Bus Woes

Perhaps it was my rant against the 57 on Monday, but for some reason, as luck would have it, for two days in a row (Monday night and Tuesday night), I stared longingly at a 57 bus across the Watertown intersection only to have it pull out and not pick me up.

It’s basically an emotional rollercoaster. I cross the Charles River bridge and can see the yellow markings of the bus with the 57 in lights across the top. Elation! I’m just in time! I jog to the curbside to await the light changes. I watch others across the intersection slowly filing onto the bus, swiping their Charlie cards, or carefully counting out change. Perfect! People are still loading. Then I wait. I shift from foot to foot anxiously staring at the swirling traffic as it haltingly moves and honks and shifts through the intersection. Can I go now? Can I cross? I put a foot into the street. A car whizzes by snapping me back onto the safety of the curb. I glance at the bus yard—no other waiting buses. I glance up the street to see whether any buses are approaching the bus yard from the opposite direction signaling that even if I miss this bus, another one will swing around soon. Nothing. Now my elation turns to angst.

Can I cross the street? When will these lights change?! Avoiding a right-on-red car, I make my way partly through the intersection…maybe I’ll make it! I wait. I wonder why there are so many people on the bus. It can only mean one of two things: 1) there has not been a bus I a long time so that means there might be another soon even if I miss this one or 2) there hasn’t been a bus in a long time and that means there probably won’t be another one soon because the schedule is messed up.

The lights switch and I bound across the intersection, freed by the solid white walking man. Yes! I can make it. But then I hear the shifting breaks and gears of the bus and see it rumbling forward from Watertown Yard. No! Seriously?

I’m three feet in front of the bus as the driver distinctly avoids looking at me and turns out onto the street—refusing to acknowledge my attempt at a stare-down or my frantically waving hands. Utter dejection.

I glance at my watch. Five till six, near to the time on Monday night when I waited more than half an hour after watching a bus pull out as I was trying to cross the intersection. That night I watched nine other buses (not 57s) pull out through the yard while I waited—including three 57s that pulled into the bus yard with passengers, but exited with ‘Out of Service’ signs.

As my friend Neal wrote to me yesterday, “What’s the point of having public transit if it completely sucks? ([My girlfriend] keeps writing to the T to complain, and they just send her a free token—which is pretty lousy if the bus won’t even stop to let her on!).”

And perhaps the frustrating thing is that the bus drivers are all pretty nice people. I like to think it’s not that they intentionally don’t pick people up or mess up the schedule. I understand they don’t have control over the lights, or traffic, or buses breaking down.

However, I question why there is not some way of figuring this out. Why are other cities able to get their public transportation working in a way that benefits the public but Boston is not? Until that question is answered, I guess I’ll just continue to face the emotional ups and downs of my favorite, ridiculous 57 bus—but I may need to do some zen breathing this morning before I walk out the door.
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I am a firm believer in public transportation. Despite owning a car, I’ve been riding the 57 bus from Brighton Center to Watertown and back home for almost two years. However, there are many days when I question my enthusiasm for environmentally friendly transportation alternatives. Today, after again waiting for an inordinate amount of time on my return ride, I decided to calculate (roughly) how many extra minutes and hours of my life have been spent waiting for the 57 bus.

I’m no math whiz. But given that on average that I wait about 10-15 minutes for a bus that’s supposed to come every 5-10–on many occasions I’ve waited upwards of half an hour–and factoring in weekends and vacation, I estimate I’ve spent about 10,000 minutes, or 166 hours, or 6.9 days waiting for that damn bus. That is a lot of time I could be doing other things.

It’s fair to say that if I were driving, I might sit in traffic some similar amount of time. However, I have driven to work on a few occasions and 1) the door-to-door trip usually only takes a total of 10 minutes and 2) if there is traffic, I find it generally does not border on the absurdity of the 57 bus.

Take this morning for example. As I rounded the corner of my street to meet a friend for tea before work, I looked over to see three 57s barrelling toward me. So tempted was I by the sight of a 57 actually arriving on time, I almost suggested cancelling coffee with my friend–or at least changing venues–so that we could take advantage of the approaching buses. But then I paused. Three 57s? Three? All butting up against one another? This from a bus route where they are supposed to be spaced 5-10 minutes apart. Good luck to anyone arriving after that trio passed. There probably wouldn’t be another bus for at least half an hour. And then, perhaps the most absurd, none of them stopped at the set bus stop–despite the fact that several people stood waiting.

It was a brilliant example of my daily frustration. Poorly timed buses, that then, in their rush to separate from one another and create spacing, actually pass waiting travelers. Bravo MBTA! Another stellar example of quality programming.

Realizing that there wouldn’t be another bus for half an hour, my friend and I decided to just enjoy our tea. And sure enough, as we emerged half an hour later, a 57 was perfectly arriving at the bus stop as we walked up–the only one to arrive since the previous three.

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