November 2005 Archives
My Day on the Citrus Connection - November 27, 2005
The following post serves as a wrap-up and discussion of my Public Transportation Experiment on Wednesday, November 16, 2005.
What to say?
If you would have asked me how things were going at the mid-point of my day (around 2:30 p.m.) I would have said, “Great, everything has been perfect so far.” Ask me the same question at the end of the day (7:00 p.m.) and I would have said, “A complete disaster.” Take the sum of those two responses and you have a balanced look at public transportation.
At the end of the day I spent 7 hours and 37 minutes using public transit to accomplish my transportation needs. Had I driven it would have taken me 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Here’s the story:
I didn’t really have any expectations going into my experiment. I did hear from a number of individuals that warned me about late buses and the inflexibility of the system. Some said the public transportation system is designed to get the workforce to and from work at set schedules. Attempting to schedule multiple stops at multiple locations like I planned would be tough.
My original plan was to travel from my home in Winter Haven to Lakeland to attend two meetings and then return for an afternoon meeting in Winter Haven before heading home. Each of the meetings had a fixed start-time and end-time. I informed each of the meeting attendees of my travel plans and asked them to be flexible if necessary.
I did the majority of my research via the Citrus Connection web site. Citrus Connection is the bus system that serves Lakeland and Polk County. The Winter Haven bus service is provided by Winter Haven Area Transit (WHAT). The primary routes and schedules are only available as PDF downloads from the site. I am not sure what percentage of public transportation users have access to a computer with internet access, but being able to research and plan my route online was a must. Without this advance planning it would be next to impossible to complete my experiment.
All fares are 75 cents. According to my planning I would need six trips. To save myself the hassle I read about the Ride Picker Pass that can be purchased for $12 for 20 rides or 50 cents per fare.
A crucial element to my transportation was the connection buses that I needed to take between Winter Haven and Lakeland. In each case these connection routes only ran once an hour. Missing one would set me back considerably (how’s that for foreshadowing).
All good plans need to be flexible. In my case I learned a few days in advance that my Winter Haven meeting had been changed from later afternoon till first thing in the morning. This change actually worked out in my favor.
I planned to take my digital camera and MP3 recorder along with me to document the day. If I had time, I blogged about specific segments, but I wasn’t always able to fit this in.
One issue that I was going to pay attention to was ridership. Many critics of the local bus system have said that it is underused and thus a waste of taxpayer money. Proponents say that even though ‘you’ might never use a bus there are hundreds/thousands that do and rely upon them to work/live.
In advance of my experiment I also drove to the same meeting locations to document travel time via my own vehicle. Would the gas savings outweigh the time lost?
The planning was done. I printed all the routes and timetables I needed and put them in my messenger bag along with my laptop and spare batteries for the camera and MP3 recorder.
First Trip: 6:22 A.M. Start
My first meeting was at Clark/Nikdel/Powell at 8 a.m. in Winter Haven, Florida.
One of the things I heard while planning my experiment was that you have to work your schedule around public transportation. How true.
In order to make my 8 a.m. meeting the only option I had was the first bus on the #30 Route. All buses arrive at the main terminal in Winter Haven at :10 past the hour. The second bus would have arrived at 8:10 a.m. Obviously if my meeting could have been moved to 8:30 this would have been perfect, but it couldn’t. The first bus it was. I would arrive downtown at 7:10 and then kill some time in advance of my meeting.
Heading To The First Stop At 6:30 A.M.
I left my house at 6:22 a.m. to walk to the stop along Cypress Gardens Blvd. According to the timetable the bus would pass that location between 6:42 and 6:50. The walk to the stop was approximately 1/3 of a mile. Had I done some advance work I would have known the exact time it would have taken me to walk the distance. I didn’t know so I had to leave some padding in there. As I walked the sun was just rising.
On the WHAT routes there are stops, but according to the web site riders can also stand alongside the route and wave down the drivers. That was my plan since the nearest stops were ¼ mile away from my cross street. I saw the bus approaching within the timetable window. As it approached I waved and at first I thought the driver did not see me. I thought, “Well there goes my plan.” had I missed that bus the next one would not have come by for another hour. She did in fact see me and pulled over. I ran to the bus and hopped on.
