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On the bus
Our intrepid reporter rides Citilink for a day
By Gloria Diaz
Fort Wayne Reader
I’ll be honest—before I did research for this article, the last time I rode a bus was in December, when I was in Boston. When I ride public transportation, it usually happens in larger cities. Taking a bus or trolley (Hello, Toronto!) is a cheap, stress-free way to see the city. You can rubberneck all you want and not have to worry about accidents.
I live in Fort Wayne, so sightseeing isn’t really a motivation for taking the bus. It’s probably been more than a decade since I’ve ridden the bus here in town. As a child, I remember riding the bus downtown with my mom to go to G.C. Murphy’s or down to Sappenfield’s to get my brother’s hockey skates sharpened. Riding the bus was a novelty back then. After my family acquired a second car, riding the bus became a distant memory. Then, I had cars of my own, and a job that took me out of town. Getting to work by bus was an impossibility.
But there are those in town that rely on Citilink to get them to work, or close enough. The bus is available for those who cannot, or will not drive for whatever reason. With gas prices well over $4 for regular unleaded, bus ridership has gone up.
How easy is it to use public transportation in Fort Wayne? I had four (which turned into five) things I wanted to get done on a Monday, so I loaded up my backpack and took off for the nearest bus stop. In years past, I would have crossed the street and stood on the corner, but the bus stopped cruising through the neighborhood many, many moons ago. I headed out to the nearest main thoroughfare, Coldwater Road, which is only ten minutes away.
I got to the stop shortly before 10 a.m., but a bus went whipping by. To make my day a little more adventurous, I refused to consult the Citilink website. I wanted to see if a novice could board the bus and figure it out. By asking a few questions on my second to last ride, I saved a little money.
I could have really made it easy on myself and done everything downtown, but I wanted to see just where I could go. I had to go downtown for a couple things, but planned to work out at Curves on the north side of town, perhaps get my hair cut, and go to the grocery store. I was able to get this done between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sure, I had to walk a little bit, more so than if I’d driven, but considering that it takes $30 to fill my tank, spending $3 on the bus six days of the week still means I’d save money.
I got on the bus at 10:17 a.m., the third passenger on the number eight southbound to Glenbrook. At the Superior Street station, everyone gets off the bus except for me. I wait until I am in front of the Hilton to get off. I walk a couple blocks west to the library to return my overdue materials. I forgot my library card, which meant I couldn’t check anything out. I was mentally cursing my stupidity, but bought a couple of books for 25 cents each on the way out. I decided to see what the new Subway across from Wendy’s looked like. I had lunch and walked to my second errand of the day, the post office on Clinton Street.
Because it was a nice day, I walked back to the Superior Street station and studied the map posted under glass. I was wondering why there weren’t any bus schedules in the station you could actually take with you. Turns out the schedules are on the buses. I took the bus to Georgetown, but didn’t realize it was going to Time Corners first. Because I wasn’t under a time constraint (none of my errands required me to be there at a certain time), I spent an extra half hour riding around southwest Fort Wayne. On the way out there, I spoke with a couple about their experiences riding the bus. Ryan Hicks and Victoria Sigurdson don’t have a car, so Citilink is their vehicle of choice. Hicks takes the bus to his job every day.
“For a dollar, we can get all the way across town,” says Hicks, who mentioned the expense of driving, especially with current gas prices, as another reason to take the bus.
Hicks works first and second shift, and usually walks home when a bus isn’t available. The walk home is a two-hour trek from the Broadway area to the east side of Fort Wayne. “You do what you gotta do,” says Hicks. “It (the bus) takes me to and from.”
Hicks has been doing this for four years. His walks during the winter season involve wearing three or four layers. He is a chef, so after eight hours in a hot kitchen, depending on the season, he faces a long walk home in either extremely hot or cold weather.
Hicks says if he could change anything about the bus service, he would have it run a little later, so second shifters like himself wouldn’t have to rely on rides home from co-workers or family members, or lacking that, having to walk home. “You know, you work eight hours second shift, who wants to walk home after being in a hot kitchen?” says Hicks.
He feels some sort of rail system, even if it was limited to maybe an express system serving north and south ends of town, and east and west Fort Wayne would be something the city would support. “Especially with the price of gas,” says Hicks. “Gas can only go up.”
Sigurdson will probably be riding the bus to work, when she finds a job. She rides the bus to appointments and for errands. Hicks has lived in Fort Wayne for the last six and a half years, Sigurdson has lived here all her life, except for one year. Hicks spent a year in Fort Lauderdale, where he says the buses run 24 hours a day every 15 minutes. “That was so convenient, because there was always a bus,” says Hicks. He mentions the weather being a factor if one should happen to miss the bus by a few minutes. On a route where the buses run once an hour, it means being outside in the elements. Noticing a gentleman a few feet away with crutches, Hicks wondered what he would do if his stop didn’t have a bus hut and the weather was bad. Hicks mentioned how few bus huts there seemed to be, and noticed several of them were in disrepair.
