Thursday, July 20, 2006

Planning a Route

I wanted to take the bus to go visit a friend on the weekend. I started with the Trip Planner on the MTA web site ( You enter the starting point, destination point, time you want to leave or arrive, and the distance you want to walk. The planner returns the available routes, listed in order by shortest walking distance involved.

My first try returned only one route, which, since it started right down the block from me, looked pretty good. Then I noticed it got me to my destination more than 40 minutes early. This indicated that at least one of the two buses probably ran infrequently on the weekend. Sure enough, I checked online and one of the buses ran only every hour on Saturdays. Clearly a route designed (appropriately) for work commuters.

So I pulled out my handy paper bus map. If you ask via email from the Contact section of the MTA web site, or if you call, the MTA will mail you one free. They are easy to read and kind of fun if you like maps. I found my destination point and noticed there were a couple of bus lines serving it. I traced them back to my starting point and found a different combination of two routes.

Why hadn’t the Trip Planner given me this information? Because I had used the default “distance I want to walk” in the initial request. I went back and changed it from one-third mile to one-half mile using the Advanced Trip Planner button. Then I got several more options, including the one I had plotted myself. Instead of catching the bus half a block from my house, I had to walk over to Fairfax, a very easy stroll. But by doing so I was able to use two buses that ran every ten minutes, making it easier to arrive almost exactly at my desired time. It also meant that if I missed a bus I would not have long to wait for another one and so would not be terribly late to my friend’s house.

Lessons learned: 1) Get and use a transit map; 2) Adjust the walking distance on the Trip Planner to get more options.


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