Just Your Average Joe – Triangle Transit Experience

The local and national media is obsessed with the topic of the current gas prices. I do not know about you, but I am overwhelmed by the amount of coverage the price of gas is getting these days. This blog 100% supports the use of other modes of transit in the triangle other then the gas powered automobile. The problem with the triangle, however, is that a reasonable alternative can be very hard to use in this ‘sprawltastic’, car-centric area we live in. However, the rise in gas prices are creating a rise in bus ridership, according to the N&O. Rather then reading about it, I decided to give Triangle Transit a try for my daily work commutes and here are my thoughts and experiences.


Moore Square is the main Raleigh hub for most bus routes

Researching The Route

I live in downtown and work in RTP so I needed to find the bus route to get me out there and back. As an internet junkie, my first path to finding information is almost always the internet so naturally, I went to Triangle Transit’s website for information. The trip planner is horrible and it did not get my route to appear after a couple tries. Maybe you have more patience then I do but I decided to skip this tool and move on to the list of maps and schedules. This was easier for me to find what I needed and “Route 105: RTP to NCSU to Raleigh” was the one I needed to ride. After that, there was an RTP bus circulator that went from the RTP transfer station up to my place of work.

The website offers a simple text schedule, the route brochure as a .pdf file, and a Google map of the route with major and minor stops pinpointed along the way. This is good information for those that want to plan their way. After doing the website research and printing out some documentation, I was all set to ride.

Cost

At the start of this new transit experiment, I bought bus tickets and filled my car’s tank completely. The idea was to see how long I could go without paying any more money towards transit. A transit cost for this experiment is gas or a bus ticket and at the start I paid about $95.

A pack of 12 Triangle Transit tickets costs $41 and one ticket will give you unlimited rides per day. That comes out to $3.42 per day if you ride the bus. At the time of this particular visit to the gas station, the cost of regular gasoline was $3.53 a gallon. Assuming my car’s 32 mpg rating on the highway and a DTR/RTP distance of 18 miles (36 both ways), it costs about $3.97 to drive my car to work.

The Ride – Positives

Probably one of the best points of riding the bus is that someone else is doing the driving for you. While riding, you have the time to sleep, read, blog, play games or do anything because you do not have to deal with traffic yourself. I used this time to read more and would watch video podcasts on my ipod, where I could not before because I was paying attention to the road. When someone else is driving, you can focus more attention on another activity and perhaps get work done during your commute. This could be really beneficial to those who love to multi-task.

Cost was another great benefit to riding. Referring back to my numbers above, it is clear that riding the bus is the more cost effective choice. The bus fares are not rising and have been the same throughout this whole gas price hike. The price of gas is much higher then $3.53 today so the cost benefit of riding the bus is only strengthening. I went a full four weeks without paying for another transit cost.

While riding, my car was just sitting around doing nothing. This is great because no gas is being used, no stress or miles is being put on the car, and there is now one less car on I-40 during rush hour traffic. I’m a little bit of an Ecogeek too, so the added fact that I’m not pouring emissions into the air is a bonus.


Triangle Transit’s sleek new look

Negatives

Time is the biggest negative to this new transit venture. Driving to work on average throughout this experiment would take 25 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the evening. Riding the bus was almost three times longer, with rides averaging 1 hour and 15 minutes in the morning and 1 hour and 40 minutes in the evening. This makes a huge difference for someone that is busy and fitting in these huge blocks of time into my schedule was a real hassle. The afternoon ride times were more inconsistent then the morning rides. Even though I was not dealing with traffic, the bus was and heavy traffic on I-40 sometimes pushed my ride home past the two hour mark. If I was driving, I could avoid certain traffic zones where the bus must stay on its route.

During this experience, I learned to tolerate Triangle Transit rather then trust it. The buses were generally not on time, plain and simple. For those interested in catching a bus mid-route, I would recommend showing up 10 minutes before the posted time. If early, buses would stop but would not wait until the posted time to continue the route. There were a few cases of clear driver negligence where requested bus stops were passed. The RTP circulator also needs a makeover. My particular route would go one way in the morning and a completely new one in the afternoon. It may not bother you but I see another layer of confusion in this, more so because it does not at all follow the posted schedule on the Triangle Transit website.

The Verdict

We all have our own opinions. We all live and work in different areas so your particular experience will be different from mine. With that and the experience I just shared I have decided not to continue riding the bus as the time factor is the real kicker for me. The bus is just too slow and it is not worth it to me to ride it for so long. Right now, the gas prices have not been applying enough pressure for me to be a full on committed rider; I have found other ways to save money. Even though I do not ride, I encourage everyone to give Triangle Transit or the other bus services a try. If you have never ridden, it is a completely different experience then you think. Again, RalCon fully supports other means of transit in Raleigh other then cars and I hope one day (in my lifetime) we’ll see a network of trains, streetcars, and buses that can serve everyone. For now, I’ll stick to practicing EcoModder’s 105 Hypermiling and Ecodriving tips.

