Monday, December 14, 2015

The Great Bus Adventure

The Great Bus Adventure

I apologize for such a grandiose title. More, I need to warn you that this post is woefully banal. I thoroughly enjoyed my day, and I want to share my joy with others, but I know that it will be disappointingly trivial for many of you.

So, in an attempt to avoid needlessly wasting your time, or worse, provoking you to disdain, please consider this warning:


1. You have lived in a city big enough to support a public transit system AND you have been daring enough to patronize said public transit system.

2. You know how to interpret bus schedules.

3. You know the difference between "downtown" and "uptown".


Ok. I'm glad that's been settled. Here we go with today's post: The Great Bus Adventure.

I grew up in Vale (population 1,838), a small town in eastern Oregon. We didn't have any sort of public transit system, although the Greyhound bus did stop at the cafe at the edge of town for a dinner break on its way to Winnemucca. I think it was a Greyhound bus. It may have been a county corrections bus. I didn't pay real close attention to such things.

We didn't have a taxi service. The nearest train depot was about 16 miles away. We had an airport, but only crop dusters and the rare gyrocopter could be found there.

The "big city" for us was Boise, about 70 miles away. Trips to the big city were rare, and we never used a taxi or bus while there. We had relatives living there, and to my small town eyes they were rich. Everything about Boise was intimating to me: the traffic, the houses, the buildings, and my relatives.

I was perhaps five or six years old when my parents took me by train to Portland, Oregon for a weekend. I remember feeling completely in awe of the big, black taxi in which we rode to the hotel. That was the first and last time I would ever ride in a taxi.

Since then I've lived in several towns, all bigger than Vale, but none as big as Boise. I have traveled a bit. I've visited Portland and Seattle. I spent a month in Edgewood, Maryland. I've flown in airliners and taken the the MARC commuter train in Baltimore. But these were special, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. "Public transit" has seemed unavailable, economically unaffordable, and confusing.

Until today.

A little over a year ago my wife and I moved from Hermiston, Oregon (population 17,107) to Meridan, Idaho (population 83,596). Meridian is 11 miles from Boise (population 214,237).

I began work near downtown Boise. My daily commute, driving myself from Meridian to Boise, takes about 20 minutes to get there (if traffic is smooth and construction delays are low). Soon after beginning the job I noticed a ValleyRide bus at a stop very near my place of work at about 8am, the same time I was arriving. Getting off at 5:00 pm, the same bus was at the same stop.

Big city experienced folk might immediately have considered taking the bus to work, rather than driving themselves. But it took awhile for me to start considering it. How much does it cost? How do you find the right bus stops? How do you get a ticket or pass? How long does it take?

ValleyRide has a website, of course, with all their routes mapped out and bus stop locations listed. But I couldn't figure it out. The maps and schedules just didn't make sense to me. I felt frustrated looking at it all. Why couldn't I understand it? I can read and write, I've been trained as a classroom teacher, a software programmer and a lab technician. How hard could it be to understand a simple timetable?

My only excuse is "lack of experience". I'd never paid any attention to bus stop signs. Taxi service and public transit systems had never been anything other than a once-in-a-lifetime, special circumstance, clouded with unfamiliarity and thrilling risk-taking.

But I couldn't shake off the idea of trying to ride a bus, my bus, a bus that was part of my public transit system, a system that was in my town.

Today I tried it.

I downloaded all the PDF route maps that appeared to be operating on a Saturday. I studied each one, comparing times and stops, looking for a pattern, or at least a starting place. I settled on Emerald Route 5 because it appeared to begin at Boise Towne Square and ended, or at least passed by, my place of work.

After lunch today I ensured that all my downloaded maps were in Dropbox and available offline, and I drove to Boise Town Square, looking for the "Mall P&R", assuming that "P&R" meant "Park & Ride". It took a bit of looking around, but I found it in the mall parking lot, not far from the back entrance of Dillard's. The ValleyRide System map is not detailed, and Google Maps shows it off of Denton Street, which is off Brookhaven Drive, which is off Emerald Street. Emerald Street is easy to find, but Brookhaven Drive is not signed. If you're heading east on Emerald, take the first right after Rifleman Street. At the next intersection, take a right on Denton Street, and then the next right will take you into the parking lot, to the covered bus stop.

I parked my car near the stop. I only had to wait for 15 minutes or so before the bus pulled up. I stepped into the open door and told the driver this was my first time on a bus and, "I need, I think, an All-day Local Pass"? The driver showed absolutely no impatience or scorn for my inexperience. He said the fare would be $2, showed me where to insert the cash, handed the printed pass to me and confirmed that it was good for all day, for any of the buses running today.

It was smooth traveling from then on. The driver announced each upcoming stop, making it easy to determine when to pull the cord to signal that I wanted off. About a block away from my place of work, another passenger pulled the cord, and we both got off.


I walked about five blocks to Pre Funk Beer Bar on Front Street and had a delicious Deschutes Fresh Hop and contemplated my life thus far. I knew precisely when and where I would need to be in order to pick up Bus #5. I was safe, comfortable and satisfied. The purest definition of joy!

I decided to go on walkabout, looking specifically for bus stop signs. My plan was to look for signs, study the maps on my phone, and try a transfer to a different route. If all else failed, I knew where I'd need to be to get back to the tried and true Bus #5.

From Pre Funk I headed northwest to Idaho and 8th and found another bus stop, this one with several routes posted. I scrolled through my maps and decided that Route 14 Hyde Park seemed most favorable, at least for now. It was due in only a few minutes, and Hyde Park has some great shops and eating places.

Bus #14 arrived and again I hesitatingly told the driver this was all new to me. I didn't even know where to insert the pass. He also was patient and helpful, showing me the different slots available in the pay station. We took the scenic route to Hyde Park, and about a block before Sherman Street I pulled the signal cord and sent a sweet bell tone into the wonderful bus atmosphere. A quick pull to the side of the road and the driver let me out by a sign with only one imprinted route number: #14.

I spent about 45 minutes at Hyde Park, ending up at Java Coffee for a delicious, hot mocha. The bus stop for #14 on its return trip was on a nearby corner, it was on time, and it smoothly took me back to Idaho and 8th, where I easily transferred back to my old pal, Bus Driver #5. He didn't clap me on the shoulder, or shake my hand, but I could tell from his quiet, patient eyes that he was overjoyed to see me again.

The trip back to the mall P&R was uneventful, but satisfying. I found it pleasing to follow our progress on my small-screen device as Bus Driver #5 again announced each upcoming stop. I felt like a regular. We picked up a few more passengers on the way, and I companionably gave each one an encouraging glance, telling them with my eyes that I was glad to see them, that we were on this journey together, that they were most welcome to join me on this, our very own public transit system bus.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.