I have a confession: I have a beef with METRO bus service. Kate and I attempted to use the bus tonight on a trip to Seattle. It would take us an extra 1.5 hours to ride the bus and it simply is not worth the inconvenience. We are going to drive instead.
I know it is almost heresy to say anything negative about public transportation these days. Everyone is focused on getting people out of their cars and onto buses, but let's face reality: public transportation isn't the panacea that it is painted to be.
We've had enough experience on the bus to conclude that unless we have plenty of time on our hands (double or triple the time it would take to drive in some cases), taking the bus isn't a convenient enough option for us. And don't even ask me my opinion about the cost effectiveness of light rail.
You see, Kate and I have honestly tried our hardest to use METRO bus service whenever possible on trips across the lake from Kirkland to Seattle. Sometimes we have had great success. And many times we have not. We ride the bus when we can. But our problem is that where we want to go, METRO cannot easily take us.
When one adds the high cost of parking in Seattle, one can quickly justify riding the bus on a cost basis. We like the idea of not driving if we don't have to.
We are fortunate in that we have a bus stop just two blocks from our home. It couldn't be easier for us to get to downtown Seattle... IF the bus schedules fit our schedules. Unfortunately, they seldom do. And even when they do, more often than not, our destination requires multiple bus transfers creating extremely long travel times, like 1.5 hours on a trip which would take 20-30 minutes by car.
Tonight is an example of my frustration. It is Saturday night and we have an engagement in downtown Seattle from 4:30 pm - 7:00 pm.
I attempted to access METRO's Trip Planner website (http://tripplanner.kingcounty.gov) from my iPad, but their website didn't work very well so I had to try again on my home computer, which worked fine. Lesson learned.
METRO Trip Planner created a route to get us to our destination by 4:30 pm. Our plan was to walk to the bus stop, ride the 255, then walk two blocks and transfer to another bus, then walk another two blocks to our destination. Travel time: 64 minutes. That sounds somewhat reasonable since driving across the bridge could take us 25-40 minutes (the bridge toll for driving will be less than $6.00 round trip). Bus fare will be $2.25 or so per person. Parking on this trip is not an issue since our destination has free parking (atypical in Seattle).
The return trip at 7:00 pm is where METRO fails for us. Trip Planner says it will take us a whopping 89 minutes to get home! This is a deal breaker.
There have been multiple times we have found ourselves taking a taxi home from downtown Seattle because the bus service has either ended for the night or service is so infrequent that we choose not to wait for an hour to catch the next bus.
So much for saving money and being green.
This is a shame. We want to use public transportation but it is so inconvenient that we do not in most cases. Perhaps we are not the target market for METRO. We have the option of driving and we do when we must. We also are not willing to sacrifice other important parts of our lives in order to ride the bus. Others are willing to do so and it works fine for them.
The METRO bus drivers we see are mostly cheerful and friendly. The METRO buses we ride are generally clean and almost empty. We usually don't travel at rush hour so we don't see the standing room only scenarios.
I know our story is not everyone's. I presume METRO works great for those who ride it regularly. For us, the bus is simply not convenient enough, often enough.