Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riding the Bus

In the past month or so, I've made use of the Metro bus often to get to the subway on the weekend. Granted, I can easily bike to the subway in 10-15 min., as it's only a couple miles away. But if the weather or road conditions aren't that good, it's nice to have the option of taking the bus. I've never been much of a bus person - like a lot of Americans probably! When you have a car, you never think of taking the bus (I know I didn't!). My very limited bus experience was probably 30 or so years ago, when I used a local circular bus in Reston, that only ran maybe once an hour.

Anyway, my apartment is located just a half block off of busy Columbia Pike, and a bus stop is right there. It couldn't be more convenient. :) There are a number of bus lines that pick up at that location, and bring you to either the Pentagon Metro or Pentagon City Metro station. The buses run every 10-15 min. I can use my SmartTrip electronic card, so I don't need to be concerned with having exact change. The bus ride is short - perhaps 10 min. at the most. I wish, though, that the return bus ride were as quick...but it's probably due to my catching it later at night (after 11 p.m. or so). When it's cold and windy out, you don't feel like standing there freezing, waiting for the bus. So, what I've done is walk across the street to a hotel where there are cabs lined up, and hop in the warm cab for a quick ride home and not too expensive (perhaps $8.00 total). So, it's nice to have options.

The bus came in handy when we had the January snow of 5" and I needed to get to work. My apartment building's free shuttle that goes to the subway, wasn't operating. I don't know if it was because the driver couldn't get to the shuttle, or if he was sick. But I just walked over to the Metro bus stop and didn't have to wait long for a bus. I was a little concerned when there were maybe 20 people in line waiting for the bus, and whether we all would fit on the bus - - but, fortunately, we did! :)

Last night, I went to meet a friend for dinner. She lives in Silver Spring, but since I had my road bike (vs. my Brompton), I couldn't take my bike on the subway til after 7. So I decided to try putting my bike on a bus bike rack and take the bus to my destination. The last time I tried this was a couple years ago when we had an unexpected ice storm after work. It didn't go good because due to the ice, I had a hard time pulling the rack down, and then the arm that fits over your front tire was frozen and I couldn't get it to budge. :/

So I looked online and saw there were a couple of bus lines that went to Silver Spring, and they ran every 10 min. or so. I was a little concerned about a couple things. I wondered if the bus stop would be packed with commuters and if so, after I would load my bike (IF I could manage to load my bike), would there be room for me? Would a bus come along and already have 2 bikes on the rack, and would I have to wait for the next one?

So, I rode my bike to where the area was to catch either line. I first tried to find the bus stop for the Express bus. I checked a few bus shelters, looking at the bus stop signs that show the routes. I asked a couple of people at the bus stops and also a bus driver, but I couldn't find the location. So I went to the other bus line stop. Two buses pulled up with that route number - though only one of the buses showed it went to the Silver Spring Metro. I confirmed it with driver, and then proceeded to put my bike on the rack. The rack came down easily, and I loaded my bike. I pulled the spring-loaded arm and it gave relatively easily and I put it up over my front tire and got on the bus. Whew! :) I was pleasantly surprised to see that evidently the bus fare box wasn't working, so everyone was getting a free ride!! :) Bonus points! :) I got a seat opposite the driver and I could see my bike clearly. As we rode along, I was texting my experience to some friends. I heard a noise and thought for a second that maybe my bike had fallen off and we had run over it!! I looked up and was relieved to see my bike still on the rack. :) I watched it carefully for a little while, making sure that it was riding along and hanging on, as we went over bumps and potholes. It seemed secure and fine. When we got near the end of the ride, I told the bus driver that this was my first time taking my bike on a bus. I asked if this was the "normal" amount of people that ride the bus (there were only maybe 15 or so people on the bus!). She said yes, at this time of the evening. I was kind of surprised, I thought there would be more. She said later in the evening there were more. So I was glad to hear that it's not a super busy bus line.

So my overall experience went very well and I won't hesitate to put my bike on a bus again for a destination, if need be! :)