Anything Goes Challenge: Megan & I Take the Bus

23 May

Megan lives within 10 miles of me in Silicon Valley but I’ve never met her. Her challenge: getting to a medical appointment two cities away without driving or biking after surgery. For her entry into the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, she compares hitching a ride with a friend vs taking the bus. This is her story.

Because of recent surgery, I can’t drive my car or ride a bike for a few weeks. I needed to get to the medical clinic for some tests and I considered taking a friend up on her offer of helping me during my convalescence, but it just didn’t seem right to ask her to drive a total of about 40 miles just to get me to the clinic that is only seven miles from my house. My solution was to get a family member to drive me to the clinic then take the bus home.

Driving to the clinic:
Driving during Monday morning commute traffic using mostly Central Expressway and Evelyn Avenue took 30 minutes. Cost: It’s hard to analyze. My best guess is $2 to travel seven miles. [Editor’s note: US federal reimbursement rate is 56.5 cents/mile so I’m estimating it at $3.95]

Rush Hour Expressway Traffic

Transit home from clinic: The return trip home took 58 minutes by walking and taking the VTA 22 bus. Considering the fact that the return trip from the clinic was during mid-morning which meant that the local bus that I transferred to from the 22 was running only every 30 minutes, I think that only 58 minutes to return home was not too bad. If I had taken the 522 Rapid bus, I probably could have traveled home even faster.

Cost: $4 ($2 for each leg of trip home). Note to self: figure out how to buy a day pass using the Clipper card.

No Bus Lane

LadyFleur had recently mentioned using an iPhone app for the VTA bus routes so I checked it out then bought it while at the clinic when I was between appointments. After using the SJ Transit app for this morning’s trip, I find that I really like it. It helps me overcome my hesitation to using the VTA bus system to get places since I don’t always have a paper schedule with me. Frankly, the paper schedules were harder for me to use than this app.

Bus Map vs Bus App

The Clipper card is another innovation that has helped me get out of my car and on to the bus. As an infrequent bus rider, it was always hard to make sure I had exact change for a bus trip. Scanning a Clipper card is much easier than digging around in my purse for $2.

Sorry, but while juggling my iPhone, checking the timer on my phone, checking the SJ Transit app for route info and watching for my bus stop, I didn’t take any photos.


Never fear, Megan, I took your bus challenge and snapped some photos on the trip. After digging up my old transit maps I realized it had been almost 20 years since I’d ridden the bus! Thanks for getting me back on the bus, and even more for taking the Anything Goes Commute Challenge.

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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Anything Goes


10 responses to “Anything Goes Challenge: Megan & I Take the Bus

  1. pep

    May 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Did you know you can get public transit information through Google Maps? When you use the navigation function on a smartphone (or “Get directions” on a computer), use the bus icon to see the next few possibilities. Choose one of the routes to get more detail.

    • ladyfleur

      May 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      I’ve used transit directions on Google Maps before, mostly when traveling in other cities. It works great. I would never have been able to get around the whole weekend in Long Beach without a car without it and it made a big difference in Portland too.

      What I like about the VTA app I have is that it’s really quick and easy to look up when the next train or bus arrival time. I have a similar schedule app for Caltrain, but the best app for Caltrain is Twitter. A quick check on Twitter and you’ll know more than the conductors do. Crowdsourcing at its best.

      • Richard Masoner (@cyclelicious)

        May 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm

        Wow but those schedules are ancient!

        The beauty of Google Transit (vs umpteen different transit apps) is Google is agency neutral. For travel within the South Bay it’s maybe not as useful unless you need to connect Caltrain w/ VTA, but if you need to connect across the umpteen million Bay Area agencies for any trip that crosses a county line, Google Maps is a tremendous aid.

        Regarding 522 and express lanes – VTA plans dedicated BRT lanes for El Camino Real. San Jose and Santa Clara have bought into it. Mountain View’s city council has fought BRT (and other livability improvements for ECR) tooth and nail, however, which is unfortunate.

        The 522 *is* significantly slower than Caltrain, and during commute times Caltrain makes much more sense. But besides the difference in expense (what’s a 2 zone Caltrain ticket cost these days?), 522 runs frequently through the day with 12 to 15 minute headways overlaid on top of the 10 minute headways on the 22 bus . There’s tremendous freedom in not having to memorize transit schedules for quick, non-commute trips.

        As Megan notes, however, it’s those less-frequent connections that can kill the utility of transit service like this. Caltrain has that same problem, which is why so many of us avoid the connections altogether and bring a bike on board for that last mile.

      • ladyfleur

        May 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm

        The schedules are so ancient that VTA was TA and Caltrain had a completely different logo. And I was still working as a software engineer writing code. That’s ancient history!

        Agree on how Google does a great job with inter-agency routes and why I take a bike aboard so I can solve those last few mile issues vs waiting for a connection.

        As for BRT on El Camino, I spoke at Mountain View City Council in favor of them. It was a crazy meeting. Old people who probably shouldn’t be driving complaining about traffic, and young people saying that the bus is what enables them to go to their jobs and go to college without having to buy a car. Without good bus service, they couldn’t afford school.

        For me, the 22/522 is less useful because my house is a 30 minute walk from El Camino which means I need my bike, and it’s not as easy to take a bike on the bus as on Caltrain. And I can walk to light rail which goes right to my work in less than 20 minutes and scoot even faster.

        I thought about scooting to the bus but I’m not sure how I’d get through downtown. The sidewalks and streets are both too busy. And scooting along Shoreline would mean scooting up a steep bike path.

        But it’s good to know I grab the 22/522 for times when Caltrain is broken or during those times when trains are running an hour apart. As for the cost, I’m really not sensitive the to difference, especially since I pay for a Caltrain monthly pass anyway ($126/mo).

  2. frank8265

    May 24, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Great to see that you can take a bike on the bus. Not an option here i’m afraid.
    Last time I took a bus here to travel about 10 miles (mid 90’s), it took me 1,5 hours. That was the last time i used public transportation!

  3. Matt the rat

    May 25, 2013 at 7:52 am

    I use google maps continuously for transit directions here in Perth. Bus and train both! Although I did miss read the instructions today, missed a transfer, and ended up having to get out and call a cab to finish my journey… But that’s the worst outcome in 2.5 years.

    • ladyfleur

      May 26, 2013 at 9:35 am

      Wow, it’s been 2.5 years since you moved to Perth. That’s a long time. It’s impressive to see how far Google has taken its maps worldwide, especially the parts like transit which involve keeping up with agencies whose routes and schedules change.

      Does Google also offer bike directions for Perth? It’s available here online but not for the mobile phones, which is often where I need it most.

      • ladyfleur

        May 26, 2013 at 9:36 am

        OK, that was a dumb question. I just tried it out and you do have bike directions. How cool.

  4. Matt

    May 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Why did she have to pay two fares? Does VTA not offer transfers to allow you to ride multiple lines on a single trip?

    • ladyfleur

      May 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      I don’t know all the details on the VTA passes since I buy a monthly pass on the train the bus is free. But I think the system is smart enough to not charge you again if you tag on with the Clipper card within a two hour window.


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