Welcome to today’s rant about local public transportation. Before I begin, let me say that I’ve been riding the bus now for about four months and this is the first major problem I’ve had. That said, it was a major problem. Thus, my need to do what my Google+ profile says I sometimes do: raise a ruckus.
Today, the Route 6 Sun Tran bus heading north was about six minutes late to the Euclid and University bus stop. This may seem like small potatoes to folks who are unfamiliar with bus exchanges, but it was a make-or-break issue for me. You see, I have to catch the 312 Express bus going north at the Tohono Transit Center near the Tucson Mall – and the final 312 (there are a paltry three in the morning and three in the evening) leaves at 5:40 p.m. If I get picked up on time at the Euclid and University (on time being between 5:06 and 5:08 p.m.), I arrive with no more than three minutes to spare before the 312 takes off for Oro Valley. Which means, natch, if I get picked up six minutes late, I will miss my connection.
(Just in case anyone from Sun Tran actually reads this post, let me say I’m fully aware of the “time stop” rule. There is no time stop for Euclid and University, but there is for Euclid and 6th, the stop before Euclid and University. That time stop is 4:53 p.m, meaning – as I’m sure you know, being Sun Tran officials – the bus is supposed to leave that stop at 4:53 p.m. If said bus does leave then, it arrives at Euclid and University between 5:06 and 5:08, depending only on if it hits the red light or not. There’s no reason moving up two (admittedly long) blocks would take more than the 15 minutes from 4:53 to 5:08. In fact, it should take far less. But I’ll accept the 5:08. Just not one second later.)
When a bus arrives excessively late and threatens your Express connection, the solution is to have the bus driver of the late bus call the bus driver of the Express bus and ask him/her to wait. I asked the driver of the 6 to call, and, he said – as he dropped me off six minutes late at the Transit Center – that he tried three times to get through to dispatch but the lines were busy. When I asked him what I was supposed to do to get home, he shrugged. When I asked him why he was late in the first place, he said, “What am I supposed to do? There’s traffic, there’s people getting on slow, I can’t help it if I’m late.”
Frustrated and unsure what to do – but remembering my time in Paris bravely navigating, in a language I could barely read, trains (that ran on time and frequently) – I got on the Route 16 Sun Tran because it said “Foothills Mall” and I figured that was about six miles closer to my home.
I spoke with THAT driver, who told me the prior driver should have hit the “priority” button when calling dispatch. Wondering if this simple solution would have saved me such trouble (and wanting to alert Sun Tran of the problem with the 6 so it doesn’t happen Friday) I called the Sun Tran customer service. I was eventually connected to a person who told me that the priority button is only for emergencies.
“So me having to walk nine miles home because your driver was six minutes late isn’t an emergency?”
“Well, I’m not saying it isn’t an emergency, but it isn’t a real emergency. Like an accident, or someone hurt on the bus.”
Maybe. Probably, in fact. But it is more than an inconvenience – if I didn’t have a husband to come fetch me, I would have had to hoof it home. Many of the folks I’ve talked to on the bus depend on it as their only form of transportation and they do not have a spouse with a car. I registered my complaint and asked if the driver could be told immediately that he needed to get his tail in gear and get to his stop on time tomorrow so I wouldn’t have a repeat of being stranded.
No, said the customer service person. He could write up my complaint, file it for investigation, and then – this is the part that really stood out in the conversation – due to the BUS DRIVER’S UNION – the investigation takes three days before any disciplinary action is taken against the driver. Three days? C’mon union guys, this is a quick phone call.
“I don’t want disciplinary action,” I said, “I want a solution for tomorrow.”
“Well, ma’am, we do our best.”
No, Sun Tran, you don’t. And because most of the people who ride are poor and are at the mercy of the drivers and the system, no one ever really raises a ruckus. (Unless you’re known for that sort of thing; see first paragraph above.) You want people to use public transportation, Tucson? Make it work for us. Will it cost some money? Absolutely. Will you have to fight off the naysayers about high speed trains or super bus lines or Portland Metro-like coolness? Yes. But my goodness, people: Just do it.
“That’s the one thing I miss about being back east,” said a woman on the Foothills Mall bus after she overheard my complaints to customer service. “They ran buses every 6 minutes on every route during peak hours.” Then she explain how ridiculous it was that there were only three express buses in the morning and three in the evening. “They only have three because they say there aren’t enough riders, but they don’t seem to get that if they had more frequent buses and more of them, people would ride more!”
Sun Tran has frequent buses on many of its routes, but not the Express ones, the ones that go to the parts of town that – let’s be honest – are home to many of the upper-middle class and higher income folks. Folks who could – and would – support public transportation if it provided what they want: reliability, decent comfort, and frequency. So the people who would (and should) ride buses don’t because, dang it, if you miss your connection, you have to wait an hour for the next Express. Unless, like me, you’re catching the final Express. Then you’re SOL.