Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Bus Stops...

For almost two years I've been riding CARTA all over the  Charleson area. Frequently the stops I wait at are unmarked, or marked incorrectly. After a reminder posted on Facebook by CARTA stating that all stops are supposedly marked, I decided to do some research. I've found the best way to get down to the nitty-gritty details means talking to other passengers and some of my favorite drivers.  I rode several buses over a four-hour period and discovered that there are in fact, two different types of bus stops here in Charleston. There are  CARTA's "official" stops and their "courtesy" stops.

The "official" stops are all the stops that have a CARTA or a No Parking Bus Stop sign. These are usually pretty easy to spot and the buses will stop exactly where the sign has been posted. Which means if you're at one of the benches, expect  to actually get on the bus wherever someone stuck the sign in the ground. The same with shelters and their walkways. Unless the bus sign is right in front of the shelter or next to the walkway, don't expect the bus to come to you. It will stop in front of the nearest sign, either somewhat before or just past where you're standing. I'll explain why after discussing the courtesy stops.

"Courtesy" stops are a somewhat confusing phenomenon. First there are the old SCE&G stops, marked by a yellow painted stripe found on wooden poles all over Charleston. Some actually say "bus" others sport just the stripe. According to passengers who have utilized public transportation in Charleston long enough to remember when SCE&G ran the buses, those were the good old days when buses were always on time and the service was both convenient and efficient.

Then there are the unmarked courtesy stops. These are old stops that are no longer supposed to exist, but have been around so long people still expect to use them. Also, if there's a marked stop on one side of the street and you stand directly across from it to catch a return ride, the drivers are supposed to honor that as a stop. In places where the stops are incoveniently placed, or there is an exceptionally long distance between official stops, there are often well-known courtesy stops. Which means the unmarked stops I'm familiar with at the Hess station and the Waffle House that  fall between the Wannamaker Park stop and the one all the way down at CSU are actually courtesy stops.

For passengers who are not mind-readers and those who are new to CARTA, this can be quite confusing. It makes catching the bus and knowing where to get off something of a crap-shoot. Some drivers will honor courtesy stops, and others don't. I used to think this was due to certain drivers just being sticklers for going by the book or being on a power trip, while the majority of drivers actually look out for their passengers. In fact, the reason some drivers will only stop directly in front of an official sign is due to a really stupid law. According to one of the drivers I spoke with, if a bus stops to pick up or discharge passengers anywhere other than at an official bus stop sign, and that bus is rear-ended or hit by another vehicle, the bus driver is at fault! So the drivers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either they can provide good customer service for their passengers, or risk a ticket. Pretty much a no-win situation in my book.

The bottom line is that CARTA needs to not only update the online index of stops which is filled with incorrect information, but needs to send someone out on the roads to get the signs corrected. And why not put official signs at the courtesy stops to make life easier for both the passengers and the drivers? Let's put some common sense in play, along with making sure CARTA is designed to provide convenient, efficient, user-friendly service that is passenger focused!

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