I have lived in the Midlands my entire life, I have always seen the buses, I have read about them in the news, but for some reason, I have never stepped foot onto one. Until now.
The bus system in Columbia has a strange stigma attached to it, perhaps it because when you drive by and see a dozen people huddled together at a bus stop, exposed in the pouring rain or triple-digit heat, you’re simply glad that you are not there with them. Or maybe it’s the fact that Columbia is such a car-dependent city, compared to most other cities of comparable size it is fairly easy to drive in Columbia. With pretty abundant parking and wide 5 lane roads straight through downtown, one needs not worry about public transportation when private transportation is so easy and convenient.
Despite this, the CMRTA is still a hidden gem of Columbia, although not without its problems, overall it is a well-functioning system that serves its purpose pretty well - getting you from point a to point b quickly and in relative comfort. Here is how I rate my first experience riding the bus.
CMRTA WEBSITE: 3
The website was layed out well and pretty easy to navigate. The only issues I have with the website were that to view any map you had to open it in pdf form. This not only makes it a pain in the ass to look at each route to figure out which one you need to take, but also makes it difficult to see maps on mobile and other non-pdf compatible devices. The other problem was that the website told you a lot about the CMRTA, but little about how to actually ride it, It explained some, but we didn’t even know how to pay for our ride until we were on the bus (cash/change/cmrta card.)
The maps themselves were extremely helpful, I would consider them the key to unlocking all of the wonders of the CMRTA, however finding a map is a bit like tracking down some lost artifact, and then figuring out which map you need is a whole other debacle. We only got a map because of our computer access, if one does not have a computer how does one see a map for the first time? The maps were available on the bus, but why would you get on a bus without knowing where that bus went? I give the maps high marks for design and ease of use, and low marks for accessibility to the information.
BUS STOPS: 1.5
For me the bus stops were the low-point of the experience, they have little information on them, only a sign denoting that the patch of sidewalk you are standing on is indeed a bus stop. A map, or several maps, or a sign telling you which routes this stop serviced would be extremely helpful at the stops. Also not all of the stops are covered or even have benches. Need to get to your job but its pouring rain and windy? Too bad, you have to stand out there and wait.
The actual ride is definitely the high point of the experience. The buses we rode were clean, comfortable, and pretty much empty. It kind of felt like we were in a limo being chauffeured around town. The seats are comfortable and they all face inward so you have plenty of leg room, and the AC is ice cold and blows right on your neck, pretty incredible after waiting for the bus for 15 minutes in 106 degree heat. The drivers were friendly and answered any questions we had, and all of the people that we met were nice. Based on the actual bus ride alone I know I am going to be riding the bus again, for the comfort/relaxation factor, and also for how much I enjoyed talking to the people that I met on the bus (people I would normally never get a chance to meet or talk to.)
OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 3.5
Once you get over that hump and start riding the bus, it all comes together. Now that I know how to ride and where to ride, I will most definitely be riding the bus again. I think that the thing stopping many people from riding the bus is the same thing that was stopping me - ignorance to the bus system. I just did not know how simple it was to ride, or where the bus went. It may sound disingenuous for me, a graphic design student, to be critiquing the bus system when thousands of people ride it every day without a hitch, but the fact is that there are thousands of students just like me who have never ridden the bus, and no doubt would be riding it if the knew just how convenient and nice it can actually be. The fact is that the CMRTA is a really well run system with a few flaws which could be easily fixed to attract a whole new segment of the population to ride. We should not ride the bus out of necessity, we should ride it because it is convenient, it is cheap, and it is actually pretty damn relaxing. See you on the bus.