Monday, October 14, 2013

The (Belated) IE Transit Challenge, Part 3: Work

Okay, so if you've been following along, you now have some idea of where your local bus stops are, what routes serve them, and what role those routes play in the larger transit network. Let's try and put some of that knowledge to use, shall we?

According to Chris Balish' "How to Live Well without Owning a Car," a lifestyle guide that I heartily recommend, most people can give up their car if they can tackle their daily commute. So that's what we're going to do now! Let's take the time to plan a trip from your home to your job, at the times and days when you normally have to get to work.

The easiest way to do this is to use an automated trip planner, like Google Transit (which is integrated into Google Maps). Simply enter the address of your home, the address of your work, and click the train icon above the entry fields. This will generate a route, but don't use it just yet. Change the drop-down below the entry fields from "Leave Now" to "Arrive At" and enter the time you normally have to be at work. You might also want to plan the return trip home, by selecting the opposing arrows next to the addresses, and entering your usual shift end time-- it wouldn't do to be able to get to work and then get stranded there.

Always remember to check transit schedules at the time you intend to travel. Unlike the road network, transit changes based on the time of day and day of the week. If you plan your trip at mid-day, you might miss commuter express service that could save you tons of time (or make an impossible trip possible). If you plan it on a weekday, you might be very disappointed to find that the line you intend to use doesn't run on Saturday. Google Transit, to its credit, allows you to select both dates and times for a trip.

I want to encourage folks to branch a bit beyond the automated trip planner, though, because it has some important shortcomings. First, it will tend to minimize walking. There are times when one can make a trip much quicker by walking a half a mile on one end of it, and Google will show you the longer trip with the shorter walk. Second, it treats all transfers as equal, even though they aren't. Google often tells me to change buses at University and Kansas (at an unshaded bus stop in an area that isn't terribly pleasant at night), when any rider could tell you to transfer at the (covered, lighted, secured, busy) Downtown Terminal instead. Last, Google has no idea how to deal with the awesome power that is gained when combining public transit with a bicycle. If you're going to bike to the bus or train, rely on that knowledge about the network you gained last time.

So given that, grab your trusty copy of the RTA Ride Guide, a Metrolink schedule, and/or Omnitrans' Bus Book and start looking. First, look at the system maps to see what routes serve your workplace. Next, for the morning commute, work backwards, starting on the timetable closest to your work and ending at the route that takes you home. If you can, try and develop a few alternate routes and see what best fits your schedule. Especially keep an eye out for routes that use those high-frequency trunk lines that you learned about last time, or ones that use freeway express routes or Metrolink trains. The former will be the most reliable and resistant to bus breakdowns, traffic, or weather, while the latter will generally be the quickest way to travel (but often the most finicky). If you don't know how to read a timetable, by the way, don't be embarrassed. Both RTA's Ride Guide and the Omni Bus Book provide guidance in the front, as does this presentation from the BBC. Note that, on bus timetables, only major stops are shown.

Now you know if you can get to work via transit, and how to do it. For some people, this will invariably end up being an impossible or impractical task, but for many of you, I hope you'll try taking transit to work once in a while. Remember that, while it will probably take a bit longer, time on transit is time to read, get a bit of work done, or catch some extra sleep on the way-- and you'll arrive without having experienced the frustration of dealing with other drivers.

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