Monday, March 29, 2010

It is the last week

I find it hard to believe but I’m in the final stretch here.  This is my last week of my commitment to ride the bus for 40 days.  While my personal commitment is going to expire this week I’ve actually changed my transportation habits and dare a I say preference.  I expect to continue to use the bus for commuting for many reasons, but mostly because it’s easy and I like it.

Last week I enjoyed two experiences that never would have happened in the car.  First I met a neighbor while waiting at the stop whom I never knew existed.  It turned out we had a number of things in common.  Secondly I ran into a old coworker who I had not seen in years.  It was nice to catch up on the ride home. I dig that the bus has a social element to it and offers a opportunity to connect with folks that I normally would not see at a day in the office.

So what am I planning for my last week of posts?  Well here are the topics I want to get to but I haven’t yet.

  • What’s the value of my 40 day experiment as a carbon offset 
  • OneBusAway and why it rules
  • Lastly I want to answer the questions in my original post with The total newbie's guide to riding the bus.

And now I’ll leave you with a couple more cute photos of my kids and the bus.  Last week my youngest daughter visited me at work for a hour or so before work ended.  We rode home together on the bus.  This was her first trip and she was of course very excited.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I cheated yesterday, sort of

I haven’t missed a day of bussing since I started this adventure.  Even preschool, which I expected to be cumbersome has been really easy.  I’ve been motivated every morning to go catch the bus and I’ve been truly enjoying the extra time the bus gives me to work, read and think.

However yesterday was different.  I had to visit a customer for work.  This is something I rarely get to do.  The customer only lived about 6 miles, as the crow flies, from my house.  The night before I put the route into Google maps and no matter how I calculated it I was looking at 3 busses and close to 2 miles of walking to get to the customers house in Redmond.  I scratched my head for along time but the memories of last Friday were too fresh.  I decided my car was the way to go.

Yep, I cheated on my bus diet and drove my car to the customers house and then onto work.  I felt dirty but luckily there are showers where I work.  In the end I couldn’t justify the amount of extra time the trip was going to take on the bus nor was I willing to risk being late.

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of just selling my car but it’s the unexpected things like this that make me think I still need it.  Sure a zip car might be an answer but I have to admit deep down I still feel like I need a car.  But based on my experiences over the past several months I’m pretty clear that I need it a lot less than I previously thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It happened for the first time on Friday - Metro failed me :(

After over a month of religiously taking the bus to work, I had my first negative experience. It all started as I was winding down my day at work. I checked OneBusAway and my bus was set to arrive in 6 minutes. For those not in the Seattle area OneBusAway is a website/smartphone app that provides real-time data about where a Metro bus is on it's route. 6 minutes is tight for me to get from my office to the stop, but it's doable. So I hustled out the door.

As luck would have it I got held up at the two crosswalks I need to cross to get to the stop and before I knew it the 245 was screaming by. Oh well, the 245 runs every 15min so it's really no big deal I thought. So I check OneBusAway on my phone and something was up as the next bus was 27 minutes away, 12 minutes late. Since I had some time on my hands and it was Friday, I decided to take a stroll rather than head back in and work. So I walked down the street to get some exercise in the hopes of picking up the bus down the line.

I still don't know exactly what happened but that bus that was supposed to be there in 27 minutes ended up taking about a hour to show up. It was my most packed ride yet. I overheard the driver say he hit some traffic near crossroads, a local mall, when a fellow rider complained. Whatever the cause I was really late getting home.

As you can imagine showing up a hour late for dinner doesn't go over very well at home. For some being a hour late to work could mean losing a job. I'm lucky because my schedule has what most of the world would consider a lot of flexibility. If I wasn't so flexible, the bus would be a complete nonstarter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bombs, Babies, Books and Bags – things I’ve learned from talking with bus drivers

I plan to just keep adding to this post as I continue to learn more.  So far I’ve befriended several bus drivers who are slowly divulging the secrets of their profession.  Maybe they aren’t secrets, but they are the most interesting parts of my conversations with them so far.  In random order:

They aren’t supposed to get into fare disputes – as part of their training they tell them that they shouldn’t confront riders over the fare they paid.  Basically a rider can put in whatever change they have and the bus driver will begrudgingly have to let you ride the bus.

You really can take just about anything on the bus – this includes dogs, cats, chickens, swords, strollers, etc.  I asked about firearms and the answer was it’s fine as long as you are licensed to carry.  Interestingly enough a driver is not allowed to pack heat.  Gasoline, gas powered vehicles and fireworks seem to be about the only things not ok.

A bus can’t radio another bus – They have a little telephone up front but it only calls the dispatch center.  So the bus drivers use hand signals to communicate on the road.

Training to become a driver takes ~ 1 month - It’s mostly classroom training but they do have “playground” where they practice.

Bus drivers drive a route for 4 months – then they get assigned new routes.  With seniority comes the right to request certain routes.  The ones with the best views are the most prized.  Basically it’s just like how corporate folks jockey for window offices.  I should add that every driver I’ve talked to love their job.

Bombs, babies, books and bags – when the route ends and the bus turns around the driver has to walk the bus.  I don’t know if they teach them that little alliterative phrase in training but that’s what they walk the bus looking for.  I have to assume they’ve found one of each before or they wouldn’t have the phrase!

