VIA to class offers its own lessons

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Travis Doyle

Travis Doyle

Student shares advice for riding bus to campus

By Travis Doyle

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

I wanted to learn how to take a VIA bus to campus so I could cut down on using my car and, at the same time, be one less vehicle on the road. Riding the bus instead of driving seems like an unnatural thing in San Antonio, where everything is so far apart. Yet commuting this way is common in other cities, where getting around by bus is more efficient.

The following is a chronicle of three days using public transportation to commute to this college. Each day there were new people, old acquaintances, good experiences, bad experiences, money lost and miles gained.

Jan. 21 — Before I even step onto a bus, I need to know the schedules and stops. Today is the most important step in the process: preparation.

I use Google Maps, which includes walking distances and bus ride times, to find the combination of buses that will reach my destination the fastest. One can also use VIA’s website to download PDFs of bus schedules.

My trip will require one transfer and will take about 50 minutes from the first stop to campus.

VIA offers two buses to the North Star Transit Center, so I have to decide which to choose. One takes 25 minutes, the other 45 minutes. The faster route is the obvious choice.

From the transit center, again, I must choose between two buses to campus. The No. 4 bus makes frequent stops and takes about 25-30 minutes on a good day. The No. 3 skips most stops and is the most direct route, with 15-20 minutes of travel time. I choose the No. 3.

Armed with my bus routes, I feel fully prepared to ride with VIA.

Jan. 22 — My phone’s alarm goes off at 8:15 a.m., and I hit the snooze button. When the alarm chimes again, I realize I have 15 minutes before the bus arrives at my stop.

I get out of bed, grab my backpack and put on some shoes. I’m still wearing my pajama pants and the shirt I slept in the night before.

I reach my stop with five minutes to spare, but the bus does not arrive for another 10 minutes — late. It seems the bus was caught up in the morning rush hour.

I guess I could have taken the time to change clothes after all.

Entering the bus, I drop my glasses case full of change while trying to pay my fare, managing to pour all of it onto the ground. I am now scurrying to pick up the coins.

The bus driver raises his voice to get my attention, and tells me not to worry about the fare. He needs me to hurry up and sit down.

As I file off the bus at the transit center, I notice the No. 4, one of the buses I could have taken to college, departing. It stops at a red light at the exit of the transit center.

I run to the bus, waving and hollering at the driver, but he shakes his head and drives away.

While waiting for the next bus, I recognize one of my classmates, psychology sophomore Michael Gray. I ask if he knows when the bus will arrive.

He gives me a number, #52020, which allows you to text — free of charge — the number of any bus stop to see the next six arrival times.

Gray and I discuss how often he rides the bus and what he has experienced.

“I have been going (to this college) for about three years,” Gray says. “I have commuted on a bus every semester. My commute takes about an hour to get me from my house to school.”

That commute has led to experiences he might not have had if he had driven to school. He tells me he scored a date from his rides, and he was almost in a fight with a disorderly passenger who was pestering a disabled rider.

When the bus arrives, I am surprised to see Gray just step on the bus, show the driver his school ID and sit down.

He tells me students can get a free bus pass every semester at the Fletcher Administration Center. I end up doing this after I get to campus.

I did not expect to be so unprepared the first day. I now have a better grasp of what I am doing. I am hopeful tomorrow will be better.

Jan. 26 — I start by texting the VIA bus service number for my first stop. With some time to spare, I pop into a nearby Valero and grab some coffee.

When the bus arrives, I try to board, but the driver stops me. Only cups with sealable lids can be taken onto the bus, so I must dispose of my coffee before boarding.

As I sit down after we depart, I am lulled to sleep by the engine’s humming and the heat it gives off. The occasional bumps barely wake me up.

Finally the bus hits a bump big enough to startle me awake, and I realize I overshot my stop by five minutes. I get off at the nearest stop and walk back to campus.

I am late to class.

Jan. 27 — I finally have a grasp of how to proficiently travel by bus. I take the usual bus, get to the transit center and make my second bus with no delays.

I look out the window and daydream, staring at all the buildings and passing cars, somewhat at peace with the trip.

I’m still no expert rider, yet I do have a better understanding of how the buses pass back and forth between the campus and my house.

Every day I learned something different. Every day I saw what I was doing wrong and how I could be more efficient.

My first day taught me when to wake up, that my college actually paid for my commuting and that I should never try to catch a bus that has already departed.

My second day I discovered what I could and could not bring onto a bus. I also used VIA’s texting service to manage my time better.

My third day helped me combine those previous lessons to become a more knowledgeable rider.

Now a freshly placed sticker — a mark of my trials on the bus — is pasted to my student ID, which gives me the freedom to come and go as I please.

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