Like everyone, I’m feeling a pinch from the slow economy and rising gas prices. I also happen to live quite near a commuter lot for Richmond’s bus system, GRTC. I also work downtown, which is where, I imagine, most of the buses are headed each day. So, I thought I would look into the cost and convenience of riding the bus.
Unfortunately, the GRTC doesn’t post any useful information on the routes, that I could find. I tried the trip planner, but that failed with an unhelpful error message.
After downloading their route map, I made a guess at a suitable route number (Route 27, Glenside Park and Ride). This PDF helpfully had a nice clear map and a trip schedule. Unfortunately, it seems as though my only choice for arriving at work by 8:30 is to catch a bus at the park and ride at 7:32, to arrive at 14th & Bank (one block from my office) at 7:52. There is a bus that departs the Park and Ride fifteen minutes later, but it goes to the garage after stopping at 9th & Marshall at 8:14 — two stops shy of the stop nearest my office. The trip back posses less problems, though the last 27 bus departs my office stop at 5:20, so if I needed to work late, I’d have to find another route.
Alright, none of that is the end of the world. From what I can tell, there are, of course, other bus routes that overlap some or all of the Glenside express route. Perhaps I could take the 7:45 bus from Glenside and switch to a different route somewhere downtown. But where? Looking at the system map is not a lot of help here, precisely because so many routes overlap. If the trip planner was functional, I’m sure it could give me suggestions. But, as it is, I need to use the hunt and peck method of investigation.
So, let’s imagine that I took the 7:45 from Glenside Park & Ride, and now I’m at the end of the line, 9th & Marshall. It’s now 8:14 a.m. and I need to be at my desk in 16 minutes. It looks like the 6 Route (Main St./Broad St.) passes relatively near 9th & Marshal, and it appears to pass by my office (though I have no idea if there is a stop there). The good news is, the 6 does stop near my work (Main & 13th, which is a couple blocks away). The bad news is, that is as much as I could get from this route map and schedule pdf. From the information on the schedule, I’m not positive that it comes at all close to 9th & Marshall. And, even if it does, the amount of time involved in all of this means I’d probably have to get on the 7:32 bus, anyway, and that bus makes the whole trip.
There is also a bus stop even closer to my work than the 27 line — it is actually at the entrance to our parking lot — but I have no idea at this point what routes stop there. For the sake of thoroughness, I’ll keep trying the Trip Planner to see if it is working. I’m sure it won’t do better than the express that can pick me up very near my house and drop me off a block from work, but perhaps it can help identify back-up routes, should something go wrong.
At this point, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking the GRTC, because I have no confidence that I can find my way around town with what is available on their web site. I don’t know how other small cities handle their public transportation, but I would love to see some examples of public transit done well. I know people bemoan the fact that the DC Metro doesn’t reach very many places, and that the public transportation is only good at funneling people into the city and back (and not so much for getting from one outlying area to another), but it is certainly quite easy to find your way around. I’m sure it’s not fair to compare a (rather small) subway system with an overlapping web of bus routes, but surely something can be done to make Richmond’s public transit more navigable.