Tuesday, December 30, 2008
As 2008 comes to a close, it's time for me to jump on the year-end reflection bus... below are a few things TQL noted in 2008.
1. The CDTA Trip Planner seemed nifty when it was first introduced. On closer examination, I noticed it was rather clunky and didn't provide clear information on the shuttle stops.
2. The CDTA monthly pass (called the Swiper) could be a lot more consumer-friendly by (i) changing the valid dates to be good 30 days from the first day of use, rather than based on the calendar month, and (ii) offering refunds for lost or stolen cards. Both of these are standard over at the MTA.
3. My good friend took me grocery shopping at the Slingerlands Chopper. We noticed some major disparities in customer service between the city and the 'burbs. I've since traveled back there a few times via bus. The best thing about letting CDTA take me to the Slingerlands Price Chopper is that I don't have to get confused by the obtuse signage of the Slingerlands roundabouts.
4. I experienced the overcrowded Route 5 corridor first-hand one Sunday night when I was late picking my daughter up from a friend's house.
5. In the final days of my relationship with CDTA's Trip Planner, I noted that CDTA didn't program the Trip Planner with the holiday schedule over Memorial Day. I was thrilled to start something new with Google Transit which seemed to make my life easier. When Labor Day rolled around, I ran another test of inter-office communication, which yielded different results than the Memorial Day experiment.
6. I dreamt of light rail, contemplated car sharing, and kvetched about CDTA's circular reasoning (which they occasionally dismantle, but not consistently).
7. I'm not nearly as productive a blogger as I could be, and I've been happy to share info with the fab folks at AOA -- including CDTA's new jingle and the innovative partnership between the Affordable Housing Partnership and CDTA that my friend "Lucy" tipped me off about.
8. I highlighted a few bus adventures and encounters. Some fun. Some not so fun. I contemplated neighborhood planning and learned a bit of Albany's trolley history from my friends, Nancy and Gregg.
9. Gun violence surged in the city. The death of a 10-year old girl sixteen blocks from my home in May and the killing of a college student two blocks from home in October spoke volumes to me about how Albany's neighborhoods have been neglected.
10. I worked with a bunch of great people to fight CDTA's fare hike. The fun all started when I called my friend Roger November 30 to discuss taking action against the hike. I dragged an anti-automobile boy to the public hearing on December 4 (with the plan to get some Crisan gelato after the hearing no matter how cold it was outside), and we met a few people who were ready to work to Stop the Hike. Unfortunately, the board passed the revised fare increase without considering that they could have real options not far ahead if they would only push for them (yes, the 7th Avenue subway line needs help-- but Capital Region residents and visitors deserve affordable mass transit too!) ... still, I look forward to working with Ray Melleady and the CDTA crew in the future.
As for my thoughts for 2009 - check out what I told my friends at All Over Albany.
Happy New Year.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
We're getting a petition together (hoping to have it available in hard copy and online by the weekend) which we'll submit to CDTA on December 12 - the last day to submit written comments.
Here are the points we're focusing on:
1. The proposed 50% fare hike and service cuts are too steep and will hurt low income people who depend on CDTA as their primary mode of transportation.
2. The proposed 50% fare hike will likely send many of CDTA's new riders who take the bus by choice, right back to their cars.
3. CDTA argues that higher fuel costs are part of what is driving up operating costs, with the recent drastic drop in fuel costs, it doesn't appear that a 50% fare hike can be justified.
Our coalition understands that CDTA is under-funded, and we are calling for government to make an investment in mass transit so that fares stay affordable for those who depend on it, and attractive to those who might want to give the bus a whirl.
Public Hearings have started already -- they were held Monday in Saratoga County, yesterday in Rensselaer County... if you've got reports from either of those locations, send in comments. I'm eager to hear about the turnout and the fare increase feedback from the public.
Tomorrow is Albany County - 4:30 - 8 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Albany Public Library. Your so-called transit riding superhero will be there.
Monday, December 8 is Schenectady - 4:30 - 8 p.m. at the Schenectady County Public Library.
I was under the impression that the hearings would provide details on the proposed service cuts. But I've seen no reports, there's nothing about the specifics on the website, and when I asked a bus driver this morning if he'd heard about pending service cuts, he said he'd heard nothing. So... when are they going to tell us? If you know, please share.
Monday, November 17, 2008
- Where was my invitation to the affair? Lost in the mail, I assume. Actually, transit riders, including so-called superheroes, are not standard NYPTA members.
- CDTA's Executive Director, Ray Melleady's rise to the President of this organization. I hear before he came to our neck of the woods, Melleady started out as a mechanic for a Pennsylvania transit authority.
- Whether anyone from Rochester Transit shared their strategies for reducing bus fares to $1 per ride...looking at the program, the answer to that question would be, "Not this time around."
Can anyone tell me if the wonders of modern day trolleys were discussed at the meeting? I know trolley, train or other transit service that moves us along faster than our current system, is part of my hope for the future of public transportation for our region.
Meanwhile, in current local transit news, Roger Green tells us that Citizens for Public Transportation will hold their monthly meeting this Wednesday, November 19, at 7 p.m. at the Albany Public Library. Topic: Fare Hike.
Friday, November 7, 2008
This year was different. My daughter declared the first week of school, "I'm studying Barack Obama and John McCain." And so it was...the first Presidential election where she was engaged in the race -- big time. My child was much more certain than I was of an Obama victory; all of her polling told her so. There were only 2 kids in her class of sixteen supporting McCain. The 4th and 5th grades held a mock election at school and Obama won by an overwhelming majority. Finally, she argued, according to the Nick online poll, Obama won -- so duh, Mom... Obama was clearly going to be our next President.
