Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Story of the Three Buses

The polar vortex is finally gone and hints of spring are all over the place, including full bike racks on buses and that is what brings me to write this blog post!  I wish this was a tale similar to "The Story of the Three Bears" and that, like Goldilocks, I was just trying to find the right bus.  However, I'm not a "Goldi" and I didn't get to decide which bus fit just right.  You see - this is actually a tale about how it's not always easy getting around by bike and bus.  This adventure explains how it took me three buses to get home.

So what happened?  After work last week, Julie and I met up for cocktails (and a transit-related meeting).  The meeting (i.e. happy hour) ended and it was time for me to head home.  I didn't have far to go to catch a bus.  We met at the Majestic, which has a convenient bus stop located right outside the building.  Sure enough, I only waited a few minutes for the bus when I saw one approaching.  I was excited for such speedy service!  That was until I saw two bikes on the front of the bus.  I kept thinking in my head, "Damn! Please, people with bikes - make this your stop!"  Unfortunately, it was not their stop and by default, it was certainly not my stop to get on the bus.  Grrr...

Since I was a little frustrated, I decided to bike north to the Warren & Woodward stop.  It was there that I sent a text to DDOT  (506-64) to learn how long I had to wait.  Twenty minutes.  Okay - that was not bad but it was a little chilly, so I decided to continue to bike north to the bus stop at Grand Boulevard and Woodward to help me warm up.  After waiting a little bit, I saw in the distance a bus!  As the bus approached closer to the stop, I didn't see any bikes.  "Woohoo!"  I thought, "I'm getting on this bus and heading home."  That was until I realized that the bus didn't have any bikes on it because it did not have a bike rack.  Let me repeat that:  IT DID NOT HAVE A BIKE RACK.  In fact, it looked like once upon a time it had a bike rack but it broke off or something.  Just my luck!  Grrr...

So I waited.  At that point, it was after 8pm and I was cold because the sun was down and I didn't plan to be out after dark. Anyway, I stayed put at Grand Boulevard and Woodward and waited.  And waited.  Another twenty minutes passed and finally another bus approached.  I didn't see any bikes on the front and I saw shiny metal bars across the front!  Indeed, that bus (the third bus) had an empty bike rack on the front.  In excitement, I pulled down the bike rack and placed my bike on the bus, which seemed up a little higher than usual but, oh well, my bike was on a bus!  (Unfortunately, there's no picture of bus #3 because I was in such a hurry.) When I finally got a seat inside the bus, I realized I was riding an older bus.  In fact, it had a sign prominently displayed that read, "No Radios Allowed."  I'm assuming that sign was put up before all the kids had their cd players and/or mp3 players and/or ipods.  Another tip that it was an older bus was the sign that notified riders that there was a public hearing scheduled for Friday, February 24, 2012.  (While I'm happy to see some of the older buses in commission to add efficiency, come on DDOT - take down some of the old signage.)

Luckily, the third bus got me to the Fairgrounds, last stop of the 53 Woodward.  I thanked the bus driver, took my bike off the bus rack, and rode into the sunset. 
Wait...the sun already set. 
I rode home in the dark and cold but I made it home. 

Three buses later.

The end.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A 2W4W Editorial

A note to our dear readers:
Yesterday, many of you may have seen a post from us showing a sneak peek of some amazing new technology that SMART has in beta test mode. We were contacted by SMART directly and asked to remove that post due to the fact that we weren’t authorized to share that information (which we, for the record, understood we were). We have a good relationship with many folks at SMART, and out of respect for them, we took the post down. We did note that the post reached over 330 people, who, we presume, were really excited about the technology advancements, so we wanted to write this editorial to give our readers that background, and some other thoughts.
To us, it highlights a bigger question for SMART. How do they respond to positive press? When we posted a link to the blog directly on their Facebook page yesterday morning, we noticed that the 2 immediate previous posts on their page said:
2. A story about a bus driver flicking off a driver
Literally. You cannot make this up.
So. SMART is in the news a lot (think: route cuts) and on social media a LOT (see above or many posts on their Facebook page) in a negative light. We aren’t saying that our post needs to be the post they embrace, and they are welcome to share their technology news in the way they see fit. But in a way - isn’t creating a positive buzz kind of a good thing in today’s media world of Facebook shares and re-tweets and god knows what other social media the kids are using these days? Especially given the sea of negativity that SMART currently swims in. In our eyes, our post created excitement about SMART for 330 people. Given our current transit system and its challenges, that’s priceless.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Transit around the world: Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

