I’ll be moving soon. Since my apartment search spans the far reaches of the city, and because my bike has been having troubles lately, sometimes I take the bus. Though I’m no novice to the buses, riding them in Baltimore reminds me why I don’t ride them in Baltimore.
My favorite thing about the bus is the actual trip, provided the climate control system works. The experience of public transit is truly a stage of serendipity and human drama. For better or worse, getting on a bus in Baltimore will provide you with at least several interesting stories to tell your friends at your next noodle salad dinner party.
My least favorite thing about our bus system is actually trying to get on one. The problems? Where to begin.
- The maps suck. Yes, I know MTA recently revised their maps, but they’re still cluttered. If you don’t know the system well, you’ll spend at least a couple of minutes sifting through the cacophony of tangled routes overlapping on each other. Maybe I’m just impatient or illiterate, but information needs to be more intuitive. Maybe have a separate map for all routes with 15 minute headways or less and featuring major trip attractors and tourist sites. Not all routes are equally important. This needs to be reflected on MTA maps.
- Lack of information. While waiting for the bus on 30th and St. Paul, there’s a bus shelter, a bus route map, but no route timetable. Not having real time arrival information is frustrating enough, but not even having a table of expected arrival times is infuriating. Even the small pole signs which only feature the route numbers could be redesigned to include expected headway times or other useful route information.
- Routes. I still don’t understand the logic of the meandering routes. 30 years ago Portland did a ground up overhaul of their entire bus system to reflect the way people actually commute. Their bus system also compliments and supports their fixed rail network.
- Arrival information. I mentioned this before and I’m mentioning it again because it’s that important. This applies to bus stops, light rail and the metro. If there’s one thing MTA can do to encourage choice riders and mode shifts away from automobiles, it’s putting a little LED display on every single stop letting riders know how long they’ll be waiting. We have the technology. We have put men on the moon. I’m just asking for a clock. As Rory Sutherland says, “Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, knuckle-biting, going ‘When’s this train going to arrive?”
- The number of stops. OK, this is a complaint with the actual ride, but stopping at every other block is also crazy time consuming, especially in deserted areas which I know are not major trip generators. TriMet in Portland has a very good bus stop guideline manual that I urge someone at MTA to read.
So, I reference Portland and DC a lot, but they’re good models for effective transit. Some of the powers that be in Baltimore may say, “Why do I care what other cities are doing?” You need to care because other cities are doing things better than we are, and if we don’t learn from them, we’ll fall further behind. Just like the #10 on my way back home.