W.H.A.T. Conversion Vans
Many of the routes in Winter Haven are served by conversion vans rather than your typical bus. The Route 30 bus is a conversion van. As I got on I asked the driver for a Ride Picker pass. As she drove along she pulled out the proper card and took my $12.
Including myself there were eight riders on the bus this morning. We followed the route downtown and picked-up/dropped-off a few riders. One stop was located at the local Wal-Mart parking lot, something I would see repeated on other routes.
At one point we took a detour through a residential neighborhood to pick-up a visually impaired woman and her guide dog. During the course of the day I would observe a number of handicapped individuals using the service.
Passing the local high school we encountered quite a bit of traffic. We dropped off two high school students and got back underway. Looking at my watch I realized that there was no way the bus would make it to the terminal by 7:10. If I was attempting to catch the 7:15 connection to Lakeland I would have been nervous. Shortly afterwards the bus driver asked if any of us needed a connection. A few of the riders did. She used the radio to inform the other buses at the terminal to wait. That made me feel better about future connections.
We arrived at the Winter Haven Terminal at 7:18 a.m. I walked to Richard’s Coffee and had a bagel and some coffee. Shortly before 8 a.m. I walked the few hundred yards to Clark/Nikdel/Powell for my meeting.
I knew that the connection bus to Lakeland left at :15 past the hour. The 9:15 bus wasn’t an option since I would still be in my meeting. The 10:15 was my bus.
Let’s do a quick recap. Had I drove my car I could have left my house around 7:45 – 7:50 a.m. to make my 8 a.m. meeting. With public transit I needed to leave at 6:22 a.m. a difference of about 1 hour and 25 minutes. In the future I would attempt to schedule meetings at :30 minutes past rather than on the hour. That would allow me to time my trip better and shave 45 minutes from my travel time.
Second Trip: The First Sign of Trouble
With my 8 a.m. meeting over I had a few minutes to upload some photos to Flickr and check e-mail. I then walked to the Winter Haven terminal to catch the 10:15 connection to Lakeland.
While waiting at terminal for the 10:15 connection to Lakeland I noticed a Santa standing by one of the buses.
Santa Uses Public Transit
They were filming a commercial for WHAT. I overheard something about ‘Ride Saturday Free.’ There were a few people from the BOCC overseeing and acting in the segment. I say acting because they were sitting in the bus as passengers. One of the staff circulated around the terminal to ask if anybody wanted to come be in the commercial. She asked me but I told her that I needed to be in Lakeland by noon. Obviously, if I hung around to be in the commercial I would have missed the 10:15 to Lakeland and would have needed to wait till 11:15. This was a similar answer she received from a number of other bystanders. They had someplace they needed to be.
Winter Haven Terminal
When getting on the bus I encountered my first major issue. I had purchased a Ride Picker Pass when I boarded my first bus this morning. (A segment normally costs 75 cents, but you can buy a 20 segment pass for $12 or 50 cents per segment).
Ride Picker Pass
As I boarded the driver told me that pass was not valid for Citrus Connection buses, I had to convert it over to a new magnetic pass at the Citrus Connection office in Lakeland. He let me on anyway though. I then realized that the $2 I had would only get me a few more rides. Getting to the Citrus Connection office was not really an option today.
What frustrated me is that all the literature I had read all said that the Ride Picker Pass was valid on all buses. I guess they have not updated their web site. (As a side note, in prep for my experiment I e-mailed the contact listed on the Citrus Connection web site. The e-mail bounced. That person doesn’t work there anymore.)
Besides the pass snafu the transfer to Lakeland was straightforward. The #12 connection was scheduled to depart at :15 past the hour but we ended up leaving at 10:23. I was told to be prepared for the buses to be running late. Hearing this makes you nervous when you know that the connection you need to take leaves at 11:15 and by 11:15 your not at the station yet. But it’s all relative since all the buses are running late.
I had prepped for the long connections by downloading a few podcasts to my iPod. I spent the majority of the trip listening to For Immediate Release by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson.
