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10 Things to Know About Taking The Bus In the San Gabriel Valley

Posted January 24th, 2018
Looking out of bus window

This list was inspired by the experiences of Liz Shannon Miller on her many commutes to work by bus in Los Angeles. While there are definite similarities between taking Metro in Los Angeles and taking Foothill Transit in the San Gabriel Valley, we wanted to highlight some of what’s unique to our area.

You can read Miller’s original post here, which she begins with the perfect introduction for our list, too: “It really is a wonderful way to save the environment as well as some gas money, but if you’ve never slipped $1.50 into the bus driver’s change machine before, there are some things you should be aware of.”

1. Most people in Los Angeles County won’t get it. 

One of the things we often hear when talking about our bus service to people on the street is, “Thanks, but I’ve got a car.” To us, that seems a little like refusing to go to the movie theater because you own a TV. It’s good to have options! Just like sometimes, you want to go out and thrill with the crowds to see a big movie premier, while other times you want to binge watch Netflix in your PJs, each way of getting around has its pros and cons.

Our communities were built around the car, and it really is great when you’ve got a long way to go or a busy day full of appointments in different areas. The bus is perfect for avoiding parking and enjoying a commute where you can focus on something besides the traffic. Walking and cycling boost your energy and show you all the little details of your neighborhood that you’d zoom past in a car or bus. We hope you’ll rethink the bus as one more tool in your toolkit, rather than something you’re tied to.

2. The ratio of “crazy” guys to “normal” passengers is approximately 1:35.

We’ve added quotation marks to Miller’s heading here, because we think the point is that public transit is public. Ride the bus often enough, and you will meet every kind of person who lives in our area. Every once in a while, someone might rub you the wrong way. But mostly, we find that it’s a great reminder that we all have so much more in common than we imagine. People are people, regardless of how they look or speak.

3. “Hot people” on the bus?

We’ve also made some changes to Miller’s third point. First, we want to repeat from #2 that our buses are communal locations, where everyone is welcome. Second, we want to make sure our buses feel safe for everyone on board. There are people who have met the loves of their lives while riding public transit. That being said, your bus is not Tinder. Please treat others with respect, and know that unwanted touching and sexual harassment are strictly off limits.

4. Understanding and paying your fare can be difficult.

Miller takes this opportunity to express her frustration with managing her TAP card. We want to address the bigger fare picture. We try to make it as simple as possible, but there are a lot of moving parts, and they don’t always fit together perfectly. Unlike Miller, we think the easiest option is to use a TAP card – that’s why we offer discounted TAP fares. You can buy one and load money onto it at locations all over the SGV; you can check your balance, see recent transactions, and load money onto it online or by phone (1-866-827-8646); it’s much quicker to tap a card than to insert bills and coins in a farebox; and your fare can protected if you ever lose your card.

If you need help understanding our different fares, passes, and discounts, please give us a call at 1-800-RIDE-INFO (743-3463), email us at comment@foothilltransit.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

5. The very very best part about public transportation is that you get to read.

Or game or study or crochet or get to inbox zero or meditate or grade papers or Snapchat or…

6. You’re gonna have some weird conversations. 

True. You’ll probably also have some great conversations. Lots of different people with lots of different backgrounds and experiences ride our buses. They reflect the brilliant diversity of the people who come to Southern California.

7. You can never, ever predict what the bus will be like. Never, ever. 

“I show up at my bus stop every morning at very nearly the exact same time, because the only thing I know for sure is that if I leave my house before 8:25 AM, I should be able to get onto a bus before 8:35. Will that bus be half-empty, calm and quiet? Will it be nightmarishly packed with people, sweaty with barely repressed stress? Will it be that AND be the one bus ride in 35 with a crazy guy on it? There is no way of knowing, ever. Much like with life, all you can do is show up.”

Again, Miller hits the nail on the head. Your bus ride is just a little slice of the bigger picture of life here in the SGV. We’ve been running our bus service for over 30 years now. We’ve got some pretty steady systems in place after all that time, but it’s never a dull day.

8. Location and time of day matter. 

Whereas in the City of Los Angeles, Miller says that “Streets matter”, there’s a lot more going on out here in the valley. It all affects how we schedule service. We’re not about to waste the money you pay us by driving around empty buses to nowhere. We pay a lot of attention to how many people are riding our buses, to where, and when. That means that a bus might come by every 12 minutes during rush hour, but only one bus per hour comes by in the middle of the night. Or a bus line might only serve a particular stop at some times of the day but not at others. Or it might go one direction in the morning and the opposite direction in the evening. And that doesn’t even take into account what happens when there are detours because of construction or events.

It’s a lot to take in, but there are plenty of tools for you. You can use our Bus Book, our online schedules, or even Google Transit. The representatives at our Transit Stores are expert trip planners. Pay careful attention to what your bus stop sign says, and also to the head sign on your bus. And your bus operator can confirm whether you’ve got the right bus and tell you when your stop is getting close.

9. Bus schedules matter…but they’re not miracle workers. 

“The bus will never arrive at the exact time the online timetable suggests. Maybe that happens in other cities, with predictable traffic patterns, but never in Los Angeles. However, they do usually manage to arrive within a certain range of that time — five minutes early to five minutes late. Learning their rhythm is key. And it will never be completely reliable.”

With apologies to Miller, we have to say that bus schedules really do matter. We put a tremendous amount of research, analysis, testing, experience, and technology into our bus schedules. Still, like Miller says, there’s simply too much variability in the system here to have our buses run like clockwork. We travel through over 20 different jurisdictions, each with their own planners and traffic patterns. We schedule over 2,000 bus trips per day and travel over 40,000 miles with 37 bus lines – and over 80% of those buses show up on time. That’s great for those 80% and a real hassle for the 20% that have to wait longer than expected for their bus. One thing that may help is knowing where your bus is and when it will get to you. We’ve made a lot of improvements to NEXTRIP, and it’s working better than ever. Give it a try!

10. Because taking the bus means waiting at bus stops.  

It does. It also means spending more time outdoors and moving more. It means spending more time with the people of your community, even people you don’t usually get to interact with. It means taking a step towards cleaner air and a smaller climate impact. It means being about 10 times safer than we are when we travel by car. And it means you’ve got a whole team of people here at Foothill Transit who want to help, and who work every day to make the experience of riding a bus in the San Gabriel Valley a little better than it was yesterday.

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Categories: Commuters