My African American daughter heard me talk of the Bradley effect, but really, she doesn't get racism...yet. Not the way that I do, certainly not the way that her dad does, absolutely not the way her grandparents, who grew up "Negroes" in the segregated south do.
Priorities. I made a decision to stay home and watch the returns from the couch with the kid.
Early in the night, I was feeling hopeful. The news from Pennsylvania -- a good indicator of things to come. In addition to the Presidential race, we were interested in a number of local elections, as the 4 remaining lawn signs on the little patch of grass in front of our house indicated. At one point, there were 5 signs. Our Obama sign was stolen about 3 weeks before the election.
My kid was confident and tired. She fell asleep around 10 p.m. on the couch.
And so, I waited for the great orator to give his speech. And watched. And sat at the computer, checking the TU site. And sent "Yes we can" texts to a few of my friends. And I was elated.
I thought about the conversation I'd had that day with an African American male friend whose young children moved to a rural Capital Region town with their white mother. As soon as the family moved in, confederate flags went up at certain houses.
I know there's still racism. It can be scarily subtle and it can be in-your-face-obvious.
The beautiful thing is that we outnumbered them at the polls on November 4th. Not that I believe every vote for McCain was cast out of racism, but I've heard enough to know, that (to tweak PE for a minute) Fear of a Black President brought many to vote against Obama because of race.
November 5th, I was walking on air. The first time ever in a Presidential election year, that every single vote I cast was a winning one-- from the school board, to a local proposition, right on up to the President! It was one of those days where nothing was going to get me down. I walked my daughter to the bus stop in the morning, newspaper in hand. I asked one of the kids with a great big smile on my face, "Who's going to be the next President?"
"Obama!" he responded.
One girl asked, "We know who the President is already??"
I showed her the front page of the newspaper, and I watched her young face light up as she looked at it.
That afternoon, I got on the Number 10 at the end of my workday, and I noticed a bright red seat directly behind the driver's seat. I'd seen the seat before, but had never paid attention.
Then I noticed there was more than a seat... there was a commemorative plaque.
The plaque noted the red seat was in honor of Rosa Parks.
A very good reminder that the Presidential victory of the previous day was only possible because of the courage of Ms. Parks and thousands of other Americans whose names I'll never know.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
In Albany County, the polls are open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. If you are unsure of your polling location, you can use this quirky tool on the Albany County Board of Elections website, or call the Board of Elections at (518) 487-5060.
Voting in the City of Albany? Don't forget Proposition 2 and the school board race. The school board candidates and the proposition will not be in the obvious upper left section of the ballot with all the "big stuff" -- so you really need to look for them.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Wish I could make it there.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
I've got lots of opinions and ideas about this proposal, and as regular readers have probably picked up, I'm flat-out opposed to the fare hike. I think it's too steep and will hurt those who rely on CDTA the most, and I'm dumb-founded that Rochester (similar-sized fleet) was able to cut their base fare down to $1 per ride during the same month that CDTA decided they had no choice but to impose a whopping 50% base fare increase on its riders. How is that possible? What is CDTA not doing right?
If the proposed fare hike is implemented as planned, your local transit-riding superhero is urging CDTA to make the following adjustments to their fare sales (actually, these adjustments would be welcome regardless of a fare hike) :
1. Re-instate transfers to be distributed the same way MTA distributes transfers.
2. Change both types of monthly passes to be valid for 30 days from the time of first use so that bus riders can purchase the cards on whatever date is most convenient for them.
Meanwhile, if you believe the proposed fare hike goes overboard and would like to work for a more reasonable solution, send me a note via the email link on the "Contact" section on my profile.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
At 11:20 on Monday night, I was sound asleep. I heard nothing.
I know a lot of people in my neighborhood, but I didn't know Richard Bailey -- even though he lived a block away from me.
South Lake and Yates Street -- I pass by often. Very often. Two blocks from home. It's on the way to the Number 3 bus and the Number 4 bus, and glorious Washington Park. We often dribble a basketball down South Lake as we head to the park to shoot hoops.
Last night my daughter announced she wasn't walking to the school bus stop alone any more. She had been going solo there for a while now because I'm always running behind in the morning. And because she's 9 1/2 and there are no streets to cross. It had seemed a good building block towards independence. But Richard Bailey was murdered in our neighborhood, very close to our house, and I was picking up what she was putting down. Even if she hadn't made that announcement, I'm sure I would have walked her there myself this morning.
Still, my daughter's fear is heart-breaking.
Albany is a small city.
I came here from downstate as a SUNY student -- just like Richard Bailey did. I've walked alone on Albany's streets -- in this neighborhood, and in other neighborhoods -- late, late at night.
This morning, I had an appointment downtown. I took a candle with me and some matches. When I got to the spot on South Lake where Rick was shot, there were two burning candles, and some that had gone out in the rain and the wind. I tried to light my candle, but the matches didn't work. I decided to leave the candle at the spot, and I'd bring some better matches by later.
When I got on the Number 3, the driver, who used to take me to work every day, asked how things were down the block. Of course I knew what he meant. Quiet, as usual, I told him. We talked about how we're each grappling with this. He told me that Albany had always been a pretty safe city - that fifteen years ago, when he started this job -- these kind of things were really unheard of -- and now, along his route he's passing a number of serious crime scenes fifteen times during his workday. I told him that I came here as a SUNY student, and he said, "Oh, so you really relate to this," I replied, "Yes, I do. It resonates with me -- just as Kathina Thomas resonated with me in May -- and Jamaz Miller who was shot in broad daylight on Judson Street less than two weeks ago resonates with me." I told him I thought there was a growing problem in this city, and we really need to deal with it. He agreed.
