Apr 25, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
It has become old news — gas prices are edging closer to $4 a gallon, showing no signs of stopping or even slowing. As people across the country throw up their hands, looking for other options, an inevitable question is raised — what about public transportation?
Is it practical, convenient, clean? Is it safe, manageable – is it a cure?
There is an easy way to answer these questions: get on the bus. So, I did.
Hitching a ride
A few things became apparent after speaking to people waiting at the transfer terminal in downtown Syracuse – people who depend on the bus are generally not people who have other means of transportation.
Eric W., a Marcellus resident who relocated from Binghamton two months ago, relies on the bus to get to work at Carousel Center. He says the drivers are friendly enough – he has become friends with many of them as a result of so frequently – and it gets him where he needs to go; still, he cannot wait to buy a car.
He and his girlfriend, Ashley H., agree that having a car will be a big cost for them, but it will be worth it.
“I don’t consider waiting downtown for an hour a convenience,” Eric said of the Centro system.
He is not alone – the biggest problems with the Syracuse bus system are the gaps in scheduling, agreed many riders waiting downtown.
Calvin Cambridge, who moved to Syracuse four years ago from Richmond, Virginia, says after four years, a car is a necessity.
“I’m getting too old to be catching the bus,” said the 20-year-old student. Cambridge said the worst part about riding the bus is being forced to ride with people you do not know.
Eric Deep, from the North Side, has a similar distaste for the bus – he heard public transit is a great way to pick up countless germs.
“I really do boycott the bus,” said Deep. It was an absolute last resort for him, he said, though he does not have a car of his own.
“If I had a car, I’d drive a car,” said David Glasgow, an East Syracuse resident. He moved here two years ago and has been riding Centro ever since, mostly to Carousel Center, or downtown.
His biggest complaint?
“I get mad when the bus takes hours to come – the schedule is not convenient,” he said.
Many riders pointed out that the suburban routes schedule a bus only once every half hour or hour. The waiting time they endure is not the fault of untimely drivers, they agree – the schedule is set up that way.
“All the problems are timing,” said Erica V. of her issues with Centro.
Max Patino, of North Syracuse, rides the bus to work and back every day, and while he says it is not as convenient as the system in Queens, where he is from originally, he believes the system would be sufficient if he did not have a vehicle.
“As long as you maintain contact with the schedule – transfers are sometimes where it (service) falls off,” Patino said.
Driver Erin F. made a similar comment: “Read a schedule – you gotta know where you’re coming and going.”
He said he has been a Centro bus driver for about a year, and used to ride buses in Syracuse as well as other parts of the country. Compared to many other cities, he says, the Centro system is more convenient, particularly because it reaches so far out of the city.
CNY Centro, the bus line servicing Syracuse and Onondaga County, boasts record growth and an eco-friendly fleet of buses, not to mention the 2006 Best Mid-Size Transit System in North America Award.
But does riding the bus reflect any of these bragging rights?
“I get a kick out of the way they advertise, as though it’s sparkling clean,” said John P. of the Syracuse line. The North Geddes Street resident said not only are the buses cleaner in the Auburn fleet, but the drivers are friendlier, the seats more comfortable.
“Drivers are much more courteous, polite,” he added.
He finds that each bus route – the riders and condition of the bus on that route – reflects the attitude and economical situation of the area the bus travels.
“As long as you got a dollar, they don’t care,” said Glasgow of the drivers. He drew nods of agreement as he recounted passengers boarding the bus clearly under the influence of alcohol, with questionable hygienic practices.
Stories of violence and illegal drug activity were enough to make one wonder whether riding the bus is a safe alternative to driving.
In my experiences, at all times of day in different parts of the city, I felt relatively safe and did not personally witness drug use or violence on a Centro bus.
CNY Centro restructured their bus routes in 2002, adding more routes to Syracuse suburbs and outlying neighborhoods, according to the company website, www.cnycentro.org.
Generally, fares are $1 for adults to get from one place to another – no gas tank to fill, no parking to pay for. And in 2002 Centro expanded their CNY routes to include many Syracuse suburbs, now running buses from as far out of the city as Manlius, Elbridge, Central Square and Tully.
Of course, those suburban routes are limited; even downtown in Syracuse, the crossroads of the CNY Centro bus routes, the “line up” occurs only once an hour at some points during the day. And on some routes an additional fare is collected if riders board and exit between certain points along the route.
The power of petro
Since 2002, Centro has experienced a steady increase in ridership, said Steve Koegel, Centro Communications Manager. During the first three months of 2008, ridership increased 10%.
“The real significant increase is in suburban service,” Koegel said.
He said Centro has seen a substantial increase in use as a direct result of increasing gas prices, and that it is safe to say there are significant new faces among Centro’s existing riders.
But are people with access to their own vehicles opting to ride the bus as a result of gas prices? Centro believes so, but few existing riders I spoke to believe they would continue to take the bus at all if they had access to a car.
Gas prices may be high, they agreed, but it is a small price to pay to say goodbye to the bus.
Cambridge stated simply, “I hate the bus,” and recounted an instance he was stranded in Liverpool during inclement weather. Aside from the hour-long gap in the bus route schedule that kept him waiting, because the bus stops was not enclosed, Cambridge stood in rain as it turned to slushy snow for around an hour before he started walking the bus route.
He eventually met up with a bus, but had to pay an additional 25 cents because he boarded in an extended fare zone.
Cambridge said he never complained to Centro regarding the inconvenience.
Get on board
Buses line up at the transfer station downtown, on the corner of Salina and Fayette Streets, on four different street corners. Information regarding schedules and on which street each bus pulls up is posted on only one board, near an information booth.
There is no system map posted, though any individual route maps and schedules are available at the information booth, which is closed on Sunday.
Koegel said a system map is available on the Centro website. As far as plans for new routes or more frequent stops along existing routes, Koegel said Centro continues to monitor use and will adjust the routes as needed.
For new riders, knowledge of your destination and route are key. Buses take cash, coins, tokens or Centro passes on board, and tokens and passes can be purchased at the information booth downtown. The Centro website, www.centro.org, includes fare information, schedules, maps, and other answers to common rider questions; similar information is available through Centro Customer Service, 442-3400.