Friday, February 4, 2011

Adventures in Riding Florida Public Transit-Volusia County

Here is another public transit story from Patty Whitehead, Sierra Club member and active volunteer for both the Red Tide Campaign and Florida Green Transportation Campaign in Southwest Florida.  When I asked for first hand experiences, I wanted the “good, the bad and the ugly.” Patty’s photo of a typical bus stop in Florida demonstrates the “bad”
part of public transit; the out-in-the-open bus stops which are a detriment to riders facing Florida’s hot sun or monsoon rains!

Here is Patty’s story:

“Well I finally did it! On Wednesday Jan 19, 2011,  I used Volusia County’s Votran bus system and all in all the experience turned out to be a good one: a great value, easy connections, safe and uneventful, actually incredibly convenient and dare I say fun! I planned on using Votran to do some leisure tripping during my stay here in Daytona with my husband , while he works at Halifax Medical Center on a 4 month renovation project as its Construction Superintendent.

I decided to plan a trip to a local museum: either the Halifax Museum or the Memorial Art Museum and Gardens, which is also adjacent to the historical summer of home of John D. Rockefeller named the “Casements.”

So I started with a little preplanning for my trip: I called Votran’s toll free customer assistance line and get a very pleasant representative on the phone, I told her I was a bus riding neophyte and asked her if they offer an interactive online trip planner similar to LeeTran’s in Fort Myers. Unfortunately they don’t, although she did say they were considering buying the software to implement it.  She was very helpful in assisting me to plan my ride.

When the bus took off, I felt a little motion sickness. Riding a bus is a whole different experience than driving a car or even riding as a passenger in a car. For some particular reason of all the buses I rode during my trip this bus was especially noisy. I think the driver had the air cranked up and where I was sitting (sort of in the middle of the bus) the engine noises were really obtrusive. But no mind, after awhile I actually forgot about this once we crossed the Dunlawton Avenue bridge for the trip north via AIA on this crisp sunny, cool day heading parallel to the Atlantic Ocean with a beautiful view of the beaches out the right side windows. One other slight grievance was the wrap-style graphic advertisement that covers the windows. While you do have some visibility, its like looking through a fine mesh screen, annoying when you are trying to enjoy a nice view.

Right on time my bus arrived at the transfer plaza in downtown Daytona. The first thing I noticed was a lot of people use the bus, mostly young people: teens, students, some older folks and a good number of people with different types of disabilities that may preclude them from driving.

The transfer plaza was very well designed and has a huge clear digital reader board with the numbers of the buses and their departure times for all to see, (although you must read the map to really figure out where the routes take you). I quickly located the 19 bus which the driver stated was one of two that went to Ormond Beach. After a short wait, bus19 departed the transfer plaza  but I was starting to get a little bit antsy. I knew that if I had driven I would have been at the museums by now: no transfer plaza layover, no stops to hold things up.

 I told myself, hold your cool Patty! The ride actually hadn’t been bad so far and you’re closer to your destination than you think; the bus turned the corner from AIA and now headed west towards Ormond’s
Granada Avenue
bridge. I asked the driver which side of the bridge the museums are on because I didn’t feel like unfolding the big map again, and the driver politely pointed out the museums coming up to our left across Granada and the closest stop to get off at Granada and Halifax (right on time at 2:35 per schedule, I might add). I thanked the driver, debarked and did a quick jaywalk dash across Granada (thankfully traffic was light with no barrage of cars barreling off the steeply arched bridge that time of day).

 I checked out the Casements--the Rockefeller home. I thought to myself, “I am touring the home of the founder of Standard Oil by being uber-green and riding the bus, how Karmic is that!”

Now it was time to head back. It was approaching 4 pm and I was thinking that my husband will make it back to the apartment before me, so I decided to get creative and catch the bus back to the Halifax Medical Center where he works and ride home with him. I caught the 18 bus (as in I literally chased it down the street after the driver shut the doors and was ready to take off from the stop). Phew! Back to the transfer plaza, I transferred to the 10 bus that made a tight loop between the transfer plaza and the nearby Medical Center and Volusia Mall. Again good timing, as it was now 5 pm, and I was right across the street from my husband’s truck. I hopped in and we headed to dinner.

Boy was I proud of myself!, I rode the bus and it was fun and not as nearly as stressful as I thought it would be. As a transportation experience I rated it as an 8 on a scale of 10 (I am reserving the 10 for the much anticipated high speed rail--hope it lives up to its expectations too!) “
Submitted by Marti Daltry, Conservation Organizer, Sierra Club Office – Ft. Myers