A few hours later, I caught the Number 3 going in the other direction. I don't really know this driver. We had an almost-incident not too long ago. I didn't like the way she was talking to a middle school student who got on the bus without a bus pass -- the student said the school hadn't issued one yet, she told him if he didn't have a pass the next time he got on her bus, he'd have to have a dollar. She has a job to do, of course -- but I didn't think it was necessary to speak in the tone of voice she elected to use... and I got up to say something to her about it. She saw me coming, and told me to sit back down. I let it go. Today, she was talking with another passenger about Richard Bailey, and how sad it all is. They talked about how he should be graduating school in January -- how he wanted to be a police officer. The driver threw in her two cents about what the problem is, "Too many kids with parents who aren't raising them together. Too many single mothers who have to work and can't be home with their kids," she was saying. When I pulled the rope to signal I was getting off at Madison Avenue and South Lake, she said, "Oh, you live around here," with an air of sincerity -- we exchanged looks of hopelessness.
When I walked by the candle I had left at South Lake near Yates Street, it was burning.
Kathina Thomas was killed sixteen blocks from my house.
Richard Bailey was killed two blocks from my house.
Albany is a small city.
As many before me have said, and as I told the Common Council on June 2 -- this has got to stop.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Here's what Casey Seiler had to say in his TU commentary the other day:
I asked Jennings what the announcement would mean for my beloved Pine Hills neighborhood.
"This is going to be great for Albany," said Jennings, who expressed hope that the construction in Malta would make the Harriman Campus the next likely site for a cutting-edge research facility. He added that the time was ripe to revisit plans for a light rail system connecting the Capital Region's urban centers.
I tried to imagine a light rail line running south from Malta parallel to the Northway and then taking a wide, smooth turn onto Western Avenue, making a stop a few blocks from my house. Who was that stepping off the train? Why, it was my son, now grown to manhood and gainfully employed as a top engineer.I chuckled to myself on my morning bus ride heading up Western Avenue. Surely , if Seiler's son was going to be aboard any light rail train from Malta, TQL's daughter would undoubtedly be his engineering colleague winding along that same Pine Hills Express.
He closed his piece with the following:
Several who spoke at the press conference said the Malta plant could herald a new dawn in manufacturing for New York, comparing it to the Erie Canal.
A project which, as my son could tell you, was the light rail of the early 19th Century.
Well, the positive vibe up in Malta last Tuesday didn't seem radiate down to Wall Street throughout the week. It's really too bad that my transit-riding superhero powers only work on public transportation that already exists. In order to turn our collective upstate light rail dream into a reality, the formula will need to include hard cash flowing back into our state's coffers and many more voices clamoring for sustainable transit options beyond the NYC metro region.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Rochester Transit's website might be so 1995, but hey now its bus fare is too. I happen to have an unabashed preference for CDTA's site, and for Rochester's bus fares.
The folks at CDTA might call my newfound fascination/nagging about Rochester an apples to oranges comparison, but is it? If so, please explain. I really want to know.
Thanks to NYC Cowboy, I noticed this editorial in last Sunday's Gazette calling for increased federal funding for public transit. Good. But no mention of Rochester.
I saw this article in the Business Review which I don't think gave me any information I didn't know 10 days earlier. Certainly no mention of Rochester.
The TU reporters have told us about the fare hike, and the TU's editorial board weighed in with an opinion. Yet, I haven't seen the words "Rochester," "CDTA," and "transit" in the same story in my daily local paper, have you?
A little hard to believe TU reporters don't read the NY Times, isn't it?
We know they read AOA -- which is how I found out about Rochester dropping fares to $1.
So c'mon, let's talk about that elephant.
Monday, October 6, 2008
My mother traveled to India a few times when I was a kid. They were business trips, so my sister and I didn't tag along. Nonetheless, the savory spices of India made their way into our home when I was young and impressionable. This was long before the explosion of inexpensive Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants along East 6th Street in Manhattan, though you could still find a spattering of Indian restaurants in the 1970's, and we did. I have recollections of attending outdoor Indian festivals with sitar music, bright colors everywhere, and the smells coriander and cumin wafting in the air. Visits to the homes of family friends usually included the staples of chapati and daal with samosas for fun and sweet, honey-laden desserts that I ate too quickly to ever learn what they were called. My mom seemed to be the only adult woman not clad in a sari, yet she dressed in silk-screens and batiks made in India, that reflected the fashions of our friends.
Looking back, it doesn't surprise me that Gopal, my very first boyfriend in high school, was from an Indian family. He was a total New York village kid just like me -- but a bit more traditional considering both parents were academics, and they were still together, unlike mine... and unlike about 80% of my friends' parents. We took the D train to school each day, yet our courtship did not begin on the train, but in 9th grade Social Studies class, where I found him irresistably funny - I'm a sucker for intelligent humor. Freshman year, Gope had these huge glasses that covered 1/2 his face, but I could tell hidden under the glasses was a really, really cute boy. On our first date he took me to see a pretty bad horror movie, while most time together was spent hanging out on Greenwich Village stoops, and eating felafel on MacDougal Street.
I was invited to spend a lot of time with Gopal's family. Somehow, it was his Hindu family that introduced this girl of eastern European Jewish stock to the 2nd Avenue Deli's fantastic pastrami -- only in New York. While getting invited to the boyfriend's house did sometimes include kosher food, more often than not, Gopal's disco-dancing mom found the time to cook delicious dishes from her home coastal city of Chennai, the thought of which still makes my mouth water a quarter of a century later.
I first came to Albany in 1986 for college, after graduating, I stayed in town for a while. During my early Albany years, there was only one Indian option in town -- and it was outrageously priced. I was living in Center Square when Shalimar, the first affordable-for-just-out-of-college-folk-without-a-real-job Indian restaurant opened, and I became an immediate regular customer.
