Friday, February 1, 2008

Bus Peeves Chapter One

Sorry for the lull in posts lately, but this weekend I hope to get out a review of the Presidential Candidates on transit issues. So I figured I'd tide everyone over with a discussion on some of what bothers me about transit in Pittsburgh. I bet these peeves are universal to most transit systems too. Now, the obvious responses would be to say more routes and more trips, but I'd like to look more at the riding experience itself that could maybe be fixed without large budget increases. Sadly, this looks to be first in a series. Feel free to join in.

The Buses
  • The schedules are never there! It's hard for a lot of people to acquire a schedule for a route. If you work downtown, you can get them at T stations or at the Port Authority Service Center on Smithfield. However, if you can't get to these places you might be out of luck. The racks on the buses are often empty. When they are filled, they often carry schedules for the rush hour routes probably used by the bus when it left the garage. Some buses I've been on just seem to be filled with random schedules running nowhere near Oakland. These seems like it could be solved easily be restocking the racks more often.
  • Some are really old. There's a lot of the old buses still out there. And not just the paint scheme is bad. The seats are broken, the bus is darker, and there's usually no digital destination sign that tells you what the next stop is. Those signs really help those riding transit feel less intimidated riding a new route, and hopefully more will be installed soon.

Schedule Information

  • There's no system map. The system map on Port Authority's website is woefully out of date and very confusing. Recent cuts are not on the map, which appears to be at least 5 years old (note the mention of the "Kaufmann's Clock", the lack of PNC Park and Heinz Field, and the old Ride Gold logo.) Printed system maps seem to be nonexistent. The closest I have seen are the "Way To Go Pittsburgh" maps which are a decent review of major routes that connect Downtown with Oakland and other parts of the city. Wait, see how none of that preceding sentence was a hyperlink? That's right. I can't find "Way To Go" maps anywhere on the website. Same goes for the "Ride Guide," a vague but somewhat useful pamphlet of which routes go where. Look for both of those at your nearest schedule rack I guess.

  • The telephone service number is understaffed and closes early. People would be less fearful to take transit if they knew they could call someone and ask if their bus is coming. Unfortunately, customer service closes at 7:00pm on weekdays and 4:30pm(!) on weekends. The weekend time is ridiculous, since it is too early for both workers and leisure riders. Also, the phone lines are jammed on weekdays, leading to long wait times. Usually the late bus shows up by the time you get them on the phone. Problem solved I guess.

The Riders

  • First, a preface. Some unsavory people ride transit. I don't know if transit attracts them or if transit is your only chance to see all walks of life. Unfortunately, I don't have many horror stories because I'm a guy, and the terrible stories almost always involve harassment of females. Instead of focusing on those creeps, I'll instead talk about rider etiquette that could be helped by driver (and even rider) enforcement. But please know, if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, tell the driver or call Port Authority Police at 412-255-1385. Drivers don't take crap, and riders do get kicked off and arrested.

  • Ok, here it comes. MOVE TO THE DAMN BACK OF THE BUS! I cannot stress this enough. Riders get passed up because you don't want to move to the back. Everyone is getting off at Forbes and Murray anyway. You'll get off too. Your friend sitting in the front will still be there when you get off. Move it. A little further back please. No, don't stop at the stairs at the back of the low-floor buses. Walk up them. There you go.

  • People who save seats or sit on the outside. Welcome to public transit. You're going to have to sit next to someone.

  • People who crowd the front of the bus when it's not even full. This is just weird and they deserve every rider getting on elbowing them as they try to make their way to the empty back seats.

  • People who don't pull the cord but expect the driver to stop by yelling "Hey I'm getting off here" as it rolls away. Come on. It's there for a reason. Believe it or not I've seen this.

  • People who don't move from the front seats for the elderly. I've seen two elderly people who were standing fall down. Don't let that happen. It just isn't cool to watch an 80-year-old man hang on for dear life while the college student sits comfortably in the front seats.