“I’m worried they’re going to raise the price. They could make a lot of money if they run a little later,” says Hicks, of the current Citilink system.
“I’m not trying to say anything negative,” says Sigurdson, “but one thing I would like for them to change is how they (the drivers) snap at people sometimes. The bus drivers can be really rude. When I see people being mean to old people …it just really upsets me. Everybody has bad days, but don’t take it out on your job.”
After riding around the southwest side of Fort Wayne, the bus headed back to downtown, where it paused at the Superior Street station before heading north. Because of my error of getting on the bus too early (I got on at approximately 1:15 p.m.), it was after 2 p.m. before I got to Georgetown. There, I planned to work out, maybe get my hair cut, and go to the grocery store. On the way there, a woman with six kids, including a baby, boarded the bus. I overheard her say, “It’s only a dollar; I can get anywhere.” I didn’t ask, but I assumed some of her children were allowed to ride free if they were under five. From ages five through 18, it’s 75 cents.
I worked out, got my hair cut, then proceeded to the grocery store. I realized that since it was a nice warm day, perhaps buying ice cream wouldn’t be a good thing. I wondered how I would handle this if taking the bus was something I had to do. I suppose I’d have to invest in an insulated bag, or I could just shop at the grocery store nearest my house, which is a 10-minute walk away. After the grocery store, I waited for about a half hour for the next bus. Certain routes have buses that run every half hour. However, since the bus routes are kept under glass at the station, have a pen and paper with you so you can write down which buses you need. The schedules for the buses are on the vehicles toward the front. Today, my only concern when it came to time was not missing the last bus of the day.
On the way back downtown, Robin Griswold got on the bus at Georgetown. She rides the bus when her car breaks down, or when the weather is dangerous. She says she would consider using it more if gas prices continue to get worse. Overall, she thinks the service is good, but would like drivers to be a little more careful. “I’d ask the drivers to be a little more aware of road conditions,” she says.
If something about the bus service had to be cut, Griswold thinks maybe the runs with the half hour buses could be eliminated. However she appreciates public transportation, and would recommend nothing be cut. When it comes to courteous drivers, she says, “Bus drivers are very friendly and very helpful.”
One of those friendly drivers was Brenda Benson, who drove the number 2 bus from Georgetown back to Superior Street. She’s driven for Citilink five years.
She became a bus driver because, “I love the public and I love to drive.”She noticed an increase in riders when gas went to $3 per gallon. “We had a dramatic increase then. And then, it tapered off and leveled out there, for a little while. People were finding different ways of getting around. And then the gas prices started climbing even higher, and now that we’re over $4 a gallon, I’m seeing new faces again.”
As the most accessible representative of public transportation, especially for riders, Benson gets plenty of comments and complaints. “Most of the comments I’ve had are, ‘you’re not on time,’ ‘we can’t get to our connecting buses,’ we are not on the every 15 minutes like some of the larger cities are, we get those kind of complaints.”
If service is reduced, Benson predicts ridership will decrease—for a while. After the newer riders figure out how to adjust to different routes or different times, they will probably return, she says.
When asked if she thought people in Fort Wayne were spoiled when it came to their transportation needs and wants, Benson replied, “very.” She elaborated that people didn’t know exactly what goes into driving a bus that weighs over 27,000 pounds empty. Weather is a factor, sometimes mechanical issues are a factor, and what about detours? “We’re trying our best to be safe and efficient all in one big swoop,” says Benson. “We do our best to stay on our routes, but on occasion, they will detour us through other areas that are not meant for buses. And we play ‘Squeezeplay’ and we do it as safely as we can.”
About the future of Citilink’s service, Benson thinks two things will happen. “At one point in time we’ve got half hour services that are running peak hours; I think the routes will go back to that, and eventually become half hour routes throughout the day. And we are going to expand our service as far as length of time driving. They’ve talked about this now for the last five years that I’ve been employed by Citilink. And later service, and also running on Sundays.”
I boarded the number eight bus at Superior Street at 6:16 p.m. and was home before 7 p.m. I spent $3 on transportation for the day, which would have only cost $2 if I’d asked for transfers earlier. I took this assignment not knowing what to expect. However, I know that if I really need to get somewhere, the bus is a way to do it for much cheaper than taking a taxi. Is the system perfect? No, but then as Griswold noted in her conversation with me earlier, “It’s public transportation, so you have to work with them, too.”