Traveling From Winter Haven to Lakeland
I counted 13 people on the connection between Winter Haven and Lakeland. We picked up a few and dropped off a few on the way but in all there were few stops. We did pick up one individual with a bike. He utilized the built-in bike rack on the front of the bus.
At this point I thought that using the bus to transfer my commuter bike between Winter Haven and Lakeland would be a great idea. I’ll file that one away.
We arrived at the Lakeland Terminal at 11:15 (5 minutes late). The next bus I needed to take, #52 North Florida Ave, was not at the station. But remember it’s all relative time :-)
The #52 pulled in at 11:20. During my short wait I asked a off-duty driver about the Ride Picker Pass I had. He said I should take the West Memorial bus to the Citrus Connection office to get the pass switched out. There was no facility to do this at the main Lakeland Terminal. Like I said before, this wasn’t an option for me. Luckily I had those two dollars.
I boarded the #52 and we departed at 11:23. This bus was much quieter but had a good bit of graffiti on it. It was mostly sharpie-stuff on the windows and interior panels. There were 14 riders including me.
This was a short ride. Having never ridden this route I did not know where the stops for LRMC were located. I got off at the first one I saw, but soon realized that there were two more further down the road that I could have used. As it was, my walk was probably longer than it needed to be. I stepped off the bus at 11:32 and arrived at Café Roti at 11:44.
Getting Off At LRMC
Total travel time to my first Lakeland meeting via public transit: 1:30 (not including the 15 minute wait till noon). Had I driven: 25 minutes.
I had planned to meet a client/friend for lunch but his schedule changed the day before. Rather than re-arranging my plan any more I decided to still spend ‘1 hour’ at Café Roti. As it happens another client e-mailed me and wanted me to sit in on a conference call, so I spent quite a bit of the time on the phone.
When I paid my tab via debit card I had to ‘buy-back’ a few dollars from the server since I don’t know when I’ll be near an ATM to get more cash for bus fare. (Remember by 20 Segment Pass is useless).
As of lunch I had spent almost 3 hours of my day utilizing public transport when driving would have only used 35 minutes.
Third Trip: Down South
From Café Roti I needed to head to Panera Bread on South Florida Avenue for a 2 p.m. meeting. The plan was to take the #52 to the Lakeland Terminal then transfer to the #31.
When you rely upon public transportation you need to learn the timetables, I did not. At 12:30 I looked at my watch and then quickly pulled out the schedule for the #52. It was due to pass my location at 12:30. I wouldn’t make that one, but I now knew the next window was between 12:55 and 1:05.
I left Café Roti at 11:48 and walked to the #52 stop by LRMC, arriving at 12:53. This stop had a nice cover and seating. Later in the day I would realize what a blessing some shade is. Luckily there was no rain forecast for the day. I do not want to imagine waiting at the various stops in the rain.
LRMC Stop With Shelter
While waiting for the bus I talked to a woman who was seated at the stop. She told me that she has used the bus service for the past four and a half years to get to work and do all her shopping. She said knowing the schedule helps tremendously since you can become more efficient, but that late buses can ruin any planning.
The #52 arrived at 1:07 and we were off to the Lakeland Terminal. We arrived at 1:16 p.m. and I boarded the #31 which departed at 1:23 p.m. (8 minutes late). During this trip we had another handicapped individual on board. This was the fourth handicapped person I had seen.
I was dropped off across the street from Panera Bread at 1:35 p.m. Plenty of time to spare for my meeting. I used the wifi at Panera to catch up on e-mail and post a few more photos.
Getting Off At Panera Bread
Public transit travel time between locations: 37 minutes. Had I driven 10 minutes.
Up to this point everything has gone as planned. Even though I had spent a considerable amount of time using public transit to get around it wasn’t too bad. Better planning of meetings to more efficiently use the system could help with future trips. Of course there was some novelty which added to the ‘enjoyment’.
Things were about to change.
Fourth Trip: 4 Hours!!!
According to the plan the #31 bus I needed to take back downtown would pass Panera Bread around 2:55 p.m. with an arrival downtown at 3:10 p.m. From there I would take the 3:15 connection to Winter Haven and then the 4:15 #31 to my house. I’d be home before 5:00 p.m. Or at least that was the plan.
