My colleague, Brian Clarey, has endorsed the PART bus as a theoretic framework for increasing public-transit options in the Triad. I’ll meet your endorsement, Mr. Clarey, and raise the stakes with a full-on endorsement of the PART bus in actual practice.
It’s true that for riders of choice, it’s a hard sell to park the car and take the bus, especially with gas prices being so low over the past couple years. Regional public transportation doesn’t provide the flexibility of traveling to destinations beyond the central business districts, hospitals and universities, or hanging around in the evening for public meetings or rock concerts. The last buses running between Winston-Salem and Greensboro depart from their respective locations at 6:30 p.m., so this is essentially a service for 9-to-5ers regularly traveling between established locations.
As a professional with access to a car, however, I found a set of circumstances in which taking the bus provided an elegant and inexpensive solution — covering the trial of North Carolina’s election law at the federal building in downtown Winston-Salem’s Government District.
At $4.80 for a round trip between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, the cost of bus fare is actually not that much of a savings over fueling up the car to make the trip.
Parking is the factor that tips transit over the edge. On-street parking at the electronic pay stations the city of Winston-Salem has scattered around different parts of downtown is relatively inexpensive for short periods, but it’s engineered to promote circulation. It’s somewhat counterintuitive: You might expect a discount for buying parking in bulk, but this works exactly the opposite. The rate continues to increase as the hours accumulate, so that three hours costs $2, while six hours costs $10. You can keep running outside to feed the meter while traversing a cumbersome security detail or risk getting hit with a $15 parking fine for overstaying, but neither of those options are very appealing.
One day I tried parking on a public deck on North Main Street, which has an early-bird discount for customers who leave before 5 p.m. Leaving the trial early, and potentially missing something important, is a non-starter, so I paid the full fee of $10.
Imagine my delight, then, in being able to drive to the Depot in downtown Greensboro on a recent Monday morning, park my car (for free!) for the day, and hop on the PART bus minutes later. Riders are welcome to sleep, read the paper or text en route, although I had to leave my cell phone at home because such devices are banned from the federal building. The bus, which runs every half hour, dropped me off right in front of the federal building, with a half hour to spare before the trial got underway.
After the court hearing wrapped up for the day, I walked a short three blocks to the Clark Campbell Transportation Center, and waited about 10 minutes for the Greensboro bus to arrive.
The drivers, it must be said, are exceedingly friendly and accommodating. While I was boarding the evening bus back from Winston-Salem, a man who was obviously intoxicated judging from his slurred speech and wretched breath told the driver he was trying to get to Chapel Hill. Patiently but firmly she explained to him that there was no way he could make the Greensboro connection in time to get to Chapel Hill that day and persuaded him to get off the bus. We were soon on our way.
Overall, it was a great experience.
Riding the bus for riders of choice, just like taking a bike or walking, is a matter of being creative and smart about figuring out what types of trips make the most sense for each mode of transport.
I’m on the bus, Mr. Clarey.