As a part of our work and play adventures, Melissa and I get the opportunity to travel around the United States and sometimes, when are extra lucky, around the world! 

This edition of 'Transit around the world' takes us to the beautiful island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. 

The island is located in the Caribbean, just east of Puerto Rico. It's split into 2 countries - Sint Maarten is Dutch and Saint Martin is French. - but there's an open (no need for a passport) border. This adventure takes us between the exploring the capitals of the 2 countries - Phillipsburg and Marigot. 

We had read a few things about the bus system on the island, and learned the following: 

1. In most cases, there's not marked stops or set routes. If you see a bus going where you want to go, as noted by a sign in the front of the bus, just flag them down.
2. Fares range from $1 - $3. 
3. They are safe and frequent! 

So after our time in Phillipsburg, we happened to find the street where the buses ran. The buses were more like mini-vans, but were definitely frequent. We also found a labelled bus stop (perfect), which I of course had to hug: 
A bus stopped for us, after about a 1 minute wait, labeled 'Maho Beach' and we were headed to Marigot. After telling the driver where we were headed, a quick sign change and we were on our way! 
Supply meets demand = LOVE IT.
We picked up another bus rider and stopped so our bus driver could throw out a banana peel in the trash (we of all people know = bus snacks are important). Our bus ride was $2 each and we paid our fare at the end of the super-fast ride. 

Way more environmentally friendly and economical than a cab! #buswin #always

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dispatches from the CAC: Part 1 (and it's already time for ACTION)

Greetings 2W4W fans!

Yes, it's been awhile and YES, we've still be attempting to bus/bike (mostly walk/bus - biking has largely been treacherous for us. See: shoulder and hip bruises) during the winter of 2014. It's been an adventure to say the least, but this is not why we come to you this lovely Tuesday morn.

Many of you know that I've been lucky enough to be granted the opportunity to serve on the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority's Citizen's Advisory Council (CAC). We've had a couple of really productive meetings of the CAC, have a great set of bylaws in place, and have been getting to know each other. It's a very dynamic and like-minded group of people, and I'll be posting some more observations and information about the CAC as we get rollin' (see what I did there?!).

Now, for what you have been waiting for.

We need you to take some action, transit friends. You know by now that we don't mess around (much).

Many of you have heard the news that the budget to largely fund the RTA won't be on the ballot for the voters until 2016. But until then, the RTA needs some basic operational funding to get going. Money for a CEO, some basic transit professional planners and consultants, some admin support, insurance, legal, accounting, basic office set-up, etc. I'm actually looking at the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 and it's a little over $900k.

Extremely and all kinds of reasonable. Any start-up needs some funds to, uh, get started. Am I right!?

The Governor and Senate have passed $2M dollars in start-up funds to get us to 2016, as a part of supplemental appropriations bill SB 608. The Michigan House Committee has stripped these funds out, which leaves the RTA without those sorely needed (and can we all agree reasonable) start-up funds. Lord help me.

Our friends at Transit Riders United have created an easy link that you can use to contact the leadership in Michigan to urge them to add the RTA funding back into SB 608.

You can also reach out to your lawmakers via phone or email, urging them to support the $2M RTA Supplemental funding.
Find your Senator:
Find your Representative:

Please take action TODAY because the vote in the House may be as early as today! 

