The Transportation Review

Posted on: Saturday, April 9, 2011

As I have mentioned, Kyle and I have a proclivity for not living at all close to one another. The solution is usually for me to hop on a bus, car, plane, metro, walk, or any combination thereof, and three to twelve hours later, I get to see him. I used to kind of enjoy the en route part of a trip, but years of experience leave me wishing they would just come up with a teleportation device already.

1. Greyhound Bus: What is Wrong With You?
A lot is wrong with you. Too much is wrong with you. Greyhound was my first real experience with public transportation outside of Europe (where I rode the city bus all the time). I used "the hound" to get home for holidays, and visiting Kyle. Basically, and especially since Megabus has come around, Greyhound is not worth the price of the ticket, at the lowest $30 one way from Pittsburgh to DC. Greyhound stops are always creepy, at least in DC, Pittsburgh and a little bit Harrisburg. The first time I came to visit Kyle was before the new station was built; the old one was down at the bottom of some muddy hill, near the prison, far from lights and the feeling of safety. The new one is still creepy, believe me, because it's really the people that make it that way. People on the Greyhound are always creepy, sometimes smelly, and occasionally sit behind me and proceed to hit on me for the entire 6 hour bus ride. He gave me his number and told me to call if I was ever in Baltimore; I assured him that Baltimore was the very place I would exactly never be. The drivers are usually alright. They are sometimes on time, other times quite late. Greyhound doesn't always have enough buses ready to seat all the tickets they've sold, so you might end up waiting in Harrisburg for an extra couple hours, wishing you were anywhere but. Greyhound makes a few stops at smaller towns in between bigger cities, which I'm sure is convenient for those smaller town residents, but for those trying to get from one city to another, it makes the trip 2 to 3 hours longer than necessary. If you can, stay away from Greyhound.

2. Megabus: How Do They Do It
Ah, Megabus. I found out about you sometime early last year, and since then I've never looked back. You are quite glorious compared to Greyhound. Your prices start at $1, so you advertise. While I haven't paid quite that little for a ride, I have had tickets for a bus between State College and Pittsburgh cost $3, $8, or $15 at most. What is amazing is how at such low low prices, the quality is so much higher than Greyhound. Normal, not creepy people use Megabus; some are downright pleasant. Megabus is clean and well lit with a jolly round man painted on the back smiling at you. There are outlets and internet available on board, though usually I just stare out the window as my motion sickness precludes me from doing much else. I've never had a Megabus leave more than 20 minutes late, and even then, they always manage to arrive at the scheduled time. Megabus does not stop at little towns, instead providing an express route between once city to another. They seem to be adding new routes fairly frequently, so I think people are catching on to how great it is. Use Megabus for all your city-to-city busing needs.

3. Metro: It's OK
It's been a while since I've been on the DC metro. Generally I think metro is nifty for getting around a city, aside from it making me feel quite sick by the end of a longer ride. There are sometimes delays and things break down, not infrequently, and it can get rather crowded. But once you're on the ride is usually quick. The person listing the stations as they arrive over the loudspeaker (for your convenience) is never comprehensible, so make sure you know when your stop is coming up or else you'll miss the stop for the National Zoo completely and have to double back around. One trip usually came out to about $2 if I'm remembering correctly; I think we should have gotten student passes from AU, because how else are we supposed to get anywhere away from the secluded campus in DC, but oh well. Not my biggest bone to pick with AU. If you get a Smartrip card you don't have to stop at the machine to pay for a ticket each time you want to ride, and can instead just swipe your card and go, like a real metro riding pro. You're alright, DC metro.

