I expected the number 10 to be empty, because who in the world wants to ride a bus to Pantops from downtown in the middle of the day? Be that as it may, four passengers got on with me at the downtown transit center. From Water St, we headed down Market and onto E. High St, past Martha Jefferson Hospital, and the string of dive restaurants as High St. meets the 250 bypass. We turned into the Pantops Shopping Center, a place I rarely visit. What's there? A Chinese restaurant, an ABC store, Food Lion, the Lazy Parrot restaurant--a hang out for some of my neighbors--Tuesday Morning--a good source of cheap luggage--and Roses, a store I have never been to. I have no idea what they sell. Clothes? Automotive parts? Stereos? Sports equipment? Clueless.
At Food Lion, a Latino woman with three bags of groceries, an infant and two small boys got on the bus. One of the boys was exceptionally cute, like a baby Gael Garcia Bernal. We left the shopping center and turned left on route 20, and then into the low-rent-looking Wilton Farm Apartments where the mother with the cute little boy got off, then exited once again onto 20 and back onto 250 up Pantops mountain away from town. We turned into the Giant Shopping center at the top of the hill, but drove behind it rather than stopping at any of the shops. Back here was a walking trail and a pretty sheer drop off down the side of the mountain. We passed the DMV, then turned into a bland office park--I believe I saw signs for Merrill Lynch and State Farm. No one got on or off at the stop there. I suspect the bus does little here except allow workers who see it to note that another hour has passed.
From there, we circled the Martha Jefferson Hospital outpatient center with its precious row of white slatted rockers and then crossed 250 into the Westminster Canterbury residence driveway, let someone off, at an unofficial stop, and then did a round of the doctors offices clustered near the WC entrance. The bus was insufferably hot and we had been riding for nearly an hour. I hoped we were headed downtown again, but no, we crossed 250 again, and passed the new Martha Jefferson Hospital, which I heard will open in August. It's an imposing building and the patients will have gorgeous views from their rooms, but I'm glad I don't work there because I like being able to walk to work. I hope the number 10 will have a stop at the new hospital once it opens.
One more round of the Pantops shopping center. A large crowd of teenage girls got on, and an older man with a bicycle. I watched him keenly as he put his bike in the rack on the front of the bus. I have wanted to do the bus/bike thing but I am intimidated by those racks. Jon pinched his finger in one the first time he put his bike in it. This man had no difficulty. He was at least 60 years old. Right on, older, bike-riding man! At last we were back in town. I was hot and a knot of misery had developed in my stomach. It was a relief to get off the bus and walk home. The number 10 had a lot more passengers than I expected there would be. It's the least scenic route, poor Pantops has been made so ugly with that string of car dealerships and the Pantops shopping center is decidedly unattractive.
A few observations about public transportation in Charlottesville:
If we can get a bus up to Wal-mart, can't we get one to the airport? There have been many times, for me--and surely for other people as well-- when public transportation to the airport would have been nice. The airport isn't only for flying; it's where most of the rental car agencies are.
Regular bus routes should run until 9:00pm and night service until 1:00am.
Any bus that stops at UVA hospital, (hello number 6, I am talking to you) should have its first stop of the day there at 06:45, so that people can get in the building and catch the elevator to their units and get clocked in on time.
The monthly bus card is not good. My son used it when he went to Piedmont. You can only buy the stupid things at five locations: city hall, PVCC, downtown transit center, the Greyhound station and UVA parking office--and you must have cash to buy one at PVCC. That's a pretty limited number of locations, not to mention the fact that the next month's passes don't go on sale until a few days before the current month is up. It's SO annoying to make a special trip into City Hall, on, say May 25th, and be told that you can't get the June bus pas until May 28th. Also, it is so easy to lose them. Why not a fare card like they have in New York, that you can load with money at vending machines? Sure, you might lose your fare card, but if you know you are prone to losing things, you wouldn't load it with a lot of money. And, if I recall Ian's cards correctly, they are too big to fit into your wallet's credit card slots, which is why people lose them in the first place. And for God's sake, whatever type of fare card you sell, make them available at grocery stores and other places that people actually go to. Who would ever even think of buying them at the Greyhound station? "Oh, I just got off a bus from out of town, and now I will buy a city bus pass." Who would do that? And UVA parking and transportation office? Really? All UVA employees get free use of the buses, so none of us are buying these cards.
The Greenbriar neighborhood is the only city neighborhood I can think of that gets no bus coverage. Why is that?
The Charlottesville Bus Awards!
Most punctual: Number 4
Slowest: Number 7
Best Scenery: Number 3. (Runner up: Number 1. Honorable mention: number 9.)
Best for UVA Health System staff: Number 4
Best for staff on the "academic side" of UVA: the trolley, number 7 and number 8
Most dangerous to your health: Number 5
Most eccentric passengers: Number 3
Most obnoxious passengers: Number 7 (Runner up: Trolley on Friday nights from UVA to downtown.)
Best bus to take if you want to avoid a DWI: the trolley
Best overheard conversations: the trolley at rush hour.
So concludes my highly subjective, non-scientific study of the Charlottesville bus system. I guess it's not so bad for a city this size. Some thought has been put into the routes, about getting people to where they need to do business. Except for a short stint in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I've always lived in larger cities and judge C'ville's transportation system to theirs, which may not be fair. I encourage you to use the bus once or twice a week--at least it saves you parking hassles--and see how you like it.