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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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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