One day, when we are all happily riding the BRT down Woodward, and with the sun shining upon our stress-free faces, we will laugh and laugh about the silly days that we thought we couldn't get $2M for 2 years for an RTA in Michigan. We deserve to get to those days. Call now and THANKS. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Adventures in Finding DDOT Bus Passes

Last Fall, 2 Women 4 Wheels researched locations that sell SMART bus passes. We found that SMART services 75 communities in Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb Counties. And in those 75 communities, there are only 20 places that sell bus passes. Only 20! What made it worse was that bus passes were rarely sold after business hours at many of the locations. We found this to be absolutely absurd and a real disservice to transit users including us. (Read the original post here.) 

The research led us to investigate locations where DDOT, which only services the city of Detroit, sells bus passes. Naturally, we started at DDOT’s website. We found 58 locations listed on the site that sell bus passes in the city. 58!!! Compared to SMART bus, DDOT definitely gets a gold star for having more locations to buy a bus pass.

But… wait… not all of the locations listed actually sell bus passes. Yes, that’s right. Unfortunately, when we visited the Lobby Store in Cadillac Tower, which was listed on DDOT’s website, we found that they hadn't sold bus passes in a few years.

Then we headed to the CVS Pharmacy on Woodward, which was also listed on DDOT’s website. All of the stores sell weekly and monthly bus passes, which is great but in our case, we needed the $10 pass, so we can pay for bus rides as we go. Unfortunately, CVS Pharmacy doesn’t sell those bus passes.

That led us to the Rosa Parks Transit Center, where we found this machine (see picture). Unlike SMART, DDOT has caught up with the 21st century and has a machine available as long the Transit Center is open.  It was really easy to use, too. For $10, we received a bus pass valued at $10. When we asked a security guard how late people can purchase bus passes, he replied until the Transit Center closes around midnight. Midnight!!! Well beyond normal business hours. Thank you DDOT! (We should also note that we met a police office at the Rose Parks Transit Center, who is familiar with our blog, and is willing to teach a bike safety workshop. Stay tuned for that adventure!)

Key “take aways” from our research:
  • It’s way too much of a challenge to get a bus pass
  • SMART needs to sell bus passes at more venues and during non-business hours
  • DDOT needs to update their website with locations that actually sell their bus passes
  • CVS Pharmacies should sell all the DDOT bus passes including the $10 pass
  • We need one universal transit pass (please make this happen Regional Transit Authority)
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Quite a Week in Detroit Transit News!

This was quite the week for public transportation news in Detroit - we could barely keep up. If you missed some of the major announcements, don’t worry. 2 Women 4 Wheels will get you back on the transit track!

DDOT Has New Director

As you may recall last week, newly-elected Detroit Mayor Duggan fired the DDOT (Detroit Department of Transportation) director and hired Dan Dirks. Fun fact - Dirks was one of our first fans - long before this recent announcement. A little bit about Dan - he used to be the general manager of the SMART bus system from 1998 to 2007. He also actually got on the bus to learn about some of the problems with DDOT - thank you! He told reporters on Thursday that DDOT buses will run on time within a month. While that’s a pretty bold statement, we welcome it and will check back in on that statement in mid to late-February.

Another announcement we read this past week announced that Detroit Mayor Duggan plans to *increase* DDOT services. Yes, you read that correctly - INCREASE!!! We’re so used to *decreases* in services from both SMART and DDOT that we had to read and reread the article to confirm that. We’re still a bit amazed!

And the last surprise we learned this week from DDOT is that they have a place on their website, where you can sign up for announcements by email. Whoa?! Does this mean that they’re actually going to share information with the public?! Well, we don’t really know that but what the hell - we definitely signed up and you should, too!

Hertel Steps Down as CEO of the RTA

John Hertel will leave the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and will continue as the general manager of SMART. Is this good or bad? We welcome your comments. 1) We didn’t really understand how he could do both jobs at once. 2) We’re concerned that this compromises the advancement of the RTA. Won’t they have to spend more time finding another CEO? Will that delay the process of getting a millage passed to fund the RTA? If so, will the legislature have to appropriate additional funds (and will they actually do it)? 3) Has Hertel ever used public transportation? For instance, does he use it during his daily commute to the SMART office in Detroit? This is a question we’ve had for a few years now and if someone could answer it, we would greatly appreciate it. 4) What’s going on with the RTA? We’ve heard they’re discussing a bus rapid transit system and that’s great but how will they work to improve communication with existing transit providers (aka DDOT and SMART).

