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Riding the bus in Chapel Hill: One rider’s perspective

July 27, 2012

Today’s post is from  John Miller of  Hearing Change, Seeing Promise.  Follow John on twitter at @blindtravel

Reliable, effective transportation is important for everyone. In many respects, though, it is even more critical for persons with disabilities that make them unable to safely drive. As a person who is blind, I experience and grapple with this issue whenever I am choosing a place to live, work, or attend school.  It, among other things, was a major reason why I chose to locate in the Chapel Hill area.

As a former resident of Charlotte, and as someone who has traveled to many other metro areas and used their transit systems, I can say pretty easily that Chapel Hill Transit is just about the best I’ve encountered. I have come to enjoy its free, regular service when traversing town. There are, of course, areas in need of  improvement. I offer these not as criticism, but as suggestions for growth.

First, the nice stuff. One of the things I most enjoy about the Chapel Hill Transit system is its close-knit feel. Most of the drivers know who I am and will often say hi or ask which bus I am trying to catch when they pull up to a stop. Even those drivers  I have not directly spoken to tend to at least be aware of me and are willing to extend assistance when needed.

I’ve got a couple of good examples. Once, the stop I regularly use at the UNC Health Sciences Library had been closed without my knowledge. One of the other drivers hopped off of his bus and came to escort me to the next available stop. That act of courtesy saved me an hour and meant that I got home on time.

Also, not surprisingly, a lot of construction is taking place over the summer. This has made navigation interesting, to say the least. If a driver sees that I need assistance in dealing with cones or a portion of the sidewalk that has been repaved, they will take a few extra seconds of to help until I am on safe terrain again. I very much appreciate this, as other passengers are fewer and farther between in this college town during the summer months, and I’d feel a lot less comfortable moving around by myself.

Regarding areas that I hope are enhanced in the future, the main issue I have is the announcement of bus stops by onboard automated systems. Many vehicles have this, of course, however some of the older portions of the fleet do not.

I do not need every stop to be announced. Rather, I use the major stops as landmarks that help to give me a sense of where I am located at any given time, and thus to measure the approximate distance to my desired stop.

Why is this important? Well as I’ve shown, the drivers are usually quite willing and able to work with me both in making sure that I board the correct bus and that I exit in the right place. However, they may find it more difficult to keep track at peak travel times when the buses are packed, passengers are making many demands, etc.

I have at times slid right past my intended destination, realizing it a couple of minutes later. This means I must then sit and ride around again, which in some cases can take at least a half hour. Obviously, there are cases where I need to try and avoid having this happen, such as when attempting to arrive at a previously scheduled appointment.

I should note though that these incidents occur quite infrequently. I bring them up only to highlight the need for further fleet modernization in order to make travel easier not only for persons with disabilities, but also for elderly individuals, younger folk, and anyone else who might well benefit.

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Do you have a story about alt-transit that you’d like to share? Let us know! Email info@gotriangle.org or leave a note in the comments.

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