Circulator draws riders but isn't on schedule
The Charm City Circulator, the free city bus service introduced 13 months ago, continues to post strong ridership figures on its two routes, but staying on schedule remains a problem.
When the Circulator was launched there was talk of running buses at 10-minute intervals, but the city quickly scaled that back to 15 as the realities of running an urban bus system through the heart of downtown sunk in.
Last month's totals show an average interval, known as a headway, of 17 1/2 minutes on the two routes now in service. But during peak evening traffic, that deteriorated to 21 minutes -- a long time to wait in January when walking is a viable option for many riders. Most of the problems seem to be showing up on the east-west Orange Route, which may help explain why the north-south Purple Route drew almost 20,000 more riders.
Scott Solomon, a regular rider from Federal Hill, pointed out that at one point this morning the bus tracker at Penn Station on the Purple Route showed expected wait times of 4, 26 and 57 minutes for a bus. That means an unfortunate rider who just missed the second bus would face a 26-minute wait.
Solomon provided a detailed, well-thought-out critique of the Circulator service, which I'll pass along while inviting a response from the city Transportation Department.
Probably 80% of the time I have an fine experience - or I'm smart enough to anticipate issues using the tools they provide such as bus tracker, NextBus, etc. The tools are nice and people really utilize them. I check it in the morning and prepare to leave my house in Fed Hill by 7:30 to be at work by 8:10, taking into account the schedule won't always work perfectly for me - this includes a 6 minute walk from my home to my stop outside of Ropewalk (Tavern). So as long as a bus arrives between 7:36 and 8:00 I shouldn't have a problem. However it's rare to go an entire week without having some issue one way or another which requires walking 25 minutes to/from work. I can't tell you how many times the bus tracker says 4mins/31mins/37mins. Not a big deal, but I'm in my late 20's and healthy - if I was in a different situation or had a less flexible job or worked farther uptown, I would question the CCC as my primary means of transportation.
A couple other things to point out - the majority of the drivers are very pleasant and friendly. There are one or two very cranky individuals though. One refuses to pick up school kids because they travel in packs and are a little loud. If the CCC wants to make it a policy not to pick up school kids because they have the free MTA passes, that's fine, but individual drivers shouldn't be making policies. Another driver blocked the intersection of Cross and Light for a good 5 minutes because a car was sort of blocking the bus stop. His reasoning was "one person not following the rules makes everyone suffer" In reality he was just being stubborn and acting unprofessionally. An MTA driver walked up to his door and finally convinced him to move. It seems as if a couple of the drivers have chips on their shoulders about the buses being free - as if we should be thanking our lucky stars that they are there to drive us around. Don't get me wrong - I'm appreciative of the service - but it's not Bobby Bus Driver's Whimsical Ride.
Next concern is drivers/buses not 'completing the route'. My route home is downtown to Fed Hill - like so many others - and many times a bus will come down Light with the "Not in service" sign on - but carrying a bus load of people. Driver says not in service and doesn't allow passengers to board - knowing that all those people's final destination is in Fed Hill. He continues on - drops people off along the way and heads off down Hanover leaving a bunch of people to walk while they could've grabbed a ride without consequence. Just doesn't seem logical. I will say lately they have improved on this front so it's possible they figured this one out. Or maybe it's driver dependent.
Driver switches have improved significantly. It used to be up to 10 minutes to undertake a driver change at Conway/Light but it's down to about 3 minutes now. Earlier this week we did wait a couple minutes for the new driver to finish her cigarette before taking the wheel. Kind of maddening.
Buses are still pretty clean. No complaints. Passengers are almost always pleasant. I was concerned there would be a bunch of panhandlers on every bus but no one has ever asked me for anything. Maybe there's a homeless guy or two but they are quiet and respectful. People could do a better job of giving up seats for disabled/elderly. Frankly I'm shocked that people just seem to be so oblivious. People should be jumping out of their seats instead everyone expects 'someone else to get up.'
When it comes down to it - I really believe the #1 issue is the buses just aren't mechanically sound. They overheat in the summer - and ever since it's gotten cold, it's rare to see more than 3 buses on a route at any one time. Not sure what the winter issue is, but it must be something. Instead of adding a 4th route, perhaps they should increase the fleet on the routes they have. Capacity seems strained as it is.
A friend asked the other day what the buses run on. Someone replied "hope" Pretty much sums it up...
Well, city, folks, it's your turn. You think Solomon got it right?