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21 Comments

  1. Very interesting article.
    Just curious, how far was the rtp transfer station to your work? I kinda wonder if you had put a bike on the bus’s rack, and from the transfer station bicycled to your office, you might have saved some time. Maybe.

    But you’re right..there’s definitely room for improvement for Triangle Transit.

  2. The RTP transfer station was about 1.5 miles from my work. A bike could have helped but I’m guessing I would have saved only about 5 or 10 minutes.

    I also do not own a bike so that would have been an added cost. The last one I had was too old and I donated it when it broke on me.

  3. The day our region will get meaningful transportation, I will join the choir and sing… For the moment, car is the ONLY way for me, as I live in North Raleigh, work downtown – my wife works in North Raleigh and we use one car for commute – and my second job is in Cameron Village. Add a baby to the equation, for additional complexity (day care center). Since I only have one hour between my two jobs, I must move fast… Public transit is totally out of the question for me, but if the routes were good, I would gladly use it.

    I am looking forward to the day I will be living in DT Raleigh and several light rail lines will be in place. Until then, I am married to my car :(

  4. Good article: I feel your pain, TTA commute time is a joke. The Triangle has done a POOR job with transit. We will pay in the next 3-5 years due to the lack of TTA vision. A Light Rail (again: Light Rail, anything else will be a Mistake – we will be laughing at all the mistakes of todays TTA and city leaders leaders 20 years from now if they do not use a pure light rail system) System should have been started 5-7 years ago (TTA and the cities knew this growth was coming). A bunch of re-active leaders (I use this term very loosely) instead of proactive. A one cent tax should have started 10-15 years ago (this area will lose corporate opportunities due to the infrastructure).

  5. Preface: I am not whining. I’m VERY happy with the state of my commute.

    I live in Cameron Village and work on Six Forks Road inside the beltline – a 3.1 mile drive. My car gets 37mpg on the highway and around 30 in the city. Given those numbers it’s far cheaper (and more convenient) for me to drive to and from work every day.

    Biking is the only feasible alternative for me, assuming that I can get up the nerve to actually bike across a few busy intersections.

    Mass transit just doesn’t offer the flexibility that most people need. Buses (at least in Raleigh) offer little fare flexibility. (Why not charge per distance? This is 2008 – get with it TTA.) Light rail only offers static routes. Even the most optimistic ridership estimates from TTA show that a light rail system is unlikely to attract enough daily riders to significantly alter traffic. Maybe escalating gas prices will change those estimates. Until then, I’ll remain skeptical.

  6. Jenna, that is a short commute so I understand where you are coming from. 3 miles puts you in perfect position to ride a bicycle each day. The real problem is that your route is probably not at all bicycle friendly. I’m just guessing that you use Oberlin to get to Six Forks ITB (?) and I think only the most experienced bikers will choose this option.

    I’d never thought of a per distance fare model on buses. Pre-paid passes could be sold and the appropriate amount could be taken off your balance as you enter/exit, just like subways. I’m not sure of the feasibility but it is thinking outside the box, I like it.

  7. Raleigh was mentioned on NBC world news tonight as an example of a city, along with Orlando FL, without a mass transit option (train, light rail, subway). The story was about the dramatic increase in mass transit use as a result of the higher gas prices, and the lack of mass transit options – due to underfunding -to meet the demand.

  8. I’m currently in Portland, the number one city for bikes in the country. We could learn a lot from Portland, it’s a different world out here.

  9. I will just reiterate frusteration with public transportation. I live in east Raleigh and work in downtown Cary. It’s not a big deal that the bus commute takes 3 times as long for me but I would have to leave work 2 hours before we close to catch the last bus out. That just isn’t doable. It’s a shame.

  10. Portland is definitely a city that has done mass transit right!!! It is my model city, although I am also aware of some not-so-great things about the real estate values that have skyrocketed over there. Be that as it may, Portland is a great city to model after, in most cases, anyway.

    For Raleigh to make light rail work, we need employment centers along major corridors. For example, Downtown Raleigh, Capital Blvd, Six Forks Rd, Wake Forest/Falls of Neuse Rd, Glenwood Ave, Hillsborough Str, South Saunders Str and possibly a few “connecting” streets that run across the aforementioned ones. it might take 30 years to make this a success, but we need to start somewhere.

  11. Last summer, I lived in the Hillsborough St. area and worked in RTP. I also rode the TTA 105/then 107 and would put my bike on the front and finish the route (2.5 miles) on bike. (I don’t think they had the RTP circulator back then.) A problem I would face would be when the two slots for bikes were full, you would have to wait for the next bus – add more time to the trip. It was nice having the riding time to do other things, but I still think bus lanes on I-40 would do wonders to promote transit thinking in the region, seeing as it would save time – an obvious factor for many professionals.

