Cyride

A student waits to get on CyRide, the public transit system available to students in Ames.

Dear CyRide Director,

I am writing to voice my concern on CyRide 2.0. In my opinion, CyRide mapped out this big change without properly consulting all stakeholders, especially ISU students and employees, who constitute the majority of CyRide users. As a result, riders suffer from long waiting times, drastically reduced service in break time, and no or minimal service in strategic locations, such as Ames High School.

The long waiting time is artificially caused first by an unscientific design of schedule that often makes buses of the same direction arrive at approximately the same time rather than at staggered time. For example, I can take 1, 7, 11 and 12. To my dismay, many times they either do not come or come in droves. Besides, the ill-advised decision to discontinue 1A and add the combination of 11 and 25 instead has led to waiting crowds by the Student Services Building and Central Campus locations, such as Gilman Hall. It is bewildering why running two buses (cherry+gold) is thought to be cheaper and better than one bus (1A). Common sense and facts are saying the contrary. I asked a few drivers. They said this is to reduce traffic down Osborn Drive. However, there were not so many cardinals before and gold didn’t exist in the old days. The added presence of those circulator buses (21+25) is just gainsaying any theory of reduced congestion on Central Campus, let alone the bottleneck along Welch Road. Moreover, Ames is known for its inclement weather. We used to be able to take shelter from the buildings along Osborn Drive. Now in front of the Student Services building, we are exposed to the elements. It is no fun to shiver in the bone-chilling wind or perspire under the scorching sun to wait for a bus to arrive. Also, I have no flattering comments on CyRide’s choice of Beyer Hall as the point of departure for added red and cherry buses. Isn’t it strange that we’re all ferried to the Student Services Building to see our buses leave without us from the next stop down the road?

Run to the next stop! Run to catch your bus! Believe me, that’s what I did, quite a few times, and I good-naturedly counseled myself that it was good exercise. Nevertheless, I’d advise you not to do that. Legwork can hardly outrun a bus, and I don’t want you to exert yourself to the point of breathlessness and still see the bus leave ahead of you. There was one time I painstakingly ran to Beyer Hall, only to have the bus driver shut the door at me (the bus was at the stop, door open, and wasn’t full at all). However good-natured, a passenger would take offense. There was another time I ran to my next bus, got on, only to have the driver sternly say “this time I let you in, but we no longer guarantee transfers on campus. “ It is sad to see the transformation of our smiling small-town bus driver into the most robotic red-tape functionary who conducts business by the book. Yet another time, a friendly driver from the red bus saw how eager I and three other passengers wanted to catch the gold bus, which was at the Student Services Building stop. He paged the driver. We hurried across the street thinking we were covered. Alas, the gold bus still left with us panting behind. I cannot help wondering what was wrong with offering ready transfers and avoiding unnecessary waiting. There are bus drivers who leave when the minute arrives no matter what, but this mechanical policy and mentality seem to treat people as machines and run the risk of alienating riders. Drivers are not machines. They should be allowed the opportunity to make a judgment call. A minute has ample wiggle room for them to handle situations. Riders as well are not machines. They deserve to be treated humanely.

Incidences like the above prompt one to doubt whether CyRide 2.0 has the best interest of its riders in mind. In fact, this “no guaranteed transfer” policy is just a hallmark of CyRide shifting from a rider-friendly service to a management-centered company. Another one is its decision to practically stop servicing the high school. Riders are notified of its decision. That’s it. But why? Shouldn’t public transportation cover strategic locations of the city? I have a teenager at home. Now driving him to and from high school events has consumed a good part of my spare time. Even worse, for unplanned pickups, I have to ride a bus home, take the car, and drive to the high school to get him, because there is literally no way for him to travel from the high school to home by bus, and I unfortunately do not drive to work regularly. Ames High students taking courses from ISU are complaining loudly, too. They used to be able to take public transportation to the university. Now, with CyRide’s absence, even if they can drive, they have to get someone to drive them both ways because it is not easy to park at ISU. Imagine what pain CyRide 2.0 has inflicted upon parents and students who have to make difficult driving arrangements that they didn’t have to make before. What is more, imagine people in Schilletter/University Villages and many other residents of Ames who suffer from CyRide’s reduced and scrapped services in their locality. Why do we have to be in this lose-lose situation?

