUS STORY # 396 (Sun Van)

Photo by Busboy

From the ABQ RIDE website:
  • Sun Van, ABQ RIDE's paratransit service, provides accessible transportation to persons residing in or visiting the metro area whose impairment makes it impossible to ride the fixed route service.
  • All permanent riders must be ADA-certified through an interview process at the ABQ RIDE office. Applicants must fill out an application form and call for an interview.
  • ABQ RIDE Paratransit provides origin-to-destination service to and from any address in Albuquerque and most of Bernalillo County.  Door to Door service is also available upon request at time of reservation.
  • Service hours are the same as the fixed-route service.
  • The fare is $2 for each one-way trip, which can be paid for with coupons or cash. Coupons are available at ABQ RIDE. Call 243-Ride (V/TTY) for other sales locations.
  • Advance reservations are required, and reservations are accepted three days in advance when made Saturday through Thursday; On Fridays, reservations are accepted five days in advance. Rides must be cancelled two (2) hours prior to the scheduled ride.

It had already occurred to me the paratransit system just might be part of my not-so-distant future before I read ABQ RIDE’s invitation to a public meeting discussing the updating of the Sun Van rider eligibility process. I’d never attended a city public meeting before, and this looked like a good one to start with.

The room was large, the attendance small, but spirited. ABQ RIDE was there to explain why it needed to update its processes (to make sure their eligibility criteria were ADA-compliant; to make sure the criteria were inclusive), and how it was going about doing this (by hiring a consultant whose expertise is public paratransit; by looking at “best” systems in the U.S. and Canada; by reviewing ABQ RIDE data for paratransit use in the community.)

There were two reasons given for doing the review now. One was that it had been twenty years since the program had been established and many of our processes were outdated. The other -- the one it seems everyone else in the audience was waiting for -- is that the number of active riders* using Sun Van had gone up 66% over the past five years. It became apparent from the way many of the questons were posed that a large part of the audience was convinced the real purpose of the revision was to cut current and future Sun Van users to accommodate the revenue decline in the wake of the Great Recession.

My own between-the-lines reading was this: probably some riders were being given eligibility inappropriately. But I suspect the far greater concern is for citizens who meet the criteria not being given eligibility. This is lawsuit territory. Both lapses would be tied to the credentials of the evaluators. Current best practice has eligibility determined by licensed physical therapists who not only assess the person applying, but often the bus stop environment that person is using. This as opposed to ABQ RIDE’s current and long-standing practice of using staff with no background in rehabilitation. One good lawsuit settlement based on an unqualified and erroneous rejection would likely make providing more resources for the increasing number of riders look really cheap by comparison.

Still, many in the audience were convinced ABQ RIDE intended to limit the criteria to exclude both current and future riders. Bruce Rizzieri, ABQ RIDE's director, explained the criteria were ADA criteria, not ABQ RIDE criteria, and that the city could not alter the criteria even if it wanted to, which he made clear it didn’t. I’m not sure he changed anyone’s minds, but I thought you would have to be completely invested in your conspiracy theory to miss that he was making nothing but sense.

While both the consultant and Rizzieri made it clear no criteria had yet been drafted, there was plenty of input from members about what should and should not be taken into consideration.

There were also any number of questions and comments having nothing to to with Sun Van. Rizzieri ended up answering as many questions as the consultant because the content fell outside the realm of the meeting’s purpose.

This is the first time I’ve see Rizzieri, and I have to say, I was impressed. No matter how many times a question had already been asked, no matter how long and tedious the question, no matter how much commentary loaded onto the question, he stood patiently, attentively, eyes on the questioner, no body language betrayal of impatience or frustration (unless you read into the gum chewing), and waited all the way to the end of the question before answering clearly and succinctly.

I left early, after the presentation had been completed and all that was left was for everyone who still wanted to say something about anything to say it. I left with the understanding the process had only begun, that the data collected by the consulting team had to be analyzed before any proposals for specific changes could be made. The city was trying to keep us informed and involved. But I’m pretty sure a lot of my fellow attending citizens left convinced whatever was coming was already a done deal, and it wouldn’t be good.