Carmona Leaves M-1

Heather Carmona, who was the chief administrative officer, for M-1 left the transit project Friday. We didn’t see that coming. In other M-1 news, a public hearing is scheduled on Wednesday, January 22 from 5 to 7pm with a presentation at 6pm at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch. Find more information here.

Ummm… that’s a lot of transit news for Detroit. What did we miss?  More importantly, what new should we expect next week?

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's hard to love you, Metro Detroit public transit system.

We’ve been together since December of 2010. You’d think after our 3rd anniversary, you’d start treating me better, Metro Detroit public transit system!

With the polar vortex, we knew that we’d have to be flexible and give ourselves some extra time for bus/bike commuting - more so than our past few winter experiences. This past Friday, I left myself 20 minutes to bike from my house to the Royal Oak Transit Center - a 1.5 mile ride that usually takes me about 10 minutes. It was pretty important that I made the 7:10am Woodward 460 as I had a meeting downtown at 8:15am. I made an assumption, that while it snowed about a half of an inch the night before, most of the polar vortex snow would be moved out of the way. ALAS. Snow piles everywhere. Sidewalks were still a mess. This workout was giving my quads and abs something serious - who needs a spinning class!?

25 minutes into my commute, I had only made it to 11 & Main Street, and I just knew I had missed the bus. Time to head to Woodward and figure out my next option.

As I was biking up 11 Mile, I saw the lights. Those of you regular bus riders know those lights. The orange-yellow lights at the top of the bus.They are a beacon. You will make your work meeting. The bus is here! You will be warm soon! I knew if I busted it and quickly locked up my bike, this could happen. I was right next to the bus, near the back door, my helmet still on, seeing my bike headlight still on and blinking. WHO CARES. I had made the bus and my bike was locked up! My legs burning through that hellish bike commute, sweat running down my face, but now, NOW. The transit gods smile upon me as a reward for my bike commute! And I smiled back. The bus was running late too and our schedules aligned!

And then that damn bus drove away.

My yells, my screams did nothing. Three other bus riders that were closer to the front of the bus kindly chipped in and yelled on my behalf.

The bus just rolled on.
NO, Joumana.
I don’t have a personal injury.
SMART just broke my HEART.

A guttural curse word expelled itself from my body, and it caused the three other bus riders to stop and stare. Holy crap, I may be the subject of another person’s transit blog. Ah well, it’s about time.

I turn on my heel and just started stomping up 11 Mile towards Woodward. The bike and the sidewalks and I need some time apart. Angrily and sweatily drinking my now-cold tea, I cursed out everyone that hasn’t properly managed their snow removal. If only ONE more person had shoveled, I still would have been late but I would have made that bus.

As I’m getting to the corner of 11 Mile & Woodward - I see the lights again! AH! This cannot happen twice in one day, right? This bus and I are one. I make it to the middle of Woodward - one half way across the street - and the bus is waiting at the light. There’s a huge snowbank there and…...I fall. In the time it takes to pick myself up - I know what’s happened. The light has changed. That bus stops, drops someone off, and is gone.

I surrender to you, transit gods. I am not in charge here.

I take out my phone and call the person I was supposed to meet with, and explain we’ll have to reschedule. I take out my breakfast and take the time to enjoy it. Sweat is still dripping off of me, and my hair is frizzing and freezing out as it dries out from my second shower of the day. 20 minutes later, a limited bus rolls up. It’s 7:50, one hour after I left my house, and I had officially gone about 3 miles. Sounds about right with recent commute times around here.

Metro Detroit public transit system, I thought you and I, after our time together, were better than this. After today, I am reminded just how far we still have left to go!