I started taking the bus in August from downtown Champaign, where my full-time job is, to the University of Illinois campus, where I get to teach a group of very bright students two days a week.
I’d always driven in previous semesters, and the thought of giving up the control of being in my own car, on my own schedule, bothered me. But this semester I figured I’d give the bus a shot.
Now, classes are ending for the semester and I wanted to take a look back at the whole bus thing.
Do I like it? Yep.
The ride takes perhaps three more minutes than it would take me to drive.
But on the bus, I don’t have to worry about anyone darting out in front of me on any of those busy campus streets. No bicyclists coming at me the wrong way on Wright Street. I don’t have to get frustrated at the stop lights in campustown. I don’t have to remember to bring change for the parking meter. Or worry about finding one.
I got a hybrid bus one day: oooh, quiet.
I have no idea whether the buses were on time or not, because it didn’t matter. The ability to send a text and get the real-time arrivals of the next several buses at my stop was all that I needed. I was never late for my class.
Money spent on parking meters on campus this fall: Zero.
Having said that, I do have some thoughts.
I’ve been lucky that there’s been little inclement weather on my class days. I teach at Gregory Hall and there is a bus shelter at Armory Avenue and Wright Street nearby. I mention this shelter in a phone call with Tom Costello, assistant managing director of the MTD, and he says it with me: “It leaks.”
“We go out there every summer and re-caulk those,” he said.The shelter also is tiny. And to board the bus there, you have to walk across the bike path. I’ve seen several near-collisions. There may be no solution, but especially when the weather’s nice and lots of students are riding their bikes, it’s hazardous.
“That is a confluence of several bad things,” Costello said. “We’ve wrestled with that for years. … The long, long, long-term plan is to reconfigure that intersection” to move the bikes away from the bus stop. Bus doors open on the right, so the only way you do that is move the bike path. That will be fun.
There are people smarter than I figuring out the routes and stops and so forth, but I was surprised that you can’t get off the bus at Green and Wright.
The traffic signal cycle at the intersection dictates no stopping there, Costello said. Green Street traffic gets a light, Wright Street traffic gets a light and then pedestrians in all directions get a light.
“Once you get the green, you need to be able to go,” Costello said, pointing out that passengers can get off the bus at Healey to the north of Green Street or at the transit plaza a little more than a block south.
For me, that particular inconvenience was pretty much offset by those autumn days that make the campus -- my alma mater -- a really special place. I walk down Wright Street or on the Quad and memories that have dimmed over the years can pop back up, if briefly. And in gorgeous weather, the heart of campus is beautiful, and alive. (Although I'm ready for the construction equipment to be gone from Lincoln Hall.)
After I first wrote about my experiment, someone – the MTD’s Twitter account, I think – suggested that you also could work while you ride the bus.
I certainly can’t.
Part of that is the duration of the commute. Get the laptop fired up and you’ve got perhaps seven minutes of usable time.
But go ahead and type something on any route from downtown to campustown. I know what it will say: FhtoiAGYrtlfwghtRHR. Or something like that. This is not a smooth trip. I have seen perhaps two people actually doing something that looked like studying during my trips. I have seen one person using a laptop.
But I wasn’t going to get anything written while driving to or from campus , so while I don’t think most people would be able to work on the bus, I also don’t think it matters very much.
Also: Every driver on every route I took was courteous, and several were downright friendly – and they all knew every route by heart, as evidenced by the people who ask if they can get to point A from here. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me, but when customer service is so often mediocre, it’s worth noting.