4. Airplanes: You Never Know What You're Gonna Get
Before flying to Missouri for Kyle's graduation from Fort Leonard Wood this past December, I hadn't flown anywhere since my infamous return from Finland in  the summer of 07 (tears, confusion, freaking out- if you were there, you remember). Since flying to Missouri, I have spent time in the following airports: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston, Memphis, Austin, Killeen, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and an unexpected overnight airport stay in Chicago. Phew. The Pittsburgh airport is certainly my favorite: is is very easy to navigate, and they have a T-rex inside; hard to beat in my opinion. Planes are quick, once they get up in the air. They are frequently subject to delays, especially when traveling in winter. I have had more than one flight rescheduled, but ultimately my experience hasn't been That Bad. People are usually quiet on the plane, and if your trip isn't too long, a carry on bag (mine is usually tagged and put under upon boarding anyway), is a good way to avoid luggage charges and waiting at baggage claim. I usually book with Expedia, for convenience and lack of knowledge on any other way to do it. I've had to cancel a flight and rebook because there were no available flights at a later time on the same airline, but at least the first ticket didn't go entirely to waste- I was able to use it to cover most of the cost of another flight on my latest trip. I usually end up flying with Delta; I have formed no preference for one airline over another, though I would suggest you avoid Southwest for a while. Spending the night at an empty airport is not ideal, with only the soft whir of the floor buffing machines for company, but I'd choose that over spending the night at a Greyhound stop any day. Or any night.

5. City Bus: Ready, Set, Wait
The only times I wish I had a car in college is when I'm stuck waiting for a Pittsburgh city bus (also when I need to get groceries, but that too involves a bus). The bus is rarely on schedule; it does what it wants and what it wants is for you to wait. I prefer to walk between my apartment and campus, but I take the bus at night to avoid unwanted run ins with the Pittsburgh Crazies (there are plenty of crazies on the bus, but at least there are also normal people just trying to get home like me, so there is always someone with which to share an understanding and sympathetic glance). On long bus rides, usually between Oakland and the Waterfront (where the cool kids go for shopping, movies, and restaurants), I walk off feeling very ill from the motion and being jerked around by quick stops and turns, and the usual early evening travel rush. Even so, waiting for a bus is usually worse than the ride itself, especially with Pittsburgh weather being what it is. The nice thing is that our student ID doubles as a bus pass (and gets us into museums fo free!); so there is no direct out of pocket cost for us; it comes out of our tuition, but it's nice not to have to be continually loading money on a card or fiddling with coins. I've been proposed to by a strange man who claimed I was his "best girlfriend" ("How about we get married Thursday?" Sorry, I have to work Thursday. "Ok, how about Friday then?"), nearly witnessed an unhappy rider stab the driver, seen drivers leap off the bus to get in yelling matches with  people parked in no parking zones (drama!), and there was that one time we had to call the police on a guy for very rudely harassing us while waiting at a stop. Always eventful, not very fun, but convenient enough while I've needed it: Pittsburgh public transportation.

6. Car: You Can Go Your Own Way
Kyle and I have recently acquired an '08 Honda civic from my dear parents. We then proceeded to drive it down to Texas in under two days. I will be making a similar return journey in May. A car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please, and haul as much stuff as you can fit. For me, having this freedom is truly wonderful, when with any other mode of transportation, you have no control over the situation. You can't control what other drivers do, however, which leads to frustration when turn signals are not used and basic rules of the road are not heeded. You can't doze off or nap as you can when someone else is behind the wheel, but I can never sleep on trips anyway. Gas prices are certainly less than ideal, but what are you going to do. Having a car has not been a necessity for my four college years; most of the time it would be inconvenient with parking fees and worrying about the mirrors getting whacked off by the drunks stumbling about. It is easier to walk or rely on the bus in the city. I will be glad to have a car when I return back to State College, where things are more spread out than in a condensed city atmosphere.

Overall, you never quite know what sort of experience you will have when it comes to travel, regardless of the distance or final destination. Pack light and hope that the people around you are not too crazy, but just crazy enough to make for some interesting people watching when your flight/bus is inevitably delayed.

-From the desk of Mrs. Sarah McPherson


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