Fast forward to the 2000's.
In 2001, I bought a house in Pine Hills. So, where do I find myself going whenever I can afford to soothe my craving for Indian? Most times -- Curry House, though I also love Tandoor Palace. Happily, I live just about 1/2 way between the two. When I sat down with the TU on Sunday, I thought about getting to both of these locations as I read this article about a great proposal to make Madison Avenue between South Allen and Lark Street more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. Fantastic. From the article:
Now, some residents and business people in the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association want the road reduced from four to two traffic lanes from South Allen to Lark streets with a turning lane and a bicycle lane.Right on, Virginia Hammer! I walk up and down segments of this stretch of Madison at least twice a week, and I can attest that crossing at intersections is quite a challenge because there's always a turning car. My very unscientific observations also tell me that foot traffic along Madison is on the rise. And while I haven't worked up the guts to bike Albany yet, I recently saw a well-trained biking family I know riding along the sidewalk of Madison Avenue -- clearly because riding in the street is just not safe.
"It's been done in a lot of cities to great effect," said Virginia Hammer, a member of the subcommittee that made the recommendation. "It's time for Albany to get on board with some enlightened ideas. What we need is a more pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly city."
Meanwhile, Muddy Cup owner Jim Svetz, speaks to the frustration of trying to park on Madison in the article:
Jim Svetz has a bird's-eye view of the road from the Muddy Cup, his coffeehouse next to the Madison Theater.Exactly. Back in my larger-carbon-footprint-making everyday driving days, I often tried to park on Madison between South Allen and South Main usually to go to Curry House, Muddy Cup, or the CVS. Hard to find a spot. Hard to get out of the car when cars are whirring past you at 30 mph.
"Everyone who has tried to drive on this road, park on this road, make a left-hand turn on this road, knows it's a good idea," he said. "When you park, you have to wait to get out of your car. You're trapped until all the cars go by. When you try to parallel park, you're doing it in the middle of a high-speed lane."
If you don't know which official Albany neighborhood you reside in, you can always check the Council of Neighborhood Association (CANA) map here. Pine Hills has this colorful map on their website:
The map doesn't quite match the boundaries on the CANA map, but you know... we're a big, happy family, and I think you can actually join a neighborhood association even if you don't live within its boundaries, but don't quote me on that one!
Come out to view the slide show announced in the TU article:
A slide show on the proposal will be shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association meeting at the LaSalle School, 381 Western Ave. The association's members will decide whether to endorse the idea. If they do, the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations will be asked to back the plan.And, don't you go thinking that I've forgotten all about CDTA's steep fare hike. I completely agree with this article written by someone who ummm... rides the same bus I do.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The article is interesting on multiple levels, and leaves me questioning more deeply whether CDTA is making the right move with the planned April Fool's fare hike.
In my transit-riding superhero mind, I dream of Plan B from the hardworking CDTA staff that explores some of the strategies used in Rochester, and leads to a decrease in the astronomical fare hike... or even scrapping a hike altogether. A girl can dream, right?
According to the article, Rochester's Transit Authority sees this as a great way to increase ridership:
“With gas prices at record highs, there is no better way to convince people who are beginning to look at public transportation,” said Mark R. Aesch, the chief executive of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, which runs the bus system.And check out this interesting note in the article:
Just four years ago, the Rochester authority was in financial straits and facing large deficits. Since then, it has lobbied successfully for increases in state aid, receiving $32.8 million this year, up from $16 million four years ago. It helps that a local assemblyman, David F. Gantt, is chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.Ahhh... so is RGRTA receiving significantly more aid per ride than other transit systems of comparable size? My guess is, probably not -- wouldn't the article have noted if aid was disproportionately distributed?
Then there's this deal with Rochester's school district from the article:
I don't know what the current deal is between CDTA and Albany's school district, but I doubt an increase in transportation costs would fly in Albany where tax payers are already overburdened paying for all those charter schools.
One of the most important is with the Rochester City School District, which uses the Regional Transit Service as the primary bus system for nearly all of its students in the 7th through 12th grades. Several years ago, the school district paid the equivalent of a regular fare for each student rider, according to Mr. Aesch. But about three years ago, with the transit system facing a financial crisis, he began discussions with the district about radically altering the arrangement.
Mr. Aesch told school officials that the money they were paying to transport students only partly covered the cost and that the system could no longer afford the service without a significant increase in payments. The school district agreed to an increase, and it now pays about $2.22 for each student ride.
The article mentions these partnerships which I think CDTA could do A LOT MORE OF:
Yes, CDTA does currently have arrangements with our local colleges and universities, I don't know the details, but my guess is there's room within this sector to pull in more bucks.
In Rochester, the transit system has also formed agreements with private businesses and colleges. It runs shuttle buses on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology and provides special weekend service to the campus, for which it receives about $1 million a year. The developer of an apartment complex in suburban Brighton pays $1,200 a year to ensure that a bus line runs by the property.
And last week, the Rochester authority announced a new agreement with Bryant & Stratton College, which has two campuses in the area. Under the deal, the college will pay $17,700 in exchange for 350 bus passes that it can distribute at a discount to students. In exchange, transit officials have agreed to continue service on a little-used section of a bus route that goes to the college’s campus in the suburb of Greece, and to run a bus there later in the day for students taking evening classes.
Rochester's plan does include some service cuts... but so does CDTA's.
And so it goes...the tale of two transit plans:
One includes a 50% increase per ride, bringing the fare well-above the $1 mark.
The other includes a 20% decrease per ride, bringing the fare down to the psychologically sound $1 mark.
Which plan would entice you to choose the bus?
