I abhor driving, it is drudgery. But it just so happens that my two boys, Julian and Roman, really like soccer and hockey. By and large, these programs are run out of Waterloo's excellent Young Arena and Sportsplex facilities. In our just-in-time society, that means driving. Couple the drive with the maze of one-way couplets, pointless four-way stops, and endless traffic signals in downtown Waterloo, it is the stuff of road rage. There must be a better way. Enter MET transit.
I am a proponent of public transit. I've written about the topic in Transportation Dilemma. I've held a transportation summit of City, UNI, INRCOG, and citizen participants. We are making progress, but it is slow. Infrastructure-wise, University Avenue will feature our best effort in accommodation including bus turnouts.
Generally speaking, I am critical of our local bus system. It's operation is tailored to economically disadvantaged users, ignoring an entire population of choice riders. In doing so, it maintains an operational monopoly serving a minor subset of potential users. Monopolies (particularly those that are taxpayer-funded) never have to meet true market needs, they are slow (or the last) to adopt innovation, and don't operate to serve performance metrics. When choice riders take a greater share of ridership, the service will have met its potential (including CF citizen return on their $400,000 per year investment). When choice ridership increases, we will have successfully mastered the cost, convenience, and comfort equation.
I put my youngest, Roman, through MET rider training so eventually he will build the confidence to do it on his own. Julian will follow. We mastered the exact change requirement, the route, and stop request. As an added measure of safety, they also carry a low-cost, mobile phone (thanks Republic Wireless!*). How does it measure up to the 'choice' variables?
- Cost (grade: B+): at a child's fare of $0.75, a chauffeured ride to Waterloo is well worth it. If driving, you need to account for fuel (and all the other burdened costs of ownership) and time (about 2 hours away from other productive tasks). If I can avoid a trip, I would gladly pay $15. This service is a bargain. There are also means-tested fares. I only wish there was a family price too, because if you ride as a family, a two-way trip adds up.
- Convenience (grade: D): The route was amazingly fast. I picked up the Yellow bus on Main and was dropped adjacent to both Young Arena and the Sportsplex. Sure, transit gaps exist, but by and large, the routes are sensible. But the wait time!! The greatest deficiency was the lack of a locator application (i.e. GPS-based) for bus routes (most cities have function, in Iowa City a locator app was a student project!). In 2014, the fixed routes were finally included in Google Transit (my route), a convenient planning tool. In terms of Web, the MET website is not mobile friendly, content is poor, and it is not intuitively designed (must be a product from 1990s), there is no other way to put it. So the ride was fast, about 17 minutes, but I waited more than 30 minutes for buses. I'm not calling for more buses, I just want to know when to make my walk to the pick up point! This feature would bump the grade by two letters!
- Comfort (grade: A): the buses were extremely comfortable. Sure they were clean, but the drivers made this ride truly pleasurable... beyond friendly and helpful. I don't know if this is MET 'culture' or just a couple exceptional individuals, they made my day.
There are many things our transit authority could do better. The #1 suggestion would be a bus locator app for phones. I would also love to see integration with a community bike-share program at major stops. For high-volume points, better shelters would be welcomed. But all things considered, I will be using this service at every opportunity. Sadly, the bus doesn't get close to my work place making a drive or bike ride all but necessary. For my kids (and let me be judged for free-range parenting), they will soon use this service to get to their practices in Waterloo on a regular basis. I encourage you to consider this service for your own transportation needs!
* Author's note: I don't get paid or receive any benefit from product placement. I like to share good ideas, things and products.