Like old age, public service is not for sissies.


* “Active riders” are the number of riders using the services, as distinct from “ridership,” the number of rides those riders are taking. Or: I am one active rider who accounted for 52 of the total ridership numbers for last month.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

BUS STORY # 395 (What Happens On The Bus Stays On The Bus)

ABQ RIDE fridge magnet by busboy4
ABQ RIDE fridge magnet, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

Let me start by saying that I find ABQ RIDE and its schedules quite reliable. Let me add that, based on what I read on blogs covering other bus riders’ experiences on other metropolitan public transit systems, ABQ RIDE is very reliable.

That is probably why what happened this afternoon is a bus story here in Albuquerque.

I got off the Red Line at Louisiana and Lomas. There was no one waiting at the Lomas eastbound bench -- a disheartening sign because it often means you just missed the bus that picked up all the others that were waiting at that stop, which means you’re gonna be waiting the better part of 20 minutes for the next bus.

I was eventually joined by two walk-ups and a rider who got off the Red Line after mine. After 30 minutes, we started talking. Something was wrong.

One guy, an older guy, suggested the high school graduations on the State Fair grounds may have backed up eastbound traffic on Lomas.

One of the women thought, as I did, there may have been a breakdown. She called 311.

“311” is the name we all know for the “Citizens Contact Center.” It is, in my opinion, one of the smartest things the city has ever done. It is a single-point triage system for whatever it is the caller needs from his or her city government, and the caller is either given the information needed or is connected to the appropriate office.

One of the things 311 is often called upon to do is to tell people why their bus wasn’t where they think it should have been when it should have been. 311 told the woman who called they knew nothing about any problems with the eastbound 11. This is the same experience I’ve had on the few occasions I’ve called 311 wondering what happened to my bus.

I’m pretty sure this is not because the folks at 311 are covering up. What is more likely is that ABQ RIDE is not informing 311 of problems with the service.

I figure that might be because a combination of decreased revenues and anti-tax sentiment means people are over-extended, which in turn means no job is being done as well as it should and could be. The primary focus at ABQ RIDE is on getting the schedule back on track, not notifying 311.

On this afternoon, however, my would-be co-rider introduced me to a second consideration. When she had put away her cell after being told no problems with the eastbound 11 had been reported, she told us that meant the drivers weren’t calling in the problem.

And, she explained, the reason they weren’t calling it in is because they get dinged for being off schedule.

But what if the bus breaks down, a kid asked

Oh, that one they call in. They can’t be dinged for that, she explained. And that reminded me of a story I posted, “To Garage.” In this story, I tell about overhearing a conversation between a driver and dispatch, in which the driver is arguing his bus really is unsafe.

This gives the woman’s story some credibility. And, having been an employee rather than an employer all my life, I have no difficulty imagining an environment in which the last thing I am going to do is penalize myself by following some directive invented by some suit with no on-my-job experience who needs his stats to look good for some other bigger suit who is farther up the line than he is, especially when it is something beyond my control.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean my co-rider is actually correct about all this.

As it turned out, it was some forty minutes later when our bus was finally sighted. You can imagine the reaction when it got close enough for all of us to read the signage: “Bus Full.” And sure enough, it passed us right on by.

One of the walk-ups unloosed a string of profanities, then stormed off up the sidewalk

The rest of us waited another ten minutes for the next bus which the older guy told us was the one actually scheduled for the time it was now.

Of course we asked the driver what had happened. He told us nothing had happened as far as he knew. He hadn’t heard anything about any problems. As if we were the very first riders boarding his bus who’d been passed up by the earlier bus or buses.

Under the circumstances, it didn’t seem like the best time to ask him if he got dinged for reporting his bus was late when mechanical malfunction wasn’t the cause of the tardiness.