While most people are panicked about Wall Street crumbling and immersed in the drama of a presidential race that should be a no-brainer, but is bringing our deeply-rooted racism to the surface; I've been stewing over CDTA's return to circular reasoning.
I'm not going to ask why it happened, but I am putting in this request:
Please, CDTA, I don't want to put any more energy into chasing my tail.
Look at your recent media releases, then check out the recent re-route posts on your website, next put on your thinking cap -- or simply copy what other transit systems are doing - like our good friends at Capital Metro!
Here's what you tell us:
Anyone needing more information on the reroutes or other CDTA services is encouraged to contact CDTA’s Customer Information Center at 482-8822 or visit www.cdta.org.Well then, give us the re-route info someplace on the website, or if you're not going to do that -- stop sending us there for "more information".
In other CDTA news, fares are going up and service is being cut because current formulas for transportation funding are unstable and insufficient. The 50% fare hike likely to take effect on April Fool's Day 2009 will undoubtedly hurt those who depend on transit the most. I'm hoping some organization(s) out there will have the vision to get assistance to folks whose wallets need that money for rising food and home heating costs.
Friday, September 19, 2008
I sometimes find myself singing it while waiting for the bus.
Here are the lyrics:
I ride the bus
As all my friends do
'Cause it's easy and it's green
And it saves us money too
I ride CDTA
Get on board!
I dig the tune, but the truth is, all of my friends do NOT ride the bus. In actuality, very few friends ride the bus. I can count them on one hand.
I have hopes that the tide is turning.
This summer, I met three people rather randomly who recently moved to Albany for work. Included in the standard new-to-town inquiries of "What brought you here?", "How do you like it so far?", I of course managed to throw in the question, "Do you have a car?"
To which they each answered, "No."
My heart smiled.
I followed up with, "Do you plan on purchasing a car?"
To which they each answered, "No."
The smile grew wider.
I praised their decisions, told them I don't have a car, and let them know it can be tricky, but getting around Albany without every day use of a car can indeed be done.
One of those folks arrived in Albany fresh from Jersey to start teaching an English class at UAlbany. I met him at this bus stop in the middle of August.
It's the Crossgates Mall stop. I tend to get into bus talk here, simply because it's a transfer point for me.
In fact, I must look like the living, breathing FAQ of the stop. Here are some common questions I find myself fielding:
"Do you know when the next bus is coming?"
"How do I get to Crossgates Commons?"
"How do I get back to campus?"
"How do I get to Colonie Center?"
"Do you have to pay for the shuttle?"
"Where does the shuttle go?"
I don't have all the answers, but sometimes I know more than the bus drivers. Anytime I don't have an answer, I give them the 411, which for all things CDTA is: 482-8822.
I tell people about Google Transit and CDTA's Trip Planner, and tell them it's a good idea to use both, and to get to some locations along the Shuttlebug line, use neither.
I give away schedules.
I try to explain how the Shuttle works.
I suggest purchasing a $3 day pass for those who will be taking more than three buses in one day. That one's always tough because by the time they've arrived at Crossgates, they've already paid at least one bus fare.
One classic of Summer 2008 occurred in the late morning a few weeks ago.
There was a new SUNY student sitting on the bench when I arrived. She was carrying her art portfolio on her back, and looked almost desperate, yet very determined.
She asked, "Do you know when the next shuttle to Crossgates Commons will be here? I'm trying to get to Michaels. I've been waiting forever."
My schedule was already in-hand since I wanted to know the answer to that question as well. I told her a bus was scheduled to get there in five minutes, but sometimes they run a little late because this time of day there are fewer shuttles on the road, and they only come about once every forty/ forty-five minutes.
The bus driver taking a cigarette break overheard me. "Really? Wow, I thought they came every 15 minutes. That's what I usually tell people." I explained to him that in early morning and later in the day, he was correct, but the shuttles don't always run that frequently.
There was an older woman who chimed in. Complaining about having to take so many buses.
I put in my two cents about transferring. I have no problem taking more than one bus. To me, that's transit. I do have a problem waiting more than 5 minutes for a connection because it eats away at my time. And I never have enough time.
The older woman was trying to get to Time Warner on Washington Avenue Extension from Troy. She didn't realize the address on Washington Avenue Extension was not Washington Avenue in downtown Albany. She went downtown first to try to find it. She was totally new to the bus thing herself, and frustrated.
The Shuttle pulled in.
We got on. I saw the art student take out a dollar to pay. Before she put her cash in the fare box I asked, "You're a SUNY student aren't you?"
"Yeah," of course, I knew that already.
"You don't have to pay on this bus or on a few other buses either. Just show your ID."
There was another passenger who was going to Party City, and hoping to be gainfully employed along Washington Avenue Extension, so she asked the driver for a schedule. She wanted to know where to get off the bus. I told her to stay on board until Wal-Mart and explained how to find Party City.
I showed her how to read the schedule because it's confusing. She thanked me.
The SUNY student watched out the window as the bus was arriving at Crossgates Commons. "Oh my god, it's so close. I could have walked!"she said.
The mom in me responded, "It's better to take the bus, there are no sidewalks and it can be really dangerous."
She asked me how to get to Michaels once she got off the bus. We talked about how she'd get back to campus. She had a class at noon, and she was hoping she'd make it.
When she got off the bus, she thanked me.
Immediately after her departure, Julie, the bus driver asked me, "How did you know she was a SUNY student?"
I explained that we'd been talking before Julie pulled up in the shuttle and I could tell by her questions.
When we were approaching Time Warner, the older woman asked, "So the bus will pick me up here?"
Oops, I had forgotten to mention that aspect of the Shuttle!
Julie and I answered together, "You have to call."
