Transit Tourism – Pittsburgh

(Back in March 2012, I took a trip to Pittsburgh for a weekend getaway. While I was there I got to check out the local transit system, Port Authority of Allegheny County, as well as meet some fellow transit nerds. Though the trip to Pittsburgh itself was quite eventful, I’m going to begin this story after I found my bag at baggage claim. Fair warning, this is a long post.)

Route 28X at Pittsburgh International Airport

With my bag in hand, I was ready to leave the airport and get to my hotel for the night. While I was walking through Door 6 and headed towards the stop for Route 28X, I saw a bunch of people standing by the bus like they were waiting for something. As I got closer to the bus, I saw the driver close the door and pull away. A bit confused at that point, I wasn’t sure what had just happened. I overheard another passenger telling someone else that the driver was just pulling around. Looking at the schedule posted on the stop flag, this added up, so I figured I didn’t have much to worry about. A few minutes later, the bus pulled in to the stop again, and everyone started to board.

“VARE-point” farebox

Before I’d even got to Pittsburgh, I’d taken a crash course on PAT’s fare structure. (Note that Port Authority of Allegheny County is often referred to as “PAT,” and that’s the name I’ll be using throughout this post.) Since I was at the airport, located in the far western edge of Allegheny County, I had to pay a 2-Zone fare of $3.25. With about $5 worth of quarters weighing me down, I figured it would be a good idea to pay my fare with them. I soon found myself regretting that decision when I stepped on to the bus and came face to face with the “VARE-point” farebox. A recent acquisition by PAT as part of the transition to the ConnectCard system (more on that later), the farebox is built by a German company called Scheidt & Bachmann. Before 2002, S&B had never built a farebox that could be used on buses and LRV’s. That changed when they won a contract with Boston’s MBTA to build their new fareboxes. A lot of the design was based on specifications S&B got from MBTA, and was later tweaked after several weeks of testing. Perhaps the most noticeable feature (or mistake, depending on who you ask) of the design is the bill/coin collector. Reminiscent of something you would see on a vending machine, the coin collector requires one to feed in coins individually, slowing down the already slow process of cash payments immensely. As I stood on that bus feeding 13 quarters in one by one, I could tell the driver was getting impatient fast, and the grumbles from behind me told me that the other passengers were doing the same. By my count, it took about 20 seconds from the moment I first stepped up to the farebox to the moment my last quarter was accepted by the farebox. On an individual basis, this may not seem like a big deal, but those 20 seconds add up fast when there is more than one passenger paying with cash at the same stop. At the airport stop, there were about 15 people boarding, with about 6 or 7 paying in cash. For this reason and many more, it became obvious fast that PAT needed to find a way to get passengers away from paying by cash.

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Epic Transit Journey – Coeur d’Alene

Sherman Avenue in Downtown Coeur d'Alene

Sherman Avenue in Downtown Coeur d’Alene

Ever since I moved back to the Pacific Northwest in July last year, I’ve been itching to start taking some Epic Transit Journeys again. Earlier this month on Sunday, January 6th, I finally decided to go on one. Located about 30 miles east of Spokane lies the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The city is more well known as a summer resort town, as it lies right on the shores of majestic Lake Coeur d’Alene, but it is also popular with winter tourists who come to visit one of the ski resorts in the area. While I like to ski, I had other reasons to visit Coeur d’Alene, or CDA as many locals refer to it as. First and foremost, I wanted to check out the local transit system, called Citylink. I also planned to check out the downtown CDA and see the sights there, along with enjoying the tastes at a highly popular eatery in town. Anything else that I happened to find would just be a fun surprise. I was also a bit excited about the fact that my transportation costs would be costing me absolutely nothing, a first for the Epic Transit Journey series.

To get to CDA, there aren’t many non-car alternatives. Though both Spokane and CDA have their own transit systems, there is no public transportation route linking the two cities. However, it should be noted that the MPO’s in both metros recognize the lack of that link as a major need to address. There is intercity bus service operated by Greyhound and Northwestern Trailways that connect the two cities. However, with the starting ticket price being about $14.50 one-way, this is a highly impractical option that very few, if any, would want to rely on. There is only one option to bridge the gap between the two cities, and that option is a another first for the Epic Transit Journey series: A casino shuttle. About 25 miles south of CDA on the tribal lands of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is the Coeur d’Alene Casino. Open since 1993, the casino is a popular destination for many in the region, a large number of whom come from the Spokane area. Recognizing this, the casino operates two shuttle routes which provide a free ride from Spokane or Spokane Valley direct to the casino. I’m sure the thinking behind it is that if they can get their customers to save money on gas, they’ll spend more at the casino. As you have to be 18 or older to gamble, the shuttle service is also restricted to those of gambling age.

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85 Hours On The Bus (Part 2)

(If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 of “85 Hours On The Bus”)

At the end of Part 1, I had just arrived in Chicago for a 6-hour layover in the midst of my coast-to-coast bus ride. This is the conclusion of the story.

Layover in Chicago

Chicago Greyhound Station

With 6 hours to kill in the Windy City, I had to decide if I wanted to go play tourist for a short while or just take it easy. I went with the latter. Outside at the front of the station, I found a place to sit and eat a small lunch consisting of Triscuits, granola bars, and an Arizona Mucho Mango while watching people walk by. The thing that struck me as most interesting was that there was actually “life” on the street. People were walking by with their dogs, or riding their bikes, or heading home from the office. All too often, it seems that Greyhound locates their stations in run-down, dead areas of cities that nobody wants to go to. In modern times, that seems to be changing, and in the case of Chicago, it’s worked out quite well.