Feel free to leave comments with any other fun facts.  I’d also love to hear what the craziest thing you’ve taken or seen taken on the bus is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Get in shape, ride the bus

I love to exercise.  I’m into my bike, love being outside and recently I’ve started focusing on running, for the umpteenth time.  God willing I hope to do a half marathon this summer.  Exercise and I have always got along great but the amount of time I get to devote to it these days is limited between work and family life.  Like anything worth doing in life, it’s all about prioritizing what’s important.

When I started my bussing adventure I didn’t really think that I it would have any effect on my fitness but over the past several weeks I started to realize that the bus causes me to get quite a bit more walking in during the average day.

IMG_3834I also love data.  So last week I started to try to quantify the benefits of taking the bus.  My daily walk to the bus stop from my house = ~1200 steps and the walk from the bus stop to my office is another 150 or so.  x2 since I do that twice a day and I ‘m getting a bonus 2700 steps a day that I would not get with taking my car.  This morning I had an appointment before work which I walked to so by the time I walked into my office I was already over 3400 steps for the day and its only 9am.  If I do nothing else today but ride the bus home I’ll be close to 5000 steps.  With all the other walking I tend to just do in a day that gets me close to the recommended 10,000 steps a day without any focused time spent on exercise.

While riding the bus might not be the cure for our national obesity crisis, it certainly can’t hurt.  This is a benefit of taking the bus I really have never heard articulated before.  The bus should run a house ad about it. :)

Assuming my daughter is willing I plan to attach a pedometer to her tomorrow and see how many steps she gets in when we take the bus to preschool.  Her stride is smaller so in theory she should get more steps.  Besides she is 4 and runs everywhere.

I’m curious what your thoughts are?  Has anyone perceived health benefits from the walking associated with riding the bus?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hey I know what that is, it’s called a house ad

I work in the software industry which over the years has turned more and more into an advertising industry.  That transition has introduced me to a number of concepts, one of which is the “house ad”.  When an advertiser, tv, billboard, software or otherwise can’t sell out an ad spot they don’t just leave it blank.  Instead they display some filler content.  Often the ads just promote the company that owns the ad space.  Sometimes it beckons you to place an ad.IMG_3828

I’ve noticed over the past month that every bus I ride is plastered with house ads and very few paid ads.  In fact I recently rode on a bus with no paid ads at all.

I did some investigation, made a few calls and learned a couple things.  First the city only sells the ads on the drivers side of the bus.  So one entire side of every Seattle Metro bus is devoted to house ads.  These ads like the one shown above generally promote what you should do to be a good bus rider, like not touching the driver.  Doesn’t that urge always come over you when you board the bus?  You have to wonder how many drivers got touched before they printed that sign! They also include information on fares and other business like that.  So every bus automatically is at least 50% house ads.

You can buy an ad on the other side of the bus and it’s actually not that expensive.  They come in 2 sizes 11x17 and 11x34.  The smaller ad will cost you ~$14 and the larger ~$28 for 4 weeks of time on 1 bus.  If you want to hit every bus in downtown Seattle you need to buy 600, so it can get expensive.  But you can buy as few or as many buses as you want and you can pick the routes you want to be on so you can target your ads by location pretty easily.

However given the few paid ads I see on the 245 I’m guessing advertising inside the bus just isn’t something leveraged that much these days by advertisers.  Just like the phone book and newspaper ads are dying it would seem bus ads going the same direction?  Or maybe bus riders aren’t a demographic that is valuable to advertisers.  I tend to think it’s the later, which makes me a bit sad.  The one paid ad I seem to see on every bus is entirely in Spanish and appears to be aimed at helping pregnant women learn more about adoption.  I'm surprised there aren’t more ads targeted at professionals like me.  The crowing achievement of software ad industry is that it can target ads based on what is known about a person based on their email, search results or friends.  In the case of the bus you know exactly where I’m going, roughly where I live and work and you have my attention for at least 10 minutes.  Additionally almost everyone on the bus these days is carrying a internet capable device these days.  It seems like the ad quantity and quality should be way better than they are. But then again I guess I’m not the demographic so who am I to judge.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Another successful preschool outing on the city bus

We’ve had a surprisingly dry winter here in Seattle but this morning it was raining.  I asked my daughter if she still wanted to take the bus and she didn’t hesitate one bit, she was game.

Sophie KittyToday was a “show and tell” day for at preschool and she had selected her favorite kitty Sophie to show to the class.   Sophie is a “furreal” friend.  A mechanical cat that looks and sounds pretty much like a real cat.  We generally don’t allow it to leave the house as it freaks people out, but today was special.  So Sophie, my daughter and I packed up for the city bus.

Slug on the sidewalkJust like last time the walk to the bus stop was the most exciting part of the trip.  While we didn’t find any money today we did find a tiny slug which captured her imagination for quite some time at the bus stop.  So much so she really wanted to take it home.  After getting slug goo all over our hands we boarded our bus, driven again by Michael.

This bus was the latest bus I’ve ridden so far.  It was 17 minutes late.  According to my handy iPhone app which can track the buses via GPS the next bus was behind it only by 2 minutes.  I asked Michael what the deal was and he claimed there was a bunch of construction traffic he ran IMG_3822into.  While we got to preschool on time I could imagine this being very stressful if your counting on the bus to get you to an appointment.  Michael said they have a saying “We might not be on time, but we will be safe”.

Bussing to preschool is quickly becoming a thing my daughter looks forward too and I’m really excited to share with her the notion that a car is just one of many ways we can get around.