This is a guide to riding MBTA buses
. (For anyone who doesn't know the MBTA is Boston's transit authority.)I feel that there's a need for such a guide because the MBTA itself causes a lot of confusion
for its bus riders by not revealing the complex system
by which its buses operate.
The first topic I shall touch upon is the frequency
of bus service
. There are some buses that supposedly run every 10 minutes or so according to the MBTA. But what the MBTA doesn't tell you is that the frequency actually varies according to traffic conditions
. If traffic
is heavy and buses move slower than usually, the frequency becomes significantly altered.
Instead of one bus arriving every ten minutes, four buses will arrive at the same time every forty minutes. If you've been waiting for one of those "every-10-minutes buses" and they all begin to arrive in a pile forty minutes later, only the last of the buses arriving one after another (in this case the fourth) will stop for you.
The rest, already filled to the brim with impatient passengers
who have been waiting as long as you have, will skip you. This is because a route that goes on a 10 minute frequency usually attracts a high ridership
of passengers on each of its runs, but if it it skips 2 or 3 of its runs because of traffic, then there will be many more passengers waiting to get on than usually.
Another important MBTA rule to know is that in the evenings bus drivers
often do not stop at bus stops
where there aren't usually a lot of people. Bus drivers are prone to acting by habit - if they are used to skipping a bus stop because no one usually waits for a bus there, then they learn to ignore
that stop altogether and will drive past
it without even looking.
Therefore, if there are a couple of different stops within walking distance
of whereever you happen to be, it's easy to tell which of the stops a bus driver gets used to noticing - they're the ones where there are a couple of people standing or sitting on benches
Of course there are certain places where all the bus stops are usually unattended and have a rider waiting there once in a blue moon. In that case, if you are the solitary person waiting for the buses, make sure you wave
to the bus driver while you see the bus approaching you. That will help you catch his attention and stop him from the usual practice of skipping your stop.
By the way, I don't mean to imply that all MBTA bus drivers are stop-skippers. But from my experience, there are enough of them out there to be cautious. And since some of the buses run every 40 minutes or so, you don't want to take chances of missing the bus that's coming by you and waiting a long long time before the next one comes.
This last rule about the way the MBTA buses run may be an obvious one but many people have yet to grasp it. You see, while the MBTA buses have a schedule, they follow it only occasionally. Sometimes, heavy traffic makes them come a little bit late (like 5 minutes) or a lot late (like 25 minutes.) Other times, if the traffic is especially light, the buses arrive anywhere five to fifteen minutes earlier. The bus drivers are not supposed to leave before the time indicated on the schedule but many do anyway.
To some readers, the irregular arrival time
of the buses seems to be a point that is so commonsensical
, that it is hardly worth mentioning. But I feel obligated but to talk about it because I've seen so many people furiously wring their hands when the bus doesn't arrive on schedule. They gnash their teeth, frown, and sigh while glancing disapprovingly at their watch
every couple of minutes - all out frustration that the bus is 10 minutes late. Some even have a quasi-existential crisis
where they begin to doubt the very existence of the bus.
At those difficult moments, they utter one of the following doubtful thoughts: "Why, oh, why is this bus making me waste my time waiting for it","Maybe this bus will never come," or "This route has already been cancelled for the day and I'm better off catching a taxi,"
No, no, no, it's not that bad, I would tell them, the bus not arriving on time is a very usual thing, don't worry about it. The attitude of expecting buses to be timely and being angry that they aren't is not a good one to have. Whether the rider likes it or not, buses will frustrate. The reason is the relationship between the rider and the bus is not an equal one. The rider must make all the effort to accomodate the bus - he has to arrive at the stop on time to adjust himself to the bus's schedule. If there's a need to arrive precisely on time, to a job interview or a movie, the rider will arrive quite a bit earlier so that he isn't made late by a possible delay.
The bus, on the other hand, doesn't exhibit a commensurate dedication to accomodating its riders - it knows that the riders are waiting for it but he does not bother to come on time or even to notice their presence and stop for them.