August 24, 2010

My first date with the CCCC

Start point: Danville.

End point: Concord.

By car: about 25 minutes, according to google maps.

By public transit: "Your search for transit directions from Danville, CA 94526 to Concord, CA 94520 appears to be outside our current coverage area. Please consult our list of participating public transit agencies."

Well, shucks. Such is life in Contra County--our bus service is small fry. Google knows data for BART, Muni, all the main ferry lines (4 of them, apparently), AC Transit (Berkeley/Oakland bus service), Caltrain, and the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority. Ouch. Can't really call it a snub, just a reminder that suburban public transit is way off of everyone's radars. Because it has a teeny mode split.

I left home at 1:35pm to catch the 1:57 96X CCCC bus. It hits 5 stops around the massive Bishop Ranch office complex, and then runs express to Walnut Creek BART. It takes 27 minutes, way better than non-express route, which takes 50 minutes.

I got to the San Ramon Valley Transit Center, and sat on a bench in front of the 96X bus bay. The bench was full, so I pulled out a book. When I saw the bus rounding the corner, I stashed my read, and watched the bus slow down, and then mosey right past us.


I wondered if it would stop on the opposite side of the platform as it made a U-turn, but no. And so, like Odysseus and so many other voyagers and setback magnets, I took off in heady pursuit.

Though doggedly I wove the parked cars, I failed to overtake the bus at its first stop. I veered nor'westerly, hoping to shave time with my hypotenuse strategem. (On the map, note the green shrubbery I plowed through to access Norris Canyon Road.) Once upon the open road, I set my jaw and cranked the pedals in pure pursuit. This being in the thick of a mega-office park, there are traffic lights that regulate frequent, and underused, access/egress points to parking lots. (Well, the lights do good business from 8-9am and 4:30-5:30pm, go figure). A red at one of these allowed me to sail past my quarry, and alight at the sheltered bus stop, where I waved and gesticulated to catch the driver's attention. I dropped down the bike rack, popped my Trek atop it, and, satisfied at my handiwork, entered the vehicle.

Me: You didn't stop at the transit center!
Bus driver: Really?
Me: Yeah, I had to chase you down.
Bus driver: Oh!

He wasn't the talkative type, so I sat down.

Even though the bus's acceleration felt more like cheese softening than pistons churning, we made it to the Walnut Creek BART. (I'll have to do a separate post on bus decor, believe me, there are some toothsome features to discuss). Alighted in Concord, rode past the incredibly pleasant Todos Santos Plaza, and found the doctor's office. No bike rack, no sweat: locked it to a U-shaped utility meter. Strode into the waiting room like Scipio into Carthage, announced my name, and thrilled to the reply: "We do not have any appointments scheduled for this afternoon."

So maybe more Clark Griswold than Scipio. The profusely apologetic secretary did not put me in the official datebook, so chalk it up to clerical error. Under most other circumstances, I would have felt sorely inconvenienced. But as it stood, the spirit of adventure coated me like teflon. (ftw, simile, ftw) And how curious that a car trip, for all its convenience, usually generates greater disappointment when errands go bust. Expectations matter: a car, and the way it shrinks maps, can come freighted with the assumption that everything else mold to your schedule and your fancy. Like all those astronomers who were bummed and incensed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, my experiences as a driver tell me how seductive self-centrality can be. Construction delays, detours, an errant secretary, or a sold-out shelf, are, I suspect, affronts to the driver's expectation of "me first."

I should note here that this may be empty theorizing. Try telling the above to someone who takes critical time off of work to use snail pace transit for an important errand, all in vain. Higher stakes. Cars are still a privilege; I guess what I'm trying to say is that projecting that privileged convenience and service into other arenas is ... slippery.

In any case, I rode back to Todos Santos Plaza, circumnavigated it, and bought a smoothie from Panama Red's. I set off for BART, Oakland, and a night of beer, fried meats, and an outdoor movie.


  1. Somewhat comforted to hear the bus is equally as dysfunctional outside of Southern California. I too have been completely passed up by bus drivers.

    And Google Maps public does need an overhaul. There are at least 3 bus lines that can get me from work (El Segundo) to home (Torrance) but Google only offers LA Metro, which is the most inconvenient (30 minutes to wait for a transfer).

    My biggest issue with the bus though was how beginner-unfriendly it was. Do I pay when I get on or get off? How does the bike rack work? How will I know when to pull the cord (there is no list of EVERY stop). I guess these are things solved by a little bit of experience but I think what's keeping a lot of people from riding the bus is they don't know HOW to ride the bus.

  2. O man, I thought I was the only clown getting passed!

    I remember the first time riding the bus in Boston (which was my first ever ever time on a public bus in the U.S.) I had no idea how to signal a stop, for at least 1 or 2 weeks. I eventually realized that the vertical yellow bands stuck onto the bus walls were the mechanism. Really not very intuitive.

    And even though CCCTA recently upgraded its website, its maps are still atrocious. They're hard for me to figure out where the stops are, and I grew up here! At the very least, can they synch up with google? I'd even take mapquest over the current version.

  3. Ha, that map is so vague.

    We've only gotten the yellow strips recently on the newer buses on Torrance Transit, and yeah, the other day I witnessed a rather confused/panicked rider looking around at the tops of windows trying to figure out what was up.