See, if you aren't taking the Shuttle to one of the destinations marked on the schedule, you need to call and request a pick-up.
I showed her the phone number printed on the schedule, wished her luck and we said goodbye. And yes, she thanked us.
When I arrived at my office, I had that feeling of inner satisfaction, the feeling that I'd put in a good day's work even though I hadn't yet sat at my desk, turned on my pc, or checked my phone for messages!
Monday, September 15, 2008
On his TU blog, Roger posted some great tips for all of you new folks experimenting with CDTA (and maybe some of you who have been riding for a while, but haven't caught on to some of the finer points). Check it out.
Roger also points out out:
Citizens for Public Transportation will meet this Wednesday evening, September 17, 7:00 PM, at the Albany Public Library, Washington Avenue.I don't think this transit-riding superhero can make the meeting -- but surely there will be good bus chat at APL this Wednesday.
Guest Speaker, Paula Simpson, will address Environmental Justice and Availability. A CDTA representative will attend.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Not true, I do have one, but it's not operational. The old 10-speed I was given as a birthday present when I turned 13 - boys', I insisted on a boys' bike - is gathering dust in my basement. But I wouldn't trust that one, or won't trust myself on that bike - traversing this region.
I've been meaning to get a new bike- even a new, used bike from the Troy Bike Rescue in downtown Albany (akin to Manhattan College in the Bronx) - but it hasn't happened. There's one big thing holding me back: Fear.
Seilier's piece today got me thinking it's time to get over that fear. Things are looking up.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I live in Albany
+ originally from NYC
+ I use public transit.
= ________________(Not so hard to figure out).
I show up and cast my vote. I think it's genetic.
I'm what they call a "triple prime voter" which means I vote every single time I have the opportunity - general elections, primaries, special elections, school budget and library votes. And yes, I take my daughter with me - as does her dad.
Candidates work really hard to get us triple primes to vote their way. This summer, in the 21st Congressional District where I live there's a 5-way congressional race - with 4 candidates who have very similar positions. This means I've been bombarded with mail pieces, robo-calls, and calls from volunteers. I've even been home a couple of times when folks came to my door -- though it's hard to find me home during canvassing hours because I'm often out myself volunteering for the candidate I think is best.
I dig elections.
If you're enrolled in a party - you can join the triple primes today. If you don't know where to vote, call your county's Board of Elections.
Exercise your rights. Vote today. Polls are open from noon until 9.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Those in the know, know CDTA's Sunday schedule is skeletal.
The last time I was in town for a holiday to use CDTA when buses operated on a Sunday/Holiday schedule was Memorial Day. I tried to schedule an errand using Trip Planner, and if I had followed the tool's recommendations, I would have waited and waited all day long. Trip Planner directed me to one of the many routes that don't run on Sundays.
I decided to try to live up to my transit riding super-hero title (thanks again, All Over Albany, the source for all-things-interesting about this region, including the daily Morning Blend for those who don't want to scour the day's news all by yourself; they're also the good people who I umm... lifted the above photo from) and run a test before the holiday to provide those folks in town who ride the bus and depend on one of the two online planning tools some sound advice.
DON'T USE EITHER GOOGLE TRANSIT OR TRIP PLANNER TO MAP OUT YOUR BUS RIDES AROUND AND ABOUT THE CAPITAL REGION ON LABOR DAY 2008.
Instead, to plan your bus trip, do one of the following:
- Call CDTA's information line: 482-8822 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. today or Monday.
- Use a combination of the CDTA system map and schedules to plan your outing. Remember to check whether the routes you need actually operate on Sundays by checking each route schedule. Schedules are accessible directly on the system map by clicking anyplace you see a circled route number on the map.
Curious about the results of my test of Google Tranist and Trip Planner?
Testing was run Saturday night and Sunday morning for trips scheduled on Monday, September 1.
Trip Planner results
Unlike Memorial Day, CDTA's Trip Planner didn't leave me waiting on the corner for a bus that wouldn't show up. Instead they disabled all route information for September 1, even for the routes that will be operating. So, unless CDTA's IT staff is going to make last minute changes, using Trip Planner on Monday is not a wise choice.
Google Transit results
It doesn't look as though Google Transit got the memo from CDTA about Labor Day bus service. Every trip I entered for Monday gave me info for regular Monday service, with every route in the system operating. Now, I still might use Google Transit on Monday is to see if their walking alternative is more viable than the abysmal Sunday bus service!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The clue that tipped me off was the enthusiasm with which I nodded my head while sitting in an empty room and watching the online video of CDTA's July board meeting - something Executive Director, Ray Melleady said had been right on target. You've got to be really into transit to sit through a board meeting of your Transit Authority.
So, you can probably imagine my excitement when I returned home Sunday night at 9 p.m. - exhausted from driving the rental car I had over the weekend to get out of town and enjoy the Adirondacks for a couple of days - I opened my Sunday Times Union to see Ray Melleady's piece on the front page of the Perspective section.
I couldn't wait to see what Ray had to say.
It was filled with good stuff, and he drove it all home with my favorite part right here:
When I finished reading, it left me wondering how often Ray rides the bus.
This is a direct call to elected officials, business leaders, chambers of commerce, labor unions and transit managers. If you are serious about energy independence and conservation, we need to advocate for the authorization of new public policy and funding initiatives that reward communities for developing a strong public transportation infrastructure.
The communities that get it right will grow and prosper. The ones that get it wrong will shrink and preside over a slow and steady decline.