I walked to the bus stop at 2:51 p.m. It was getting quite warm for a November afternoon and there was no shade at the stop. Two other people were waiting for the bus with me. One of them ducked behind a sign to catch the only shade available.
Using The Available Shade
The bus was running late, but I had come to expect a 5-8 minute delay. 3:10 rolled by, then 3:15, then 3:20, no bus. I would most likely miss the 3:15 connection to Winter Haven, even adjusting for ‘bus time’. The bus finally arrived at 3:25 p.m. Heading north we picked up a couple with two small children at Wal-Mart. I had seen them on the earlier bus when we dropped them off at Wal-Mart.
Heading North On South Florida Ave.
As we cruised up South Florida Avenue the driver blew by a guy waiting at a stop. Boy was he pissed. He had obviously waited quite a bit for this late bus and now it drove right past him.
We arrived at the Lakeland Terminal at 3:40 p.m. with 18 passengers. The reason the bus was late? It apparently hit something before it picked us up. The driver got out and walked to the back of the bus. He and a few passengers stared at a large dent and discussed the incident some of them had witnessed. The driver then walked off to get a supervisor. I later saw a group of Citrus Connection folks looking over the damage.
I had a little bit of a wait for the next Winter Haven connection since I missed the 3:15.
There was quite a crowd at the terminal. It was a mixture of school-aged kids and older folks coming to and from service industry jobs. There were quite a few fast-food uniforms and construction workers. I noticed a Lakeland Police Department officer on duty (there wasn’t one in the morning). All the benches had the ‘no-sleep’ handles so I couldn’t take a nap :-)
LPD On Duty
Downtown Lakeland has a free wifi service called SurfLakeland. I moved to the east end of the terminal to see if I could pick up the signal but I couldn’t.
The Gambling Gang
At the east end of the terminal there was a group of kids gambling. It was funny watching them ‘hide’ the wagering. They would play cards on a bench and then go behind a column to pay off any bets. I assume this was to hide their activity from the police officer, but it was obvious what they were doing.
At connection time the terminal is a hub of activity. All the buses arrive and there is a quick shuffling of passengers before they depart again. Some buses run close to being on time, others are very late. That was my case. I planned on taking the x22 Router back to Winter Haven. That ‘x’ stands for ‘Express’
The x22 was due to depart at 4:15 p.m., it arrived at the terminal at 4:25 p.m. We departed at 4:30. There were 8 passengers including me heading to Winter Haven via Bartow. We dropped off four construction workers at the Bartow Wal-Mart shortly after 5:00 p.m.
On the trip between Bartow and Winter Haven the driver informed me that there was no way we’d make the connection to the #30. The scorecard so far:
- Late bus which caused a
- Missed connection which I then had to wait for another
- Late bus which was leading to another missed connection
We arrived in Winter Haven at 5:31 p.m. The next #30 bus would leave at 6:15 p.m. I had a 45 minute wait. I walked back over to Richard’s coffee and checked e-mail. A friend IM’d me and asked me how the day was going. I told him my late bus/missed connection/late bus saga. His response, “I’d offer you a ride home but then I would ruin your experiment.”
Missed The #30
One consolation was that I could use my previously useless Ride Picker Pass on the Winter Haven buses.
I walked back to the Winter Haven Terminal at 6:10 and boarded the #30 bus that was waiting. And we waited and waited. The x22 bus that was running late earlier was still late. We were waiting for that bus to arrive since there were two passengers that needed to transfer to the #30. The 6:15 departure was the last of the day and if they bus left they would have been stranded at the station. Although I was ready to leave and get home I was glad we waited for those passengers. I just imagined myself in their situation.
While waiting I talked to the driver for a bit. I asked which was the nearest stop to my cross-street. He said not to worry about it and that he’d drop me wherever I needed to go. That was great.
We finally departed the terminal at 6:36 p.m. with 6 passengers. After winding along the #30 route I was dropped off at 7:00 p.m. and began the walk home in the dark. At 7:11 p.m. I walked in the door.
Walking Home At 7:00 P.M.