Since it had been almost two days since I was last able to get in contact with anyone, I decided to go wander over to the library. Luckily for me, it was rather close by. Per the directions from Google Maps, it’s a 0.9 mile walk that takes 19 minutes. In all honesty, it felt a lot shorter than that, even though I was hauling along a 30lb backpack. To be fair, it’s probably because I like Chicago. As I walked along I couldn’t help but marvel at all the different buildings and architectural styles, while at the same time reminiscing about things I remembered from the last time I’d been to Chicago.

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85 Hours On The Bus (Part 1)

“Leave the driving to us!”

When I first landed in Tampa on March 5th, I was only planning on staying for a few days. At most, I figured I would be there for a couple of weeks. Though the story gets pretty complicated, let’s just say that due to a series of events beyond my control, I ended up staying for a while. 143 days to be exact.

While I will admit that Tampa grew on me (apart from the humidity), and I enjoyed getting to hang out with Jason (@yobusdriver3507) on the bus all the time, I knew it was time to return to the Pacific Northwest. With the limited resources I had at my disposal, I was left with a choice: Fly, or take a bus.

Care to take a guess at which option I went with?

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Transit Tourism – St. Petersburg/Clearwater FL

(This is the first in a semi-regular series I will start posting here at TransitZac. Soon, I will have the long promised posts about my transit adventures from early March ’12.)

On Thursday, June 28th, I had the chance to go west across Tampa Bay to the other side of the metro area, in Pinellas County, to ride the local transit agency, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and see how things operate over there.  Joining me (or rather, leading the journey) was fellow transit nerd and HART bus driver Jason Eames, aka @yobusdriver3507.

PSTA MCI #2308
Photo Credit: RidePSTA

Starting our journey at Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa, we boarded PSTA’s Route 100X. This route, along with PSTA’s other express route, 300X, are operated with a fleet of 10 2003 MCI D4500’s. My memory fails me a bit on this detail, but I believe we rode on unit #2307. While enroute to the western terminus, Gateway Mall, I mainly just watched the road and enjoyed the scenery, as this was the first time I’d ever been across the Gandy Bridge. Jason chatted with the driver about bus driver stuff (for lack of a better term) in the meantime. Other than us, there was just one passenger onboard the bus. (While the bus runs in both directions, the peak emphasis is on Tampa during AM and Pinellas County during PM). At Gateway Mall that other passenger disembarked, while we remained onboard, as the bus driver had kindly offered to let us remain on while he deadheaded back to PSTA’s base.

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A Map of Transit Across Washington State

A few years ago, I was planning a trip to visit my hometown of Whitehorse, Yukon. In an effort to see how frugal I could be, I started exploring any and every option I could find to get me from the Tri-Cities to Vancouver BC. Along the way, I learned about the Airporter Shuttle and how to use transit to get from Seattle to Vancouver BC. It was also around this time when I learned about a website called Epic Transit Journeys. Just as it sounds, an Epic Transit Journey is where you see just how far you can get using only public transportation. (Check the “Epic Transit Journey” category on the right panel to see my posts on past trips.)

The one thing that I always felt was missing from the ETJ website is a map. Without a visual aid to refer to, someone unfamiliar with Washington State who looks at a schedule for Astoria to Longview won’t be able to make sense of it. Since there is quite a few schedules covering just about every inch of the state, I figured it would just be easier to have one full map showing all the different routes one could take between cities using transit.

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Epic Transit Journey – The Columbia Basin to the Yakima Valley to the Kittitas Valley

(If you’re new to the blog, I recommend reading my post on the last Epic Transit Journey I took.)

Earlier this week, I shared the news about a brand new bus route linking the cities of Yakima and Ellensburg (click the link to see the schedule and map at the end of the post). Since its way more fun to actually ride the bus and see it in person instead of just writing about it, I decided I would go ride it. But to make it more interesting, I decided that I would ride the bus to the bus. (Get it?) The following is a recap of everything that happened, along some photos I took along the way.

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Epic Transit Journey – The Walla Walla Loop

170 miles. 4 buses. $7.

Welcome to the highest levels of frugality.

Boarding the Tri-City Trolley at Huntington TC
Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

On August 2nd, myself and comrade @iAndrewPippin embarked on a trip that took us from the Tri-Cities to Walla Walla and back via Hermiston and Pendleton. Now, most normal people sleep during the hours of the night, particularly before any travel. But as for me, I stayed awake. All night. Watching Scrubs.

At about 4AM, I walked from my house towards Huntington Transit Center, meeting my buddie enroute and grabbing some snack food. After a healthy meal consisting of an apple juice and a Sourdough Jack with no tomato, we headed over to Huntington TC to wait for the Tri-City Trolley. The bus showed up close to on time at 5:39AM, and we boarded along with a gentleman who I’ve given the nickname of “Old Man Jenkins.” I’d say with about 99% certainty that there was alcohol running through his veins in the morning. Luckily, he slept nearly the entire ride. After boarding, we headed up to 27th Avenue Park and Ride, the last stop in the Tri-Cities, where another woman boarded, and after holding for about 5 minutes (to maintain the published schedule), we were on the highway.

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