  12. Great article! Love the detailed comparison. Sounds to me like transit is not the only problem, here. the system is there and relatively inexpensive. The other factor we need to start considering is where we live in relation to our workplace. When buying a house/condo or finding a place to work, we should be thinking about how the commute is affecting the environment and whther we can find a home or work place that is closer.
    RTP is probably not the most favorable place to live and work if you favor a more urban environment, so maybe its time to start pressuring employers to move to where people want to live, and pressuring planners and developers to encourage the type of development we want in the places we want to live. Probably preaching to choir here, but I just wanted to point out that there’s more to green living than organic food and mass transit.

  13. 100% agree. In my opinion, I very much do not want to live in RTP. I would have a very close commute but I would lose out on many more things compared to where I live today.

    I think Raleigh and the rest of the triangle is just suffering from the sprawl development patterns and bad planning that took place in the last 20 years. I think we’ll be spending the next 20 trying to connect it all together.

  14. Leo,
    Props to you for you for giving this a try. I guess in the end, this verdict doesn’t hold true ;o)

    “The experience is much easier then I thought. The trip is over twice as long as having to drive but I feel like I gain so much more time to myself not paying attention to traffic. I can read, watch podcasts, or just sleep while someone else takes me to work. I’m going to continue taking the bus, not every day though; I’ll say 3-4 times a week.”

  15. I agree w/ anonymous about location of where one lives to where one works – I just moved to an apartment that is right on the CAT busline and have started taking it to work (in downtown Raleigh) everyday. The commute is maybe 5 minutes more than if I drove myself – and I don’t have to deal with parking downtown. Plus, b/c I’m an NCSU student so I can ride for free – so it is definitely saving me money.

  16. good article. i did the same experiement last summer too. i used to live downtown and walk to work, but when we bought our house in west raleigh it was hating the drive (spoiled, i know). one thing that i found is even though we live only 4 miles from work, straight down hillsborough st no less, it takes 45 minutes. a serious overhaul of bus routes, circulators, express routes etc needs to take place.

    alos, you paid way to much for tickets. you don’t have to get the day passes, it’s cheaper to get mulitple ride passes

  17. I loathe the buses because their times are horrible for people like me. I feel like if I had to plan my day off on a transit, I’ll spent most of it on the bus and not enjoying where I have to go and be. So it’s too stressful for me and I’m horrible with time.

  18. Leo, et al.,

    I’m the Director of Commuter Resources at Triangle Transit. Thanks for trying out our service and sharing your experience here. It’s valuable for us all.

    From our perspective, the good news is that we’ve identified all the issues that you’ve raised and are addressing them through the recommendations in the draft Short-Range Transit Plan (including upgrades to the trip planner). We’re releasing the draft plan for public comment tomorrow. You will be able to find it at http://www.triangletransit.org/srtp

    The bad news is that transit service to RTP is always going to be considerably longer than driving because of the spread-out land use design here. In working with RTP employers, we’re planning to conduct a facilitated brainstorming session with employees and employers to generate ideas for improving transit service there, and then bringing in consulting assistance to evaluate the ideas. This should result in a demonstration project in FY2010. Even if the demonstration projects include routing service directly to a major employer prior to the Transit Center, that would only shorten the commute for a single worksite. This is the major reason why the focus of the new routes in the draft plan is on the downtowns and universities where customers can finish their trip by walking.

    We’d be interested to hear feedback from readers here on our draft plan.

  19. John,

    Thanks for reading and for the great input. You and your team are really facing an uphill battle trying to provide a better transit experience here in the triangle.

    I understand that it is a slow process but it sounds like things are heading in the right direction. I’m just glad that interest and ridership numbers are going up in order to support better overall transit in Raleigh.

  20. […] can catch a bus in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. You can even catch a bus between the cities (though as downtown Raleigh blogger Leo recently discovered, there are some issues with it). But efforts to bring other mass transit to the Triangle have […]

  21. Ginny from the Blog » Blog Archive » I will not be trying the bus during the Triangle’s “Try Transit Week” September 30, 2009 at 8:09 am

    […] He thoroughly documented his experience on his blog. The self-described “ecogeek” concluded that while it was nice to be able to watch videos on his iPod while the bus driver steered him home, he would rather leave a slightly larger carbon footprint than endure the 2.5 to 3+ hour roundtrip bus ride. He wrote: “We all live and work in different areas so your particular experience will be different from mine. With that and the experience I just shared I have decided not to continue riding the bus as the time factor is the real kicker for me. The bus is just too slow and it is not worth it to me to ride it for so long.” […]

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