The Folly Of Buses, Part XII

Yesterday, I dropped off the car I use on the days I drive to work (my wife’s ancient Honda Civic) so the squeaky brakes could be looked at. I figured I’d take the bus from work to the brake shop.
I work directly on the route of the 383 (Research Blvd) and the brake shop is pretty close to a 383 stop (10 minute walk). No problem, right?
Problem 1: This bus runs every half-hour. Not a big deal when I thought the brake shop was open until 6; but then I called and found out I had to be there by 5. This meant I had to hop on the 4:16 (actually a few minutes later, since that timepoint was for the Pavillion Park & Ride a mile up the road).
So I walk out of the office at 4:10 and walk along Research (US 183) looking for the stop. First problem: no stop until Braker – a ten minute walk. But no bus passes me, so we’re doing all right so far.
I get to the bus stop at about 4:20, which is about when I figure an on-time bus would arrive there anyways, given the 4:16 timepoint before. I wait.
4:25 comes and goes. A number 3 bus goes by. As it turns out, this would have been a good one to hop on (a longer walk at the other end plus a layover at this end of the route made me pick the 383 originally).
4:30 comes and goes.
4:35 comes and goes.
4:40 comes and goes. Another number 3 bus comes by. At this point, I’m out of options. I get on and request a transfer, anticipating that I won’t be able to get the car and I’ll just have to bus it all the way home (not that bad since at the shop, I could pick up the number 5 stops a block away from our house).
The bus gets to the layover point and waits for 5 minutes; then starts heading south again. I go by my old workplace and arrive at Anderon and Burnet at 5:00, ready for the (15 minute) walk to the brake shop, which was supposed to close at 5. Note for suburbanites: the number 3 never had fewer than 5 people on it, even at the end of the route where I got on; and people got on or off at about every quarter-mile, despite this being the far suburban section of the route (it continues all the way to downtown, getting much more crowded as it does).
I hoof it quickly to make it in 15 minutes. One guy is there holding the shop open for me. I apologize profusely and look like a big sweaty ass while doing so.
Anybody else think more investment in the bus system is better than building rail? I don’t know for sure what happened to the 383; but here are some possible reasons it didn’t show up through 4:40:

  1. Got stuck in traffic (local buses don’t have any priority over cars; even so-called rapid buses rarely do)
  2. Broke down (buses are much more likely to break down than trains)
  3. Operator unavailable (buses require substantially more human operators per passenger than do trains)

Unless you’re being served by a route a bit more frequent than the number 3 (and there are only a handful that are), the unreliability of buses makes them untenable for commuters who have any choice in the matter. (If a bus is arriving every 5-10 minutes, one being late or missing doesn’t kill you, but otherwise you’re in really bad shape).
This is what some people don’t get about light rail. Even if it was still slower than your car, a reliable form of public transportation would be much more attractive to people who have a choice than the current unreliable bus system or the future unreliable rapid bus line. I’m willing to spend 5 or 10 more minutes getting to work if I get to read a book on the way. I’m not willing to do so if half the time it ends up taking 30 minutes longer, and I never know whether today is one of the on-time days or not.
The next scheduled 383 would have arrived at Pavillion at 4:56 PM.

BRT: The R stands for unReliable

Today, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway to get on the “express bus” to northwest Austin (there’s a stop near my new office). This works pretty well most of the time. I don’t have a shower at work and am out of shape right now; so I take the easy trip in the morning and then bike home in the afternoon.
There’s a 983 bus every hour (most of the buses on this route run normal southbound and then switch to a different route northbound to pick up people in far suburbia; only a few buses ‘deadhead’ on the reverse-commute – but they are quite full; today’s bus had about 20 people on it).
The bus was supposed to arrive at 7:48. It arrived at 8:02. The interesting thing is that had this bus broken down (as they do constantly, unlike rail), the next one would have been at 8:48. Ever sat at a bus stop for an extra hour?
One of the greatest advantages of light rail over bus rapid transit (to which these express buses are very similar) is reliability. They simply don’t break down; and barring Houston-like idiot drivers, they don’t get into accidents. They don’t get stuck in traffic (90% of US so-called rapid bus installations end up without dedicated runningways, meaning that cars can use the bus lane and therefore the bus can still be stuck in gridlock). EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT A MINUTE FASTER, you won’t be stuck at 8:01 wondering if you’ll be waiting another hour or not.
Unfortunately, BRT is what Austin is going to get, thanks to a local pantload state legislator from a suburb that doesn’t even pay into the system. Why nobody is willing to stand up to this guy is beyond me; Austin itself voted something like 55-45 for light rail even with all of its half-baked problems at the time.

First day biking into work at new job

With new baby and new job, I don’t have a ton of time right now. But today’s combo bike-bus trip into work touched on the following papers I’ll eventually write:

  • Why suburbanites see only empty buses
  • Why frontage roads are bad for cars
  • Why frontage roads are bad for public transportation
  • Why we need to set aside 15% of that one category of federal MPO money for bike/ped projects
  • Auto drivers are nicer than you think
  • Fancy bike locking systems are a good intention gone awry

A few years ought to do it…
The trip went smoothly except for the surprise when the bus pulled up to 38th and Lamar and didn’t have a bike rack in front. Luckily there was another guy there doing the same thing who showed me that on the new fancy buses, they’re supposed to go in as luggage(!).