Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Public Transit during the Belle Chere festival

Brainshrub Bus Project

I was curious to see how Asheville Public Transit (APT) would deal with a sudden influx of people, so it was fortunate that the Bele Chere festival happened at the tail-end of the Brainshrub Bus Project.*

Bele Chere is a huge music and art festival. To put into perspective as to exactly how big this event is: Consider that Asheville's normal population is a little under 70,000. Over three days of the festival, from Friday to Sunday, this number swells to over 375,000 people.

So yeah, this is a big event.

Dee and Danny On Wednesday, as Asheville geared up for the coming festivities, I noticed there was a hot-dog vendor at the end of the transit building on Coxe Avenue. Danny and Dee, former concrete mixers, had gotten permission to set up there.

They were beaming with pride at their new hot-dog stand. It may as well have been a full-fledged 5-star restaurant, they were so happy. Dee, apparently still new at her trade, took a bit longer at serving food that what you'd expect.

I hope they are a permanent addition, although I do see potential problems. For example, this may encourage people to bring food and drinks with them on the bus.

On the other hand, I've observed that they answer questions to customers that would normally take up a driver's time, and, their presence adds a sense of community that wasn't there before.

On Thursday evening, the city began putting up barriers around downtown to re-direct traffic. This was a minor hassle for the bus drivers because the people who placed these blockades decided, for some reason, to block access to the transit center from Asheland Avenue. In one case, a driver had to just about run over the barrier to get back to the station.

Thankfully, these barriers were moved back to accomodate APT by Friday morning.

Near missOn Saturday evening the pressure was on as the festival reached its height. The #1 bus was 15 minutes late because our driver seemed to be particularly cautious. At first this irked me, but then her quick thinking prevented a major accident:

While the driver was making a left turn onto Michigan Avenue, a small white car ignored the bus's turn signal and passed to our left at at least 50 miles an hour. If she hadn't been paying attention, that car, and the passengers inside, would be splotches today.

Those inside the bus gasped, but we were never in any danger. In a contest between a 25-ton bus and a two-door car, it's not difficult to predict a winner.

Later that night while I waited for a ride to take me to a friends house, I had an opportunity to ask one of the drivers about what he thought of the festival.

"I don't care much for alcohol and I don't care much for people driving like idiots. Holidays like Bele Chere and St. Patrick's day make my job a lot harder."

He wasn't kidding. At 10:30pm I got on the #29 and for the first time I heard the driver grunt in disapproval at other cars on the road.

What I found surprising about my ride from Bele Chere was how many people were walking along Tunnel Road to get to their vehicles on the other side of the tunnel. Including myself, there where only three people on the #29, and we could have easily accommodated them.

Furthermore, the #29 also passes in front of a number of hotels, those people stumbling to their cars shoudn't have needed to drive anywhere in the first place.

APT could probably do a better job co-ordinating with hotels so they can tell their guests that they are located on the public-transit routes. This would make a perfect selling point.

Heck, hotels might even be willing to pay APT so that their guests can ride for free.

In any case, overall I was impressed with APT during the Bele Chere festival.

* The Brainshrub Bus Project was only supposed to last the month of July. But I'm going to extend it for awhile because there are many stories that still need to be told.

For the explanation behind the Brainshrub Bus Project, click here.

To see all posts for the Brainshrub Bus Project, click here.

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