Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Waiting for the ‘el’ or a bus, the quintessential Chicago experience

We’ve all endured it, getting drenched by the rain or pelted by snowfall while standing at a street corner waiting for the damned bus that just doesn’t seem to ever want to arrive.

The concept of mass transit in Chicago is a wonderful way to get around the city. It makes it possible to avoid owning an automobile (and dealing with the expense) without being reduced to the life of a shut-in.

BUT WE ALL know how unreliable those Chicago Transit Authority buses and elevated trains are when it comes to showing up on time. The great uncertain is figuring out how much time to allot for the actual commute because you don’t know how long it will take to complete – particularly if a bus or train transfer is involved.

I know I have read those alleged schedules that claim buses on many lines run every 15 minutes, and that there are times of the day when ‘el’ trains are supposed to come along every seven minutes.

It’s supposed to be the endless system where one can just show up at the street corner or ‘el’ station whenever and catch the next train or bus. It is the reason many city residents claim they could never live in the Chicago suburbs, where the trains and buses run on set schedules once an hour (or sometimes even more infrequently).

Yet those suburban Pace buses and Metra trains at least have set schedules, and people know when the train or bus is late. City residents are expected to just cope with the delays, and hope they don’t work for the kind of boss who looks for reasons to rant against his employees.

WHICH IS WHY I found it amusing to learn of a new survey by a mass transit app called Moovit that says the amount of time people spend waiting for their bus or train is less in Chicago than it is in other cities.

Thirty-one minutes is supposedly the amount of time we spend each day waiting at the street corner or train platform, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

By comparison, New Yorkers wait an average of 38 minutes a day, 39 minutes a day in Boston and 36 minutes in San Francisco.

Supposedly, Los Angeles residents wait an average of 41 minutes per day. Although my understanding of LA mass transit is that it isn’t as extensive as what other cities try to do, which means many people avoid it and turn to the freeways where they cause those daily traffic backups that can be just as frustrating as getting drenched by rain while waiting for a bus.

I’M SURE CHICAGOANS don’t feel comforted in the least by learning their average commute is less than other U.S. cities – particularly since we all have memories of incidents where we waited at least an hour for the bus to show up.

And whenever there’s a mechanical problem or a heavy weather-related storm, all bets are off in terms of getting to work on time – or even at all if things get particularly bad.

If anything, it is memories like this that make me remember fondly the summer some 30 years ago when I lived in an apartment on Damen Avenue just three doors south of the Brown Line ‘el’ station, which also was a bus stop.

Living in such proximity (I could see the ‘el’ platform out my bedroom window), I developed an inner sense of knowing when the trains and buses would arrive so I could avoid the waits – a sense I haven’t had at any other point in my life and one that I (along with many other Chicagoans) wish I could get back.


No comments: