darting around, episode 2: oops!

(Editor’s note: This post is part of an occasional series by rider and journalist Gary Barrett.)

Sometimes even the best plans go awry.  Take my day Thursday.  I’m starting a new job for a prominent financial company.  I will eventually work in downtown Des Moines but must train at their facility in Clive.

Well, I should say the part of Clive that’s nearly Waukee.  Where golf balls from the Des Moines Golf and Country Club probably regularly lob over Jordan Creek Parkway. So it’s not the most reachable place even by car.  And since I don’t have one right now, I knew it would be a challenge getting there.

As it turns out, DART doesn’t really have a bus that goes to the door of my new employer.  So I have to get out at 71st and Westown Parkway in West Des Moines, walk past Hy-Vee and across the street to the building.  At least that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

Wednesday was my first day on the job and I totally got the maps on the DART website confused and ended up missing the stop.  I got off the Westown Express on Vista, recovered and took a cab from the Burger King there back to the office.  I was 15 minutes late.

Fast forward back to Thursday.  I needed to take the #7 bus that’s supposed to be at East 25th and Aurora at 6:20am downtown in order to meet up with the Westown Express bus.  It was getting close to that time so instead I had my ride take me to East 29th and Euclid so I wouldn’t miss it.  It was supposed to be there at 6:26.

I waited and waited and finally about five minutes later a bus shows up.  But it was definitely not going to get me downtown in time to catch the Westown Express. I boarded that bus and sat down, then pulled out my cell phone.

Trying to hide my exasperation, I called into the DART schedule number (283-8100), spoke to a really polite and helpful woman on the phone and explained my situation.  After a few exchanges she didn’t tell me I was out of luck. (With the new job, that would have meant I was also out of a job).

Instead she told me that a supervisor would meet me downtown to make sure I got to work.  He did and I did and it turned around what could have been a very bad morning. It’s that extra bit of help that separates an agency that cares about its customers from some of the cities I’ve been in where if you don’t make the bus, you’re stuck.

Kudos to Brad Miller and all his staff for instilling the high level of customer service that I saw today!

Now, to part two of my post today: The last episode of my “DARTing Around” postings we talked about good things that are coming.  I want to add another one to the mix.

One of the things I’m told is coming to DART is a GPS locator system that will allow DART, and eventually the public, to know exactly where every bus is at any given moment.  I saw a test run of an early version of this in Cedar Rapids and it was cool.

At their ground transportation center, there were monitors just like the airports to tell you what buses were on time or not. With the new system will eventually come the ability to monitor buses on the web.

Google has a beta transit feature that I am dying to see the DART system plugged into. If I had that system today, it might have mitigated the problem.  So, just like the DART downtown hub, this can’t come soon enough!

Imagine being able to look on your iPhone or Android phone app and see exactly where your bus is and when it will be on your corner.  That’s the kind of data we all need on those snowy or rainy days so we can seek shelter if the bus is delayed.

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darting around, episode 1: if you need a reason for a transit hub…

(Editor’s note: Please welcome Gary Barrett as a contributing author to the bus blog. Not only is he a regular DART rider; he’s also a longtime Iowa blogger and broadcast journalist. He will be posting pieces here from time to time, giving a rider’s point of view of DART. If you have comments, questions or ideas, he invites you to email him at iowareport@gmail.com. This is his first post.)

Wow.  We finally are having a few days where the high temperature is below 90 and the humidity doesn’t smack you in the face the minute you step out of an air-conditioned home or office building.  It’s been brutal. Especially if you have to change buses downtown.  And even more so if your bus doesn’t get to Locust Street for a lineup.

I take the #93 (NW 86th Express) bus INTO downtown Des Moines that leaves from Urbandale around 1:30 p.m.  It gets downtown around 2:10.  To get to work, I need to transfer downtown to the #11 westbound.  That means a wait of about a half hour until the next one comes around. Apparently others have the same wait, because it’s not unusual for me to see 20 people or more in front of Walgreens and Burger King waiting for the next lineup of buses at 2:40 to 2:45 p.m.  They’re all out in the heat waiting for the buses.

Understandably, the businesses in the area frown on lounging in their air-conditioned entryways or lobbies.  The bus shelters on the transit mall are really built for wintertime protection. While they provide a place to sit down, in the heat they just make things worse because they block the breeze that can help cool you down.

I’m really surprised there haven’t been more incidents of heat stroke among people standing and waiting for buses.  I guess having Burger King and the Kaleidoscope vendors nearby to get a soda or bottle of water helps prevent that — but it certainly makes it rough.

So if you look at the picture that sits atop this blog, you’ll see the answer to all of those problems.  DART now has funding for a transit hub that will be located two blocks away, south of Cherry Street between 6th and 7th. The buses will be able to line up there. And passengers can wait INSIDE in summertime air-conditioned comfort and wintertime heated comfort. There will be places to sit down. Even a place to buy bus passes and get refreshments.

In my mind, it can’t come soon enough. And I’m hoping DART will also look at the downtown shuttle routes so they pass through the new hub, so that office workers don’t have to stand at their normal bus stop in the cold or heat, but could hop aboard a shuttle to the hub and have a sheltered wait until their bus arrives.

I was glad to see the first round of funding for the hub. And I’m hopeful the final half of the funds will come quickly so this can be available as soon as possible!