You can actually watch Ray give a lesson on how to ride the bus by clicking here (go to the "More from Ray..." box on the upper right side of the page, you'll need Windows Media Player to view - then click on the "Frequently Asked Questions" link ) -- this video was definitely made before Google Transit came to town, and doesn't even mention the Trip Planner; still it conveys some very useful info. Also check out the Welcome Message link at the same location where Ray introduces viewers to the website... via the website. Yeah -- kinda on the silly side that you need to go to the website in order to watch the video highlighting their site improvements. This video was made a while ago as well, again it doesn't mention Trip Planner or Google Transit, and Ray spends some needless time discussing their branding and the color blue (really, not necessary in retrospect, but I'm sure at the time of the shoot, the marketing folks and management were keen on the big change to blue buses). My favorite of the two is definitely the FAQ video -- the intro music pulls me right into the video and onto the bus.
Speaking of CDTA's marketing efforts, I've noticed a bunch of new interior CDTA ads on the bus. My favorites are some great ads introducing CDTA employees (unfortunately, I couldn't find any samples on the CDTA website to link to, but I recall bus operators and mechanics -- I, of course, am waiting to see the one that introduces Dolly!) ; the ads also act as a "want ad" for employees and push the concept of "working green". Then yesterday, I happened to look up on the bus and noticed the interior was plastered with CDTA ads -- some of them should have been placed more carefully because there were instances where the same bus rider would view just one ad multiple times. I noticed one ad promoting safety on the bus and another directing riders to check out the CDTA website -- which I think is a great idea. Good work, CDTA. I'm hoping to see more ads that direct riders to specific aspects of the site, like Google Transit, Trip Planner, Service Alerts and the News Center.
Growing up in NYC, the advertising on the inside of subway cars and buses was just as prevalent as the advertising everyplace else in the city. I remember as a kid and a teenager, spending much of my transit time checking out all of the ads on the trains and buses. I also recall teenage boys I knew who dug the Preparation H ads so much, they would take them home and post on their bedroom walls! (I searched for a sample old ad to enhance this post, but couldn't find one -- if you can, send it my way!)
I think CDTA is missing opportunities to increase revenue a bit by selling more ads on the interior of buses and at bus shelters -- and you'd think all those new buses equipped with cameras will prevent adolescents and frat boys running off with interior decorations.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
That's how I felt before I discovered Full Mi Belly, the relatively new Jamaican joint at the food court. Yumyumyum.
Eating is a no-no on the bus. But it's done.
Sometimes, when I have that lag for a connecting bus at Crossgates I'll run inside, grab a small jerk chicken with rice and peas and cabbage for $5.99 plus tax. Then run outside to catch the bus I need. I'm sitting on the bus, starving, with the smell of outstanding jerk chicken wafting before me, and a growling stomach. I can't take it -- I have to have just a little. So, yes, even I have guiltily eaten on the bus. But I always make sure that I don't leave a mess behind me!
This mess includes chicken bones I found on the bus before 10 a.m. one morning this summer!
Don't be nasty.
Since my last post had 9 birthday wishes, I was thinking 10 is a much better number. 10 is nice and round. There's a completeness to a list of 10 things. To add to my list of "big 4-0" birthday wishes, this one's for those of you on the bus with me.
1. If you MUST eat on the bus, clean up after yourselves.
[*Note: the title "transit-riding superhero" is thanks to the very good folks at All Over Albany]
This is coming from someone who really enjoys driving. You're operating a vehicle, moving from one place to another so please...
2. Respect pedestrians. About a month after I started my no-driving experiment, I came within inches of being hit while crossing a Central Avenue intersection with my daughter (we were on our way to a bus stop and then to a rental car company to pick up a car) . The driver who was making a left turn onto Central at a green light was extremely apologetic. He got out of his car, and ran across the busy street (almost getting hit himself) to be sure we were ok. However, not all drivers are as concerned about pedestrians' well-being.
3. Along the same lines as 2, above. Turning on red (right on red or left from a one-way to a one-way), is not a free pass to simply slow down to 5 or 3 or even 1 mph and slowly coast through an intersection. The light is still red. Red still means stop. Completely stop. Oh, yeah... and before you pull ahead, be sure the coast is clear.
1. Improve the abysmal Sunday service . It looks like you recognize the need for improvements as Monday's article about your proposal to re-vamp Schenectady's service pointed out,
" 'There are certain routes on our system that don't stop after 6 or 7 p.m., and some don't run on Sundays,' said spokeswoman Margo Janack. 'People who may want to attend religious services, people who want to shop after work at night or catch some entertainment somewhere -- they may not be able to do that by bus because the service doesn't extend that far or run for that long.'
The current hours also often fall short for people who work night and weekend shifts."Eureka! You do see that those of us without cars need to get around on Sundays too! Yes, funding is tight, but this is the state's Capital Region and it is certainly reasonable to expect good transit service seven days per week, at least once per hour in each direction from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.
2. Post schedules at all stops and shelters so we know when to expect a bus. It seems that a year ago there were many more schedules posted. Recently, sleeker shelters were installed and nobody bothered to re-post schedules. If funds aren't available in your budget to pay staff to do the posting, this seems like a project that could be accomplished by volunteer bus riders and/or partnerships with volunteers from local non-profits.
3. Follow up with riders' complaints. I know I've called the customer information line to complain at least one time since the posting of the Complaint Process flow chart dated September 2007, provided my name and phone number and said, "I'd like someone to call me back with information." I never received a phone call back. In addition to the flow chart, you also state in the How To Ride section of the site, "We will investigate your complaint and report back to you in writing within 10 working days." Do what you say.
2. Be good to my younger sibling, CDTA. Invest in transit and transit-oriented development - let's face it - transit is part of the solution for today's fiscal and energy realities. And bring me something faster than buses to get from city to city to city to city, and from the cities to some of our beautiful outlying areas.