  • Did I mention people need to move to the back of the bus?

That's all I have for now, and know that with all of this, I still enjoy public transit. There's a real link to the people and the city when you ride a bus. You really do feel like everyone is in this together. We may be from different places and come from different backgrounds but we're all on the same route.


  1. You left one out. If I'm moving to the back (which I do) drivers who force me to elbow back up to the front to get off when I paid when I got on, instead of opening the back door....

  2. The back door is an interesting issue, and drivers often differ on it. Of course fare control matters, since people sneaking in the back door going into town might not pay, and there's no easy way to pay when leaving going out of town. However, some drivers have been willing to let you flash a pass when leaving the back door on outbound trips. If you would be paying cash, then they would have to awkwardly reenter the bus. It also appears to be a safety issue, as some drivers insist on being near a curb, but I never understood that.

    But yeah, the trouble of getting to the front is why most don't move back. Just remember two words: "COMING OUT!" if the doors close. That's the best way I've heard to get the driver's attention. Thanks for your addition.

  3. Nifty post.

    Those signs on the newer buses are awesome. I've noticed that they're not working about 20% of the time and often they're a street behind. But still, it's great to have some reference other than trying to look out the window for street signs. Anyway...

    One thing about riding the bus and the crazy folk on there I've noticed is that almost without failure these "crazies", if I may, sit at the front of the bus. They're not always dangerous people, just those individuals who never quite grasped the social norms that the rest of us did. You know, they think it's okay to talk to strangers, even to the point of asking them what their favorite underwear color is.

    I'm also a fan of less buses, and I think it could be done with the same amount of service. Right now the system is just too big for its britches, and I think there are a lot of redundant buses going to places that don't need as much service, and buses that don't go to places you might want to.

    And as for your comment on the phone center and schedule deficiencies, both could be solved by having plastic encased schedules at every stop. Portland does it, and I realize they're a shining beacon of everything public transit does right, but if you go to a stop in some lonely suburb way out of town or if you're catching the bus on the busiest downtown street, there's always a little schedule encased in plastic. Surely the cost of implementing that would offset all of those customer service calls and upgrade people's willingness to take the bus.

    It's always nice to know one's actually coming. :)

  4. Totally agree. And yep, there's that back door issue.

    And yeah, why can't we have bus schedules posted at the stops? I want the kind of schedules that every Prague tram stop has: a schedule for each route, with a list of all stops and the time it will take to get to each stop.

  5. +1 on the duplication of the Prague system. Once you understand how it works, it is by far the best system I've seen for finding out when the next bus/tram/train comes.

    I've seen several homespun efforts to hang up schedules at stops. Why don't we all just become more proactive and take matters into our own hands?

  6. If anyone is interested in the Prague schedules, here is one that I used quite often.

    Your current location is always at the top. The minutes to the subsequent stops run along the left side. The right columns list the times that the bus arrives at the current stop on the weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday.

    It appears to be a lot more work than printing one big schedule per route a la PAT, but I don't recall seeing anyone using hand schedules. These sheets, posted at every stop, were sufficient. I don't even know if it was possible to get your own schedule.

    The Communists may not have gotten much right in the end, but they did leave the city with a good transit system.

  7. The Prague tram/bus/metro schedules are online in a very handy fashion at You do have to know the names of the stops you want to start from (odkud) and finish at (kam), though.

  8. As for the buses, I know someone familiar with the situation, and PAT has not had the money to pay for new buses since they've been looting their capital budget (buses, bridges, busways) to support their operating budget. Everybody who hates tne North Shore project assumes its the other way around. In order to keep routes going, they're running older buses. It doesn't help that the County has underfunded PAT since the last year of the Roddey administration (Yeah, that means you too Dan, Dan the tax man).

  9. Thanks for the info Anonymous, and be sure to let me know anything else you find out from your inside source. I'd love to hear about day-to-day operations within the Port Authority.