Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

Metra Plans for The Future

July 17, 2008

 

  I did something I haven’t done since 1949; I rode a Columbus city bus on a regular route just to see what it is like now. (I have ridden on chartered city busses since then.)  I took the Uptown route because it is the shortest one. I was not comfortable. The wooden seats were hard, really close together, and sometimes I wondered if the bus had any shocks or springs on it, but that was because the Uptown route uses only “trolleys,” busses that look like trolleys.

 

Metra Trolley Bus, 2008

Metra Trolley Bus, 2008

 

 

 
  I think perhaps the real trolleys that Columbus had in the 1900’s rode better because they were on rails and rails don’t have bumps and potholes. The bus trolleys are quaint and perhaps add to the historic district atmosphere, but the people who ride those busses regularly would be better served with the regular, comfortable busses that travel the other eight routes in Columbus. Maybe the trolley buses could be used just for Historic District tours and special events, etc.   
 
 
 

 

 

 Columbus, GA Trolley on 10th Street in 1900

 Columbus, GA Trolley in 1900   Courtesy, Georgia Dept. of Archives and History

  

 The bus made a lot of stops, causing the short route that goes from the transfer station on Linwood Blvd on a loop through downtown Columbus and back to take almost an hour. That route did put the bus stops within two blocks of just about anywhere downtown. And it was definitely being used as people got on and off a lot. At least they didn’t suffer as much as I did on those hard seats because I rode the whole route.
 
 
 

 

 

Metra Trolley Bus Interior

Metra Trolley Bus Interior

  

  As Metra Director Saundra Hunter and I discussed the future of mass transit, we agreed It is a far more fuel efficient way of transporting masses of people than private cars. Also, it leaves a smaller carbon footprint. But, for it to increase ridership , the system has to become more convenient. 

 

  

 Miss a bus at a stop now and you have to wait an hour before another one will come along. She says the system hopes to go to a half-hour between arrivals.  That is going to mean adding 15 new busses to the 40 the system now has, and hiring additional drivers and mechanics.  However, that cost will be offset by an increase in riders.

  

 With the price of gasoline expected to stay high and perhaps get higher, public transportation will, of necessity, make a big comeback. The question isn’t “if” but “how soon?” It took $4 a gallon gas to make people finally switch from their gas guzzling SUV’s and monster trucks to smaller, more fuel efficient cars. It is understandably hard to give up with convenience of cars. I can remember how liberated I felt once I got my first one and didn’t have to walk across the street – we did indeed , at one time live across the street from a bus stop -.to a bus stop and sometimes have to wait up to 15 minutes to catch a bus.  15 whole minutes! I still prefer my car, but I’m willing to switch. It would be a lot cheaper for me to ride the bus downtown from north Columbus, but the nearest stop is two miles away. Guess I could drive to the stop, but I’d have to have a place to park. So Metra has some kinks to work out before it can handle a big switch to buses, but it knows that and already has plans to make the changes.

 

 

 

 

  

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Metra Ridership Up by 7 Percent

July 16, 2008

 

  When Saundra Hunter went for her regular workout at a spa, she noticed that a fellow exerciser’s husband was waiting for her in his car. Her friend, who has to pay $100 to fill up her SUV, explained that she leaves it at home a lot now.  She said that it just costs too much to fill it up, adding, “We have stopped going everywhere in separate cars very much. He even takes me to work and picks me up when I get off.”

 

Saundra Hunter, Metra Director

Saundra Hunter, Metra Director

 

   There is another even cheaper way to get around town: Metra busses. Some folks have figured that out, and ridership is up. Saundra, who is director of Metra, said it has already increased 7 percent over last year. Metra customers average about 82,000 rides a month.

 

“I expect that trend to continue and we’ve been getting ready for it.”

 

  Who rides the bus?

 

   “The low income, or ‘dedicated,’ group is the majority. However, we are getting more ‘riders of choice’ now.”

 

  “Dedicated” is a nice way of saying they can’t afford cars or taxis. “Riders of choice” means they can, but opt not to, because too much of their income is going to pay for gas.

 

  Not only is this group going to grow, it is a positive thing if it does, we agreed. Mass transit is not just cheaper, it’s much more fuel efficient if enough people use it, and it leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

 

  However, to encourage more riders of choice, some improvements will need to be made. For one thing there is too much time between busses. You miss one and the next one won’t be along for an hour. Metra has plans to start running busses every half hour. That’s not going to be cheap.

 

  “We’ll have to buy 15 new busses, and hire more drivers and support personnel,” Saundra told me.  Metra now owns about 40 busses, with more than 20 in operation at any given time.  

 

       

  

 

Metra Bus

Metra Bus

 

   I told her that when I was a boy, back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, busses were ubiquitous, arriving at bus stops every fifteen minutes and bus stops were within easy walking distance of most places.  My family had a car, but my dad used it in his business so I ended up riding the bus a lot.  I had a lot of company. A lot of families didn’t even have one car back then.

 

 

 

Columbus Buses at Transfer Station, 12th and Broadway, 1944

Columbus Buses at Transfer Station, 12th and Broadway, 1944

 

 

 

  Also, I walked and rode my bike a lot. People tried to live close to relatives, schools and shopping areas then. Instead of supermarkets that were two miles or more away, you had the neighborhood grocery store. Also, you could order groceries on the phone and they would be delivered to your door! Really! I think there was a minimum amount that you could order to get the service, though.

 

 I was a short city block away from 11th Street Elementary School; a block and a half from an aunt, uncle and four cousins; and about four blocks away from three movie theaters and retails stores. But, if I wanted to go all the way out to the Royal Theater, which was about two miles away,  or over to Idle Hour Park in Phenix City to go swimming, play arcade games, bowl or play on the playground (I broke my leg on that playground) , I took the bus.

  

 When I started to go to high school, I took the bus. The stop was across the street from 11th Street Elementary, which was even a little closer to our house than the school.

 

   Also, a big difference then was that the busses were operated by a private company. They could make a profit. That, like Scarlett’s Old South, went with the wind.  Transit systems are municipally owned and they don’t make a profit. “There are no public transit systems that are not subsidized by the government any more,” Saundra told me.

  

So public transit is on the way to making a comeback. It is going to require a different mindset, not only on the part of potential riders, but governmental leaders. Everyone is still thinking in terms of cars and roads.