During this Thanksgiving break, it is so hard to travel from west town to Central Campus by bus that I have to drive to work. The Thanksgiving break is just three work days, but there will be a winter break, spring break, and a long summer break. The future prospects are bleak. In the good old days prior to CyRide 2.0, I could count on easily going to work and returning home in a timely fashion even when ISU was off session, because only the greyed slots on the bus schedule would stop and everything else was run as usual. Now without 11, 12, 25, and with no ready transfers between red and green, riding CyRide is just not worth the while for people living in west town. One cannot help shaking the head when considering the vast number of apartments built in West Ames. It is an error for CyRide to discontinue 1A. It will be most efficient for a bus to run directly from Central Campus to address the needs of riders lodging in the West. Why can’t there be a new lilac that runs from Kildee Hall to Steinbeck Street that offers the same level of services in break days as the old 1A?

CyRide seems to be asking for more money in exchange for the services in break time to return to its pre-CyRide 2.0 level or slightly inferior to that. I find it bewildering. Why should we pay more for poorer services? A good guess would be CyRide is citing reduced fare and increased ridership. However, less than 10 percent of riders pay bus fare directly. So a 20-25 percent reduction in bus fare would be a 2.0-2.5 percent reduction of revenue at most. Under CyRide 2.0, for many routes, one ride becomes two rides. The increased ridership is dubious due to such double counting. I would strongly urge CyRide to focus on better allocating resources rather than demanding more, more and more. A reorganized orange route, for instance, can help. Even though I ride route 23 every day to work out in Lied, I think there is a need to reduce its frequency, especially if that means the operation level of other routes can be beefed up. During the day time, there often is an orange bus every two minutes. That is excessive, especially given that most people take it for a very short distance. Ours is a pedestrian-friendly campus, and it is no big deal to walk from Carver Hall to the Memorial Union. In contrast, students living off campus in general have to rely on a bus to take them to their apartments. That is why it is against logic to dispatch buses to run the orange route almost continuously while letting crowds snowballing as people line up the major stops waiting for buses No. 1, No. 2 etc. The situation becomes especially bad around and after 4, when people start to go home. Many orange buses however, including articulated ones, are quite empty at this time of the day. Nevertheless, they come one after another. That is a huge waste. The curious may ask “doesn’t CyRide have rider data that can be used to facilitate better dispatching.” CyRide used the NextBus software, which can produce some statistics, but word has it that the software is no longer in use. Good decisions are almost always based on data. It is also important to recognize the limitation of data. Bus drivers punch a button when a rider gets on the bus, but there is no way to record when a ride terminates. That is why it is essential for observers to be sent to ride different routes at different times of the day.

CyRide is right to think of using an external company to survey community members. This brings up my last point: CyRide needs to be open and transparent and adopt an effective approach when it comes to collecting riders’ opinion about CyRide 2.0. Very few people know about the survey. The link to it occupied an inconspicuous place in the November 8 issue of Insider, whose target audiences are faculty and staff while CyRide users are mostly students preoccupied with traveling and family reunion at this time of the year. Even fewer people know about the public forum in the library on November 13. All the above raises eyebrows. CyRide 2.0 was introduced to grand fanfare. It is just fair that concrete actions are taken to dispel an air of secrecy that surrounds the collection of opinions on CyRide 2.0. CyRide itself is a great advertising venue. If the survey and/or the forum were intended to receive great attention, it could have been easily achieved.

CyRide 2.0 has run for three months. It is reckoning time. One has good reason to suspect that CyRide 2.0 may be the decision of a person or a group of people who do not live in Ames and/or do not ride the buses to and from work. Without leaving the comfort of the office, one cannot really step into the shoes of those having to wait outside for a bus no matter whether the temperature is subzero or in the 90s. CyRide customers appreciate short waiting time, convenient transfers, friendly drivers, and a reliable public transportation service that can take them to important places of Ames. Granted, not all experiments are successful, the wise learn from mistakes.CyRide should put priority on eliminating waste and effectively collecting and using data. Going back to the age old CyRide schedule is not bad. After all, it had a proven track record of satisfying riders and was a major reason for Ames to be ranked among the best places to live. Even better, we can garner important lessons from the disappointing CyRide 2.0, make small tweaks to the original CyRide, call it CyRide 3.0, and move on. CyRide should go back to being the transportation that made Ames proud. I look forward to CyRide 3.0.

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