It's no secret that I fell in love with public transit while I spent those 15 months in Chicago. So last night, when Iowa Senator Janet Petersen scheduled a meeting with me in downtown Des Moines, I decided to leave my truck in the garage and finally try out our public transit system.
Here's how it went.
Step 1, get directions
I looked up transit directions to my meeting via google maps (like ya do) and was instantly shut down. "Public transit coverage may not be available in this area."
Step 1, get directions (take 2)
I visited ridedart.com hoping for a place to put in some addresses or plan a route map, but I couldn't find one. This is either because it doesn't exist or due to my inability or impatience while using their unintuitive navigation.
I did, however, find a link to route maps, which opened a flash application that seemed to just allow me to navigate PDF map files. *facepalm*
In here, I found the route that I needed... but the stops weren't clearly labeled and there was no information about transit times.
Well, at least I've learned that a route comes to my town, and that there's a stop that may be vaguely near my house at some point in time! Small victories.
Step 1, get directions (take 3)
I've finally gotten my directions! I need to be at the Hy-Vee drug store at 3:40 PM to get downtown at 4:10 PM and be to my meeting by 4:30 PM.
And it appears that my fare is only $2… I wonder if that's exact change or not.
And I really hope my meeting doesn't last more than an hour, because the last trip home is at 5:47 pm... which just blows my mind. Our public transit system doesn't even cover the entire hour of "rush hour." Can people really depend on a transportation service where they have to be on the way out by 5:30? I wouldn't.
Step 2, the commute
I walked the .82 miles to my nearest bus stop to find my coach arriving 10 minutes early. So I boarded, paid $2, and chilled out with the other passenger while we waited for our scheduled departure time. It was comforting to know they don't leave you hanging if they show up early on these express routes.
After 2 more stops and before we went express, there were a dozen people on the bus... which was a bit better than I'd expected.
On top of that, every part of my commute, pickups and drop offs happened at the exact times advertised. I made it to my meeting on time and was able to catch the last express bus home.
Unfortunately, and to my surprise, that last rush hour bus only had 6 people on it. :(
The barrier to entry just to learn how to get somewhere on DART is way too high. Their web site is hard to use, the data isn't freely available to 3rd party services, and the bus stop signage provides absolutely no information.
However, once I finally figured out my route and got on board, the service was enjoyable and seemed quite reliable.
I also really wish we could support longer express routes to and from Downtown. I'd love the opportunity to be able to hang out in the city past 5:30pm and count on a ride home... Maybe we could if we'd start lowering that barrier to entry.
P.S. If you know anyone that I could work with or talk to to help improve this. Please introduce me.