All it took to ruin the day was one late bus. The trickle-down effect from that one bus caused delays and missed connections for the remainder of the day. A return trip that should have taken less than two hours had taken over four hours. Had I driven the return trip would have taken me 25 minutes.
For the day my total time spend using public transit was: 7:37. Had I driven: 1:10. A difference of almost 6.5 hours. Granted that without the afternoon disaster it would have been a difference of only 4.5 hours.
Improvements? I would strongly suggest that the Citrus Connection open a customer service window at the Lakeland Terminal. After all this is where all their customers will pass during the day. It would seem like a natural location.
They should also update their web site to let potential travelers know of any changes to service or rate schedules. The Ride Picker Pass issue I experienced should not happen. The first driver should never have sold me a pass that would be useless on the entire system.
I am a bit biased in my discussion of this issue because I have any alternative means of transportation, my own car. Many of the people that rely upon public transit do not have that option. The bus is the only way they can get around, their lifestyle revolves around the bus schedule.
I was extremely pleased with how things were progressing up until my afternoon disaster. When writing up this recap I am trying to balance the ‘good’ of the morning with the ‘bad’ of the afternoon. Had that one bus not been late my overall impression of the day would have been great.
Every bus I got on was at least half-full. I expected to see a decline in ridership during the mid-day hours but this was not the case. One reason is that many service industry jobs have non-traditional hours. One passenger I talked to was a waitress. She didn’t need to be at work till 11 a.m. and then got off at 3 p.m. that day. Other days she would work from 4 p.m. till 11 p.m. On the days she would work late she always arranged a ride home with a co-worker. The bus does not run after 8 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends.
Many of the buses had a community atmosphere. I can only assume it was the same folks that rode the same bus day after day together. They would sit in groups and talk about their day and upcoming holiday plans. Some would get off and others would get on, but the same core group always chatted away. If this was to become a usual trip for me I could see myself joining in on the conversations.
As a consultant I live by billable hours. With almost eight hours of my day taken by transportation it would be hard to make a living. Granted that not every day would be similar to this, the majority of the time I would be located in one spot working, maximizing the use of my time.
In the end, Citrus Connection and W.H.A.T. are an 'alternative transportation choice' for me, unlike others who do not have that choice.
When weighing the savings in cost (gas/vehicle ownership) and enviromental issues against the loss of time (which in my case costs me $) and flexibility, public transportation is not a wise choice. I do see myself using the system again in limited capacity. The most likely scenario would be traveling between downtown Winter Haven and Lakeland to attend meetings or lunch in the downtown area with a fixed schedule.
My experiment did show me the importance of public transporation for those who have no other alternative. I never have and will not complain that my tax dollars are 'wasted' supporting these local systems.
Posted by Josh Hallett
Taking the Bus - November 18, 2005
I am still traveling for work but will post the full wrap-up of my Citrus Connection/Winter Haven Area Transit experiment in the next two days. I'll be reviewing my entire day in detail and provide information on the pick-up/drop-off times, rider volume and other interesting highlights.
For a control I did drive to the same meeting locations a few weeks ago to compare travel times via my own vehicle to public transit. All those comparision will be in the wrap-up as well.
Posted by Josh Hallett
Meet the Candidates - November 17, 2005
The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce and BusinessVoice are hosting a "Meet the Candidates" Reception for the two candidates in the run-off election for the City Commission Southeast District seat. Michael Holley Chevrolet will host the reception in the Community Room at the new dealership on Bartow Hwy. on Wednesday, November 30th, from 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
The run-off election is Tuesday, December 6, 2005. If you are a registered voter living within the City limits, VOTE! All polling locations that were open during the Lakeland municipal election will be open for the Tuesday, December 6th election.
Posted by Josh Hallett
High Flying Holidays at Sun 'n Fun - November 10, 2005
Santa gives up his tiny reindeer for a Biplane! Visit the Sun 'n Fun Campus for High Flying Holidays!
From Thursday, December 8th till Sunday the 11th from 5:00 - 9:00 P.M the campus comes alive with holiday lights and displays. The Twelve Planes of Christmas are the backdrop for music, food, entertainment, kid's activities and holiday shopping at Gifts of Flight. Santa arrives each evening on Stearman Wonderful Wendy, the Florida Air Museum's Airborne Ambassador!
