26 May 2008

Tips for Riding the Bus

I've lived in several major metropolitan areas and in each, I had to learn how to use the public transportation system. Life would be great if that meant traveling around by subway or light rail all the time, but in fact, a large portion of that time was spent on a bus. Each city's bus system was a different experience; a ride on a New York City bus meant that you got to see the city while going from point A to point B, a luxury unknown to the legions of subway riders. Riding a bus in Washington, DC, meant squeezing into a seat between extremely well-dressed politicos, while taking a bus in San Francisco meant a bus full of costumed party-goers on Halloween, or having your route diverted by a protest at any given moment.

Riding the bus in Los Angeles is no more or less of an adventure than in any of these other cities. Actually, the bus system in Los Angeles is the most extensive in the country and as far as I can tell, it might be the cheapest. $1.25 for a single ride, $1.55 for a ride plus transfer, and if you are lucky enough to need only a DASH Bus, then your ride only costs you 25 cents. That's one quarter, people! Does anything else in your life only cost a quarter anymore? That won't even buy you half a candy bar.

With this in mind, I encourage everyone to ride the bus in LA, and I'm going to give you some tips that I've picked up in my years of bussing it to ease your transition.

  1. Have your money and/or pass ready before the bus comes. Everyone is trying to get someplace as quickly as possible and fiddling for your money or pass to delay the bus is a big no-no.
  2. Don't be afraid to ask the bus driver questions about your route. If you need to go somewhere specific and you want clarification, ask the bus driver. If you want a certain connection, ask the bus driver. If you are not sure that you have the right amount for your route, ask the bus driver. This is their job and (most of the time) they are happy to help!
  3. As soon as you step on the bus, move to the back as far as possible. The human traffic flow inside the small bus cavity is really critical to its route and if you stand in front when there is room in the back, you'll block any newcomers to point of major annoyance. Not to mention you are supposed to exit in the back anyway, so that gets you closer to your exit path.
  4. If there is an empty seat on a crowded bus that no one else will take, sit there! It's nice to be polite and all but you'll clear up the aisle if you sit in that seat. However....
  5. Get out of your seat and stand if an old or disabled person needs it! I think this is pretty obvious but I thought it best to reiterate.
  6. Know the names of a few cross streets before your stop. This will help to orient you as well as prepare you so that you don't pull the "Stop Requested" chain too late.
  7. Be nice to your bus driver, and thank them when you leave! Remember that bus drivers have a really tough job and are constantly challenged, whether by traffic, rough road conditions, or simply the crazy people sitting across the aisle from you. You never know when someone is having a bad day and a kind word could help, so be nice to your bus driver as soon as you step on the bus. Thanking them when you get off at your stop is just good form :o)
  8. Complain when the bus is late. As easy and cheap as it is to ride the bus in LA, our bus system is, sadly, quite a long way from being as precise and prompt as public transportation in, say, Switzerland. Be polite when you call to complain but remember that the system can't improve without feedback from its users, which means you!

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