Tuesday, November 22, 2011

RIDING THE BUS

Ever since I've been back in San Antonio I've been car-less.  My car is in Panama, rented out for a few months to some friends who need a second car for a while. San Antonio is a big city, the seventh largest in the US. Too big to cover on foot.


So by necessity I've become a regular bus rider.  As an environmentalist, I've been wanting to do this for some time but didn't have the incentive until now.  Perhaps it was class-ism or snob-ism that prevented me from riding with "the common people".  But now I am one of them.  And in reality, have been one of them always, whether I realized it or not.  Now, with no other choice for the time being, I'm riding the  bus.


Fortunately San Antonio has the best public transportation system in Texas, and probably one of the best in the US.  Its buses are new and clean, its drivers courteous and competent.  Most buses are equipped with hydraulic lifts that lower and raise the entire bus to make it easier for the mobility-impaired.  Every bus has devices to strap wheelchairs into place securely.  Besides the regular buses, VIA also has downtown "streetcars" (old-fashioned looking quasi-streetcars but with regular wheels) that run on tourist routes:
San Antonio Downtown Trolley
(Credit:  http://www.san-antonio-daily.com/4208.html)
Many of the bus stops are clean and shiny, covered and with lights:


Some of the older ones are quite picturesque, such as this "Tropical Theme" stop in Alamo Heights:


Alamo Heights Bus Stop - All Concrete
In case you don't know how to ride a bus, VIA has video instructions, broken down into four parts for those of us who are simple-minded.  At first I was quite intimidated by the whole process, but now am getting comfortable with it. 

Here's another good thing.  Because I'm a senior citizen, I am eligible for a Senior Discount Bus Pass.  One of the first things I did after arriving here was to visit one of the VIA Customer Service Centers to get my pass.  This entitles me to ride during non-peak hours (9:00 am - 3:00 pm) for $.25 plus $.07 if I need a transfer.  Peak fares are half off.  And it's totally free on the weekends:
VIA Senior Bus Pass - Now I've Arrived.
To help plan your trip, VIA has an interactive trip planner based on Google Maps on their website.  And if you zoom in enough in Google Maps, you can see little bus icons showing where bus stops are.  Clicking on one of these icons triggers a pop-up window that lists all the bus routes at that stop:
Google Maps Bus Stop Icons
Colors on route numbers have meanings.
You can get to them directly in Google Maps.
I don't know whether or not these bus icons are available for every city that has buses, but I suspect they are.  I just checked my old neighborhood in Baltimore, and the icons are there.  I had never paid any attention to them before they became a necessity.


And here's the best part.  The Alamo Area Council of Governments sponsors an on-line program called NuRide to encourage people to use more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.  It seems to have been designed to establish car pools for commuting employees and has various corporate sponsors for this, but anyone can use the program.  Many restaurants and shops are sponsors and offer rewards for participating.


If you take the time to record trips you make by walking, car-pooling, bicycling, and of course bus-riding, you earn points for each kind of trip.  You can save frequent trips so you don't have to re-enter them from scratch every time.  It also calculates the pounds of carbon dioxide emissions saved in comparison to driving cars with no passengers.  And if you want to find a car-pool partner for regular trips, it can help you do that too.


So far, in the short time I've been here, I've received three coupons for $5.00 off grocery purchases at the largest grocery store in town.  I'm also getting a coupon for a free burrito at Chipotle.  And I have many points left to cash in.  Because of my senior discount, I've earned more in rewards than I've spent in bus fares!  


I love NuRide because it provides material incentives for people to be more friendly to the environment. It is one of the most creative programs I've seen in a long time.  NuRide is also available in other regions of the country, including the metropolitan New York City and Washington DC areas. DC-area friends, please take note!  


And NuRide is making a difference.  Here are some summary statistics on their impact:
NuRide Stats
If I'm still in San Antonio and eventually get a car, I'll still take the bus for trips that are not time-sensitive.  And the extra walking back and forth to the bus stop is good for me too.


It's by changing that we grow.  Riding the bus has been a new and rewarding experience for me, and it can be for you too.


-bjd
PS:  Rode the Express bus today up to the UTSA campus.  Still $.25 during the off-peak hours.  Fancy-schmancy upholstered seats and free WiFi.  What's not to like?

PPS:  I now have my old American car back, but still take the bus sometimes, especially when going downtown.  It's cheaper than driving and there's no hassle about finding and paying for parking. 

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