If I didn’t know already, I do now : Orlando is not Paris. In Paris, I rode public transport everyday and no one thought it was odd. So when I moved back to the US and landed in Orlando, I made the decision to continue using public transport. (Not owning a car made this decision even easier.) The only public transport we have in Orlando is the Lynx bus system so before evening arriving back to the US, I looked it up. I had never ridden the bus before, and vaguely remember some friends in high school taking it every once in a while, so I really knew nothing about it. I just assumed it would be like it is in Paris.
Some of you reading this are terrified. I know my mom is. From the reactions I’ve heard thus far, most people assume only trouble makers ride the bus. I’ve been riding it consistently for a week, but would love to share day 1.
Day 1 :
The Bus Stop : Rode my bike to the bus stop (about 8 minutes). Probably checked my phone every 15 seconds to check the time, because I was terrified the bus wasn’t going to come. Replayed in my head over and over again the videos (yes, I actually watched youtube videos and one of you is bound to be curious about how this works) I saw about how to load your bike onto the bus. Bus comes.
Loading the Bus : I’m shaking as I try to lower the bike rack, because I’m scared the bus driver is going to yell at me for taking too long (there is no patience for the slow on public transport in Paris). Bus driver taps on the window, smiles and says “pull up.” I get the rack down and my bike on it. Step onto the bus with my pre purchased week pass, trying to remember how to validate it for the first time. Apologize to the driver for taking so long with my bike (bus is still stopped) and she says “No problem! Do you want to move the bar higher? The bike will be ok the way it is but if we hit some bumps it might bounce around.” I get off the bus and pull the bar higher over my tire and reload the bus. Shocked that no one is honking. Bus leaves and I take a seat towards the front of the middle.
The Ride : I already know from Paris that the front of the bus is only for the elderly or those with a disability, so I sit right behind that. I think to myself, ‘At least people won’t think I’m an idiot for sitting up there.’ At this point there are only two other people on the bus. I quickly put in my headphones because I know they will lower my chances of anyone talking to me, but listen to the conversation between the driver and the girl sitting in front of me. She is on her way to an interview for a cashier job at a hotel. Oddly enough, I am on my way to an interview. She tells the driver the address of the hotel and the driver stops directly in front of it. My mind has just been blown. This would NEVER happen in Paris. Bus continues and I keep panicking I will miss my stop. Unlike Paris, the Lynx stops more often (in all fairness it moves faster than the French buses), which means the list of stops it makes are A LOT. On the buses in Paris, there is a horizontal sign that shows all of the bus stops. On the Lynx, you just have to know in advance where you want off and be paying attention. I was so nervous that I got off too soon and freaked out that I went the wrong way. Fortunately I got my bike off the rack off no problem and I did go the right direction. Just had to bike a few extra minutes.
Waiting for the Bus : The route system is different on the Lynx. All of the buses (or at least the ones I take) make loops and start and stop at the bus station whereas in Paris they run lines. AKA they start and stop in two different places. This messed me up on day two. So I finish the interview and bike to the Lynx station, which looks exactly like what you would picture for a bus depot. I search for my line number, cross a couple of lanes and sit with my bike next to my line number. Quickly put in my headphones so no one talks to me. I wait about 15 minutes for the bus to come, but in the mean time watch other buses load and unload. One in particular caught my attention as it was unloading. Everyone getting off the bus knew each other. It was like they were all stepping out the same office at the end of the work day. I hear people say “see you tomorrow,” or “good luck with getting Kari to eat her vegetables tonight!” Surely these people ride the bus together everyday. They found community in the place that I’ve tried so hard to be invisible in.
Ride Home : Load my bike. Punch my pass. Ride the bus. Pull the cord to signal my stop. Get off. And that’s it. Absolutely no events. Just a quiet ride home with others who are exhausted after finishing their work day.
Now I know there are lots of different bus lines, so I cannot vouch for the entire system. But I do not think the bus is something to be scared of. I’m not a newbie when it comes to public transport, so I know that there are always risks. You just have to be smart. Like don’t ride when it’s dark out. It’s pretty much a death warrant on my social life, but I think it’s worth it. I want more for this city. I want the Sun Rail to work out, for people to commute on bikes or carpool, and for people to feel safe riding the bus. But none of that will happen if no one is willing to start. Just because something takes extra work doesn’t mean it’s not worth the time. There are lots of country love songs that can tell you about that.
I don’t think anyone is going to start using public transport because of this blog post, but I do hope it improves your perspective of the bus. I hope the next time you talk with someone who rides the bus, you don’t tremble in fear for them.