My attempted Tulsa Transit bus ride

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It was a Saturday morning, and I wasn't in a hurry. I needed to drop off a rental car at the Avis location downtown then pick up my car that had been in the shop while I was out of town. I had already paid the repair bill and had the keys; I just needed to retrieve the car from the shop's parking lot. What better time to try to bus system.

I used my smartphone in the Avis office to look at bus schedules. It looked like there was a bus that would take me straight from downtown to the repair shop, and it appeared that I had plenty of time to get to a stop to catch the bus. I opted not to backtrack seven or eight blocks to the downtown bus station but instead walked to a stop along the line to the east of downtown. I headed east on 6th, walked through Centennial Park, stopping for a minute on a shaded park bench to double-check the schedule for the bus I intended to catch. The website was not optimized for mobiles, and I had to switch from "optimized mode" to "wide-screen mode" to get things to look right, but I managed to select the correct bus and the Saturday from downtown schedule using the Javascript-based pulldown menus.

The 210 bus was due to reach 3rd and Rockford at 10:06. I had about 20 minutes to walk about a half-mile. No problem.

I stayed on 6th, turned north on Rockford, walking past Tulsa Transit HQ, then paused at the bus shelter just west of Rockford on 3rd. I had another 10 minutes until the bus's scheduled arrival, and I decided I'd rather not wait next to an overgrown abandoned lot, so I walked further east along the line to the stop just east of Utica, next to the Tulsa City-County Health Department and waited. And waited.

When the bus was 10 minutes late, I began to worry. There was no significant traffic, and I couldn't imagine the bus was being delayed by large numbers of riders. A couple of buses passed in the other direction, heading downtown.

20 minutes past scheduled arrival time an Admiral bus stopped next to me. I told the driver, "I'm waiting for the 210; it's about 20 minutes late." The driver's reply: "I'm not surprised. There's a lot of traffic at the other end."

I checked the Tulsa Transit website to see if there were any service bulletins posted. I checked the Tulsa Transit Twitter account for notifications of delays. Nothing. At 27 minutes past the scheduled arrival, I called the number on the bus stop sign. I waited for about 10 minutes, through repeated announcements: "We are experiencing unusually high call volume."

While waiting for an operator, I daydreamed that Tulsa allowed jitneys to operate and that multiple independent jitney operators would pass by any minute, competing with each other to offer the best service so as to win my business and loyalty.

Finally, a man answered the phone. I complained about the 210 bus now being almost 40 minutes late and was informed that there wasn't a 10:06 bus on Saturdays. The next bus wouldn't be along until 11:26, another 40 minutes to wait.

Evidently I had misread the schedule; surprising, since I had checked twice and thought I had been careful about selecting the right day's schedule from the pull-down menu. Was there something about the site's Javascript code and my phone that didn't work well together?

I decided to walk -- 3rd to Wheeling to 6th to Delaware to 8th to College to 11th to Florence Ave to 24th to Harvard; 3.5 miles, not counting the 1.3 I'd already walked from 6th and Elgin to 3rd and Utica. I had wanted some exercise, but not quite that much, certainly not in Saturday's heat. I got to my car about 11:45, about the time that bus finally would have dropped me off.

I'm still not sure how I managed to twice misread the online bus schedule. I could have sworn that I saw "From downtown, Saturday" above the schedule with the 10:06 time the two times I checked.

Still, Tulsa Transit could make their website friendlier for smartphone users. Instead of using Javascript and depending upon the smartphone browser's implementation of Javascript for correct operation, do the processing on the host side. Instead of pulldown menus, provide a simple, unformatted list of links to routes and schedules.

And use a little compute power to save the rider's brain power from having to sort through the schedule information himself. Let the rider input his location, then return a list of the next scheduled arrival time for every bus and bus stop within walking distance. I might have chosen to walk the mile to 15th Street for a shorter wait for the bus, even though it would have meant another mile walk at the end of the journey. Seeing my best possibilities at a glance would have made it easier to choose my course of action.

Sure, someone might still want to access a Monday-Friday schedule from his mobile phone on a Saturday, so continue to make that possible, but it should be easier and simpler to access the schedules applicable to the current date and time.

The Saturday headways on the 210 route are ridiculous: 2 hours and 10 minutes between buses. The weekday headways aren't much better -- 40 minutes.

A final note: north midtown's streets are not as shady as they used to be, the result, no doubt, of the ice and wind storms (like the June 2006 microburst) of the last few years. Because of the heat I had worn a t-shirt, and I managed to get a lovely, bright red sunburn around my collar, despite the fact that I stayed on the shady side of the street as much as possible. On too many blocks, there was no shady side.

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Joe said:

I agree that Tulsa Transit is horrible in nearly every way. If it's close enough to take a bus in a reasonable amount of time, it'd be much easier to ride my bike. And forget about trying to take a bus a longer distance.

And the headways on weekends are worthless. Just taking the bus one-way to a TU football game, it's impossible to find a bus with a decent arrival time in relation to gametime, and I'm willing to take the 11th Street or 15th Street buses.

But I believe Tulsa Transit has a mobile site,

Bill Cartwright said:

I am the General Manager for Tulsa Transit. I am sorry for your difficult transit experience. The schedule mistake you made is easy to do. I’ve done it myself.

You are correct in your criticism of our current headways. They are some of the worst in the country. Unfortunately since the 1990s, as a city, we have not put much emphasis on public transportation. The result is long headways, sparse evening service, and no Sunday service. I hope this changes in the future, but the current economic slump is making municipal infrastructure improvements difficult.

On the up side, we will have our on-line trip planner functional later this year. It will allow a customer to input some basic data and get a detailed trip itinerary similar to a Google Maps or MapQuest itinerary.

Finally, our help line is 582-2100. Like most city departments these days, our call center is understaffed, but we have a good group of people who want to help. If a customer has a bad experience using our service they can call our help line and leave us a complaint. We will follow up on the complaint and get back to the customer as soon as possible. We can even check our onboard video and audio recordings to verify what happened.

If you have suggestions for how we can improve our services, we would like to hear them. Please email us at Tulsa Transit is dedicated to making your transit experience in Tulsa the best it can be. I hope you will give us another try sometime.


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 21, 2010 12:38 AM.

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