Public Transit: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Part 1: Bad Transit
I lived in Rochester, New York for two years - during that entire time, I traveled to and from work either on foot or by bus - and it was a MISERABLE experience. Why? Because public transit in Rochester was awful. (They have made some improvements since I left, which I'll mention - to be fair!) There are three essential problems with public transit in Rochester:
- Route design.
Most routes only travel on the major spoke streets - which is great when you're inside the central area of the city proper, but begins to cause some major problems in the suburbs. The city of Rochester is designed in a circle format, with the major streets forming spokes out from the center. By the end of the streets, the bus lines may be half a mile or more apart. This is fine for somebody like me, who is perfectly willing and able to walk half a mile to transfer buses - but is seriously problematic for anybody with physical disabilities or for the elderly.
- Route frequency.
The primary route that I rode ran straight up and down one of the four or five most major routes in the city. At peak travel times, this bus ran all of once every forty minutes. This does NOT make anybody's life easy! The buses also frequently ended their schedules quite early - one route I need to ride regularly gave me only two options - if I finished teaching at 6:00, I could catch a bus at 6:28 - but if I had to teach longer? 7:47pm. This is not really acceptable! This was two separate routes, BOTH on major city arteries.
- Schedule design.
The schedules for this bus system are simply not designed very well. The times provided on an average 6 mile route would give you the times for only 5 stops along the way - making it difficult to estimate when a bus would actually be likely to arrive. The routes were frequently changed after 6:00 or so in the evening or on weekends - and the schedules did tell you this, if you knew how! For example, the schedule for the 17, which I rode, stated the following text for buses operating after 7:40pm:
Bus arrives at/leaves from Main & Clinton, operating via Park Avenue route to East & Winton and continuing to Nazareth College. No service to East Ave. between Alexander St. and Colby St., or to Midtown Plaza.
This was quite true, and accurate to a point. What the schedule DOES NOT say, and which is really quite important, is that the bus which you will in fact see if you are at one of these stops is the 1. The 1, of course, is the bus which routinely operates on Park Avenue - it simply changes it's route for the later evening.
Most routes have this problem in some way or another - such as the bus which runs to the airport. On weekends, this bus is a different line - but this is not mentioned in the schedule, which simply states that the bus will take a different route.
To give the RGRTA it's due credit, they are improving. They have added a trip planner to their website which is a vast improvement on the former ability to figure out routes from their schedules. One can only hope they're able to add routes and schedules!
Why is a transit system this bad? I don't really blame it on the management, although I don't think they're entirely blameless - it's the responsibility of a public which simply doesn't make enough use of the bus to convince the city to invest in it. It's a vicious circle - people won't use the system because it's not very user friendly, and the system won't improve because nobody uses it.
Next up: my best transit experiences - Vienna, Austria.
Updated by Joe Dolson on 24 August, 2009