Ages 1-15 $3.00 Ages 16 and up $5.00 Seniors and FAM Members $4.00
Posted by Josh Hallett
Trying Out Citrus Connection - November 9, 2005
One day in the next two weeks I am planning an all day public transportation experiment. My plan is to use nothing by public transportation to travel between my home in Winter Haven, FL and a few meetings in Lakeland, FL. I'll document the entire experience and post a follow-up report. Why? How? When? Read below:
Florida is not known as being a public-transportation-friendly state. We Floridians love our cars. As such public transportation is lacking in just about every mode. In Polk County, FL the extent of public transport is the bus system, specifically the Citrus Connection and Winter Haven Area Transit (W.H.A.T.).
When I travel I love trying out/using the public transport in various cities. I wanted to compare/contrast this with the local options. Some have said that the purpose of public transport in our area is to get people to and from work and not serve as a vehicle replacement. The nature of the schedules and the waits between exchanges compound these issues. This is what I have found in planning my trip. If I was going to and from the same location each day the routes/times would become second-nature. Planning a dynamic trip which will feature a number of stops and will perhaps change during the day causes problems. Add to this a schedule which changes from day to day and using the bus system is not so easy.
Sadly there is no rail, so bus will be my primary mode. I have spent some time reviewing the Citrus Connection web site and have determined the route and buses that I will need to take. The route is:
- 7:20 am Walk from my home to the nearest stop (approx 1/3 mile) to catch
- 7:42 am Route 30 (PDF)
- 8:10 am Arrive Winter Haven Terminal
- 8:15 am Route 12 (PDF) from Winter Haven to Lakeland
- 9:10 am Arrive Lakeland Terminal
The plan in Lakeland is not set, it depends on the meetings I schedule, but it will involve a few trips around the town. Eventually I will need to return to the Lakeland Terminal to transfer back to Winter Haven. It will be important that I memorize the departure times of the transfer bus between Lakeland and Winter Haven. The return trip will be the reverse of the route outlined above.
I have informed the people that I am meeting with that I will be using public transport that day and to allow for a somewhat flexible schedule.
Looking at the upcoming weeks it will most likely be either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, but perhaps this Thursday. I have selfeshly selected a window this November to avoid the heat of the Summer/early Fall. Yes the buses are air-conditioned, but the stops and transfer points are not. Nothing like standing still on the sidewalk in Florida in mid-August.
My plan is to post during the day when I can, but the primary follow-up will be a single post discussing the experience. I'll include photos and some audio in the post. I also plan on asking Bob O'Malley of METROPLAN Orlando to write an opinion piece about public transport to accompany my review.
Posted by Josh Hallett
Win an iPod Nano - November 7, 2005
As part of our renewal campaign EMERGE will be giving away an iPod Nano*. If you renew your membership by January 31, 2006 you'll be entered to win.
But wait there is an (*) asterisk you say! Yes there is.
When we came up with the idea to give away a Nano it was the hottest thing on the block. Then Apple annouced the new iPod with video. The video-pod is out of our price range, but the Nano is not.
So what does this have to do with the asterisk?
Well Apple might just introduce something new or upgrade their current iPod line-up before January 31, 2006. With the asterisk we reserve the right to upgrade the prize as we see fit. At worst you'll win an iPod Nano, at best something better :-)
Of course you need to renew to be entered to win.
Posted by Josh Hallett
It's Time to Renew - November 7, 2005
We have a number of fun events planned for 2006 plus a few other interesting items:
- A social event at the Promenade on Lake Mirror
- “Aprons” - a popular cooking/social event
- “1st Tee” - a reception held at 1st Tee with some golfing contests
- Midnight Bowling
- Emerge Meets Submerge – a social event blending the generations
- Visits to human services agencies
- Impromptu gatherings before work and after work via messages on the website and e-mail (think of it as EMERGE smart mobs)
Just click here to renew.
Posted by Josh Hallett
*All blog posts and comments are the opinions of the blog author or comment poster and do not necessarily represent the views of EMERGE Lakeland.