Ithaca Blog

Friday, July 28, 2006

TCAT to T-Burg

Friday, 21 July 06

I used the occasion of the GrassRoots Festival, at the hallowed Trumansburg Fairgrounds, to review the Route 21 bus to Trumansburg.

There's a plentiful number of buses running through the day. I caught the 2:17 from Tioga and Seneca Streets. Actually, I was picking it up at the corner of State and Meadow, down the block from my work, at Small World Music. I figured it might be as soon as three minutes for the bus to get there. So that's when I got there.

It arrived at 2:23. Nice - not too fast, not too slow.

The route is via Rt. 96, with a stop at the hospital. The trip was very rapid - in fact, I got caught by surprise, mid-crossword puzzle, to look up and see we were already at the Fairgrounds. I had to hustle to exit.

I was one of just two using the 2:17 for the festival. Perhaps because returns are impossible, late. The last bus back to Ithaca is 7-ish. No good for the festival - also, no good for a night out in T-burg at the Rongo or the Pour House or Simply Red's.

That's the bad news. The good news is that, unlike the price of gas, the price of this ride is coming down. By half, in fact.

Right now the fare is $3.00. Sometime in August, it will be lowered to $1.50. Out-of-town fares will thus be no more expensive than in-town fares. The idea is to attract out-of-town riders who might be feeling a little depressed about the price of petroleum. Not a bad idea.

The price of the ten-mile ride between Ithaca and Trumansburg thus comes tantalizingly close to the same between bus and car. However, if you are a veteran driver to T-burg, you know that you also have to factor in at least one ticket a year out there from the conscientious Rt. 96 constables in their relentless pursuit of motorists driving without all their light bulbs, or squealing their tires. Figure each $105 fine is 70 TCAT rides, and the 21 bus becomes that much more appealing.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, July 27, 2006

TCAT and This Town

Two previous entries here on Ithaca Blog explored the reasons why TCAT (Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, the public bus system) could and should be a tremendous community asset.

Starting today, entries will report on actual experiences: TCAT's production, not just potential.

TCAT has a lot of routes: about 40. Wherever you're going, chances are they go.

The next question is when. One of the drawbacks of the system is a shortage of night service.

But that's maybe its only weakness. It is primarily a commutation system, and the morning service is exceptional.

My first trip was from Cayuga Heights to downtown. I wanted to leave Cayuga Heights around 8 a.m., but I thought probably I would have to wait until 9:00 for service to start.

Wrong. I logged onto the TCAT website and found that the Route 30 bus leaves Pyramid Mall at 6:30 a.m. It travels through Cayuga Heights via Triphammer Road, Upland Road, and the Parkway, and will pick up passengers anywhere along the way. It goes through Cornell, to downtown.

I actually didn't believe service would start that early. I thought I must have misread the site. So I called TCAT, at 277-RIDE, for verification. The very helpful and personable operator told me, you read right.

The next morning, I met that bus. Right on time. It was a sunny morning, but there's a plexiglass shelter there for inclemency. (I actually caught the bus not at Pyramid Mall itself, but at a roadway exit from the Mall, near Tops.)

The fare is $1.50. I can't tell you if exact fare is required, as I had it exact, like a trained city guy. My guess is, it is.

A lot of factors determine whether a fare is fair. The first, I guess, is whether you have it. I imagine for a minimum wage worker, $3.00 a day to commute is a significant expense. But it probably doesn't exceed the expense of a car.

This ride seemed to me to be the work commute for most people on the bus. It also seemed to me that I was the only one who paid cash. So if you are using the bus regularly, and smartly, you are using a pass that lowers your cost.

The condition of the bus certainly warranted the fare. Clean; air-conditioned; comfortable. The ride was pleasant and quick.

Route 30 is among the buses that run the latest, as well as earliest. You'd think that people in Cayuga Heights wouldn't want a bus riding through the quiet, private, somewhat mysterious neighborhood all day long. Knowing that it does is the first of my corrected notions about TCAT and this town.

Next installment: the trip to Trumansburg.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Carless in Ithaca

Maybe it's not true that the prevalent attitude among Americans about mass transportation is that it is an excellent way for poor people to get to work.