3. Let's start a non-profit car sharing company. I really think non-profit is the way to go -- check out why Austin went non-profit with Austin Car Share and even little Ithaca, NY launched a non-profit car sharing company this past June!
... and maybe I'll see you on the bus.
Friday, August 8, 2008
What was I doing during all of this hubbub?
Soaking it all in, of course.
One of the very first responses I had to the article was a strong agreement with Margo Janack and Carm Basile, two CDTA spokes-folk. From the original article:
"Mainly, Janack and Basile wanted to know this: Why didn't our bold investigators just pick up the phone and call the authority's Customer Information Center before heading out?
The number, they note, is listed in the phone book, posted at bus stops, printed on schedules and displayed on the Web site."Exactly. 482-8822. I love that number. Calling the CDTA information line when I'm on my way to a bus stop, waiting at a bus stop, and even on a bus has helped me many times.
It was a few months ago when I overheard a conversation between bus riders about service. One said to the other something like this, "Oh, when I didn't catch that bus I spoke to Dolly and she told me ...."
I chimed in, "What?"
My fellow rider responded, "Oh, Dolly -- on the information line. She's worked there forever."
I try to be personable. To get to know people. To at least take note when I'm on the phone with an operator that they too are human. But, I had never retained the names of the helpful people on the other end of the customer information line in my memory bank. Probably because most of the times that I've called, I've been rather frustrated.
Since that day, I've paid closer attention when my call is answered, and sometimes, I too speak with Dolly.
The other day, I was running late. So late, that I didn't even check the bus schedule before leaving the house because I just didn't want to know. I dropped my daughter off at camp, and headed towards Western Avenue. As I was walking across Main towards Madison, it happened again.
I saw a bus driving west along Western Avenue -- and I thought a really bad word to myself. I had missed a bus.
My mind started to work, "Now I'm probably going to have to wait a while or maybe it'd be faster to walk over to Washington Avenue and catch that line. Wait... could it be possible that was not the bus line I even wanted?? Sometimes there is that other line that runs up Western..."
I didn't want to go into my bag and start fumbling through the bus schedules. It was just too much work. It also slows me down. I decided to call for help.
"Oh, hi Dolly -- I've got a couple of questions."
First I asked her if that bus I missed could possibly be the one I really didn't need, the Number 11.
"No," she said without a pause, "The Number 11 doesn't even run this time of day."
Ok... so, when is the next Number 10?
"They run every 20 minutes."
Ok. I knew that, really. They tell me every time I call. It can be hard to keep it all on the front burner though. Well, not for Dolly.
What about the Number 30... going towards Washington Avenue from Western? She checked. That bus rarely runs, and I had missed it. I asked when the next Washington Avenue bus was.
Dolly told me, and I realized I'd be cutting it too close if I tried to walk over there.
The twenty minutes (by this time, much closer to 15 minutes) would go by quickly if I waited on the bench at the stop on Western and Allen and read my newspaper.
I couldn't help myself, "Thank you Dolly, you're a doll!"
She laughed. Poor woman, she probably gets that ALL THE TIME.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
They went something like this, "You know you've found the right person to marry if he makes your life easier!"
I've kept that in mind over the years... haven't gotten married as relationships have always seemed to complicate my life; never have they made things easier.
Then came August 1, 2008. The go-live date for Google Transit in Albany.
Already GT is on the right track.
Saturday morning when I was pondering getting to the gym to take a class that I really do enjoy, GT gave me a couple of bus options. The shortest option: about 40 minutes of travel time; he also gave me the option to walk: about 50 minutes of travel time. Not much difference. And that was just to GET to the gym. Then there was the hour of class time, and the travel time back home which I didn't calculate on GT because he hasn't quite worked out how to present that info as cleanly as the sometimes-tedious, rather cumbersome CDTA Trip Planner does.
I assessed the one-way information Google Transit gave me.
I made a decision.
Not to be to cliché, but yes, I changed my mind.
I decided to make good, productive use of that 40-50 minute one-way travel time by doing something at home on my very long list of things to do.
After the 40 - 50 minutes passed by, I put on my running shoes, stretched, and went for run (ok, a jog) around the gorgeous lake at Washington Park. Ran for a good 44 minutes right back to my doorstep, with no added travel time home.
Google Transit made my life easier. I'd say we're off to a very nice start.
CDTA now links to Google Maps (you can actually get to Google Transit as an option in Google Maps) directly from their site as well as to Google's how-to video. Good partnerships make happy travelers.
I'm not rushing into things with GT though; that's never a good idea. He only got to town a few days ago, and we're just getting to know each other... but, hey GT was only in beta on Saturday, which means it can only get betta, right?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Then there was last year...when I didn't make it to the Altamont Fair because there was no bus service. Period.
I've been waiting to learn whether buses would venture to our tri-county fair this year, and before going to sleep tonight I decided to have a gander at the Altamont Fair website... to my surprise there was news. Good news. I then ventured over to my friends at CDTA to confirm... and to try to clarify this part of the announcement on the Altamont Fair site:
Purchase a CDTA Day Card for only $3 that provides one day unlimited use and includes round trip service from Crossgates Mall to the Altamont Fair.
Hmmm... does that mean the only way they'll take me on the shuttle is if I purchase an additional $3 pass for myself and each kid I have with me even if I already have a 7-day monthly pass for myself and Summer Fun Pass for my daughter? I sure hope not.
The CDTA press release was issued on Monday 7/21, I don't think there was coverage in today's TU. It's after 11 p.m. now, so I won't get my answer calling the CDTA customer information line at this hour. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the professionals over at the TU will do more than reprint the details of the press release, and let us know if our passes will be usable. I hope to see some fleshed out news when I pick that paper up off my porch in the a.m. , and if not... it'll be time for a bit of research from one of us on the bus.