Man, this is getting old.
I take the bus to and fro almost every weekday, twice a day between work and home. While the commute is a full 90 minutes each way, that isn’t even something that I could complain about. I just pop in my headphones and I go about my way. And it usually isn’t that bad.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of the drivers are awesome. One dude usually waits for me every morning, says hello, and he’s by far the most courteous and upbeat bus driver I have ever met in the city, and at 6:30 in the morning, no less. So I’m truly blessed by that. But… that’s such a rare occurrence. And if you don’t live in the good ol’ B-of-More, you have no idea.
But the bus system is a crap-shoot of whether it’ll be good or bad that day. And I’m talking about the commute back home. The first time I had to take the bus home I was practically running to catch it, but as soon as I reached the door the darn thing drove off, leaving me and a pregnant woman to catch our breaths as we waited over half an hour for the next one, which was late as well, about 15 minutes.
And this isn’t just an issue on my route. I’ve taken other bus routes over the years and the problems with this whole system are simply unbelievable. Just an unimaginably, inexcusably lazy and awful system. Buses don’t show up at the right time if at all, routes change without notice, and drivers can just get plain nasty.
This morning I arrived at the bus stop at 6:25 and waited for the 6:29 bus to show up. Usually, it comes around 6:23 and the driver takes a quick break before starting up services again, since this is the first stop of the line, and shortly after I board. But today I see the bus barreling towards the stop with a different driver at the wheel, and just as quickly it leaves. No stopping. No slowing down. Nothing. I ended up getting driven to work, which took me past a toll that incidentally happened to have increased to 4$, costing over twice as much as the bus would have.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Welcome to Baltimore!
Thoroughly pissed this morning, I was going to file a complaint to the MTA (Maryland Transit Administration) via their website, but while looking for it online I came across so many stories and a few forums with people describing their own experiences with certain bus routes and drivers, ranging from being left behind, wreckless driving, and having a driver flip the bird at others on the road. Whether they are all completely truthful, I don’t know, but I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised. Needless to say, I didn’t feel so bad anymore. In comparison I had no complaint. I’ve had it easy.
There are all sorts of complaints about the MTA, and thus I realized I wasn’t alone. And I haven’t had nearly as bad an experience as some others. One woman was blown off completely as a bus passed her by without even stopping. She ran to it when it got to a stop light and the driver told her she should’ve stood up and then sped off, leaving her in the street. While MTA spokesman Terry Owens says that the bus drivers are so wonderfully “trained to see people standing up”, this is ridiculous and inexcusable. I can see how the MTA would try to defend itself and this driver by saying that people need to be standing. And I understand that it is easier to see people standing. But it sounds like someone needs to train these drivers in common sense because this kind of stuff isn’t just happening at stops with multiple routes, but at single route locations! If someone is waiting at a bus stop and your bus is the only one coming, obviously people are there for that bus specifically. Why is this happening?
Though I have to say that the best stories I’ve heard by far – stop me if you’ve heard this one already – is anything having to do with the #27. I’ve never had to take it, but according to this gem here it’s amazing elusive. Besides being late, the bus reportedly doesn’t show up, and as this article states “it’s matchless unreliability has become legendary”. So much so that one chagrined rider went so far as to post missing flyers for the bus, offering the prize of a high-five if the offending vehicle ever showed up. Absolutely brilliant.
Most of these complaints have been reported to the MTA, but it seems to me that almost always when they do actually get a response, it happens to be from their spokesman. First of all, why is he the one responding to these issues? I’m gonna go ahead and guess that he doesn’t have the power to make any reasonable changes. And secondly, the responses are always rather defensive without substance or sincerity. Saying “We regret your experience” means NOTHING. It means nothing. At least act like you care when responding.
My own personal complaints with the system in general:
- The signs are small and don’t stand out at all. Sometimes I have no clue where to wait for the bus.
- When I actually get to a sign, it gives absolutely no indication of which direction the bus is headed. Nothing but a taped-on bus number with questionable legitimacy.
- No schedules at most stops.
- No maps showing where we are. If you get lost, how can you find your way back to a bus that can get you home?
- The bus is always late or early, the latter being the worst. If a bus gets there early and pulls away before you reach it, you’re stuck waiting an extra hour anyway.
- The fact that buses only arrive once every half hour, at least on my route. That is way too long to have to wait for another!
- Last but not least: The drivers. Oh, the drivers. You know.
Despite these complains, I can say that I’m generally satisfied with my MTA experience since I don’t rely on it for all my transportation needs, but when things go wrong it’s always somehow a slap in the face. It’s ridiculous.
Now let me make a quick comparison to the French system of public transportation, which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing while studying in Grenoble a few months back.
- Very rarely was the bus late more than a few minutes – usually if there was a snow storm or some other inclement weather. It never just blew past us. It always stopped, even if I was seated and it wasn’t my bus, it stopped. And after about 10 seconds if I didn’t get up to board, it would leave. Like the gentlemanly bus it was. Unbelievable.
- The bus came once every 10 minutes. Not every 30.
- There were buses and trams (like the light rail) available.
- Bus and tram shelters were informative. They all included:
- Digital displays that showed how long it would be until the next tram or bus. They were 95% correct most of the time, and helped me on many a day when I needed to decide what would get me to my destination the fastest. I know this would probably be an expensive change, but it was so invaluable.
- A map of the city detailing bus and tram routes. I got lost my first night there, but never again. And if I did end up somewhere random by accident, I was always able to find out how to get back home. I can’t even imagine having to deal with that in Baltimore (where certain areas may not even be that safe).
- The final destination is listed. Seriously. How can you expect someone to wait at a bus stop when they don’t even know if it’s going in the right direction, Baltimore?
- They weren’t sticks poking out of the ground. They were actual shelters.
With all of this in effect, I was able to fully utilize the services and appreciate the effort that the French bus company went through to satisfy riders. I was appalled by the system in Baltimore, forgetting how bad it was until my return.
Alternate forms of travel are also an issue here. Buses and trams were well used in Grenoble, but rentable bikes were the next best thing. If you can’t get your bus service right, please at least offer alternate forms of transportation. Bikes are a great and non-expensive way to get from point A to point B, and are awesome for the environment as well as your health!
All in all, there is so much that can be done with the MTA bus service, and it’s a shame that people are being hurt by a service “intended” to help. There are no excuses for bus drivers who don’t show at least some courtesy or human decency when operating these buses. Some drivers are wonderful, and while I won’t say that the bad ones are a majority, there are certainly way too many if them. And sadly they’re the ones that stand out.
While there are certainly exceptions to every rule and this situation isn’t completely made of bad experiences, there are far too many unanswered complaints out there. And for that, the The MTA oughta be ashamed of itself. We need a system that gets people from point A to B on-time and without so many problems.
Is that too much to ask?