But certainly it is true that most people just don't think about mass transit very much, much less use it.

I've lived in Ithaca for a decade, and the only time I have used the bus is to get to Ithaca Festival at Stewart Park.

Until recently, that is, when my car died, and rather than replace it right away, I wondered how well I could do without it.

In general, carlessness has two strikes against it. One is the loser aspect. The other is the inconvenience. Neither of these needs much explanation.

But in Ithaca, we're lucky on both counts. Material goods and their associated status mean less here than in other places.

And, because of Cornell University and the number of people who commute to and from it, we are blessed with a bus system far bigger and much more convenient than most places our size.

The status thing might actually be reversing itself. With the price of gas so high, the S.U.V. owner goes from cool to fool. And with the environmental destructiveness of cars, mass transit becomes a saving thing, in more ways than one.

The extensiveness of the TCAT system in Tompkins County provides lots of options, and lots of breadth. The major hurdle to exploiting the system might be mental.

This is why I'm a good guinea pig for this project. I'm from Brooklyn and I don't like cars to begin with. I grew up using mass transit and I like it.

I like being able to read when commuting. I like thinking about something other than how badly people drive. I like to save my adrenaline for when I need it.

Of course, there is a certain amount of waiting with mass transit. But there is with driving, too. And traffic is not so annoying when you can do a crossword during it, instead of burning gas and patience while you glare out the windshield and wonder why.

More than half the people in New York City do not have access to a car. Not only don't own a car, but don't even have access to one.

Of course, Ithaca will never have the kind of transit system that could make that happen. But we do have one that we could use much better, to much better effect, for ourselves and the community, not to mention the planet.

It could be bad news for ExxonMobil. And, nothing against health clubs, but it could even be bad news for them - people shedding pounds while rediscovering the pleasures of walking and biking, and discovering the uses and pleasures of mass transit.

Next installment: the wheels of the bus go round and round.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Using public transportation in Ithaca

Check the Ithaca Community News (one of Ithaca Blog's links), and you can learn about the current controversy about putting a plaque at the site of the late Redbud Woods, the natural area Cornell tore down last year to build another parking lot for its West Campus.

However one might feel about such a plaque, and how it should be worded (conciliatory or combative? - sensitive or shaming? -), one thing is sure, a plaque isn't bringing back any trees, nor saving any. Only people can do that, with our choices and actions.

I recently spoke with someone who works for Tompkins County Area Transit (TCAT), our local bus system. See, I've been riding the bus lately, with a deceased automobile. In the course of the conversation, the question came up of the Redbud Woods plaque. And then the question: how many parking places do you require each day? Two? Three? Five? Ten?

How many did you use each day last year? Or, say, when you were in school? Think back. Probably a fraction of what you use now.

Factor in your family, and the friends and colleagues you meet with each day, and it starts to become a hard number to think about, in more ways than one. Because we can complain all we want about paving paradise for parking lots. But to the degree that we keep using parking, more and more, we're asking for it.

As I've been discovering (through necessity, not virtue), Ithaca has an expansive public transportation system that can help reduce our need for parking, and the problems of cars and traffic in general. Before now, now that I have to, I've never used it regularly. No one I know does, not even my greenest friends.

So, starting soon in Ithaca Blog, will be a continuing series about using the buses in Ithaca. Not statistics about how many buses there are, how long they've been running, the merging of the city and the county systems, press releases from our state assemblyperson about TCAT, or any of that dry jazz. It will be reports from the trenches - or the plexiglass shelters - of what it's actually like to ride the buses in Ithaca. Easy or hard? Pleasant or unpleasant? Expensive or not? Efficient or not?

Is it possible to shop at Target by bus (or, let's refine the standard a little - is it feasible? Or is it crazy?) To shop at Wegman's? To go to the movies? To the parks? To the high school? To Trumansburg? Newfield? East Hill Plaza? Cayuga Heights?

To tell you the truth, I'm getting a little tired even thinking about it. But we'll see how it goes over the coming days and weeks. Come along for the ride.

Stephen Burke