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A Bus Going South.., How Long Will It Take?

courtesy Mass Transportation Authority

The Crim 10K run was held Saturday August 23, 2014 in Flint, Michigan. It is a grand event and has attracted athletes and spectators from around the world. It is one of the premiere events of the summer hosted by the city. While the runners were competing on the course, they were engaged in a simultaneous challenge, albeit unknown to them. How did they fare? Read on.

Many preparations must be made for an event like this to be successful, and I’m sure it is no small task. With an event of this magnitude there is sure to be some glitches, both seen and unseen by participants as well as spectators. The incident which occurred was unseen by the 10K participants. But those who did see and experience the ‘glitch’ used more colorful terms in describing the incident. The malfunction occurred within The Mass Transportation Authority (MTA), the citywide passenger bus system in Flint, MI.

In preparing for The Crim, The MTA had to re-route their buses to accommodate the runners, while keeping in mind the need to service its passengers. No small task indeed. With several thousand people in the area and major streets and roads closed, it is quite reasonable to have as few vehicles as possible in the same vicinity, particularly, several busses. So the decision was made to utilize a series of shuttles, officially dubbed 214 Circulator, to transport the main route passengers from one central point, then on to the main transfer center downtown, then from there another shuttle to another central point and from there one could continue one’s journey. On Saturday, 8-23-14, I and numerous others witnessed a classic case of “looks good on paper, but doesn’t work in real life”.

In anticipation of delays due to the downtown activities, I left home early to insure reaching my destination on time. Arriving at the first drop point which serviced the four (4) north side routes was textbook perfect. Two shuttles were waiting and brought passengers to the downtown transfer station. After unloading, we were informed the next shuttle would be along shortly to take us to the bus which would allow us to complete our journey south. Thus far, all is well. Twenty-five minutes later the next 214 Circulators arrive. The passengers aboard disembark. This must be the shuttle to take those of us who arrived earlier to the next phase of our journey. Well, it wasn’t. The driver was not sure where, in this case he, was going next. There were contracted security about assisting MTA passengers, and when they were queried, they also were not sure. After fifteen or so minutes of no answers, the shuttles which just arrived from the north, reloaded with new passengers and returned north, leaving the southbound passengers in the same place we were. Shortly has become forty (40) minutes. Same question, “When will southbound shuttles arrive?” Same answer, “Soon.” Ten minutes later, more shuttles arrive and are going south. The new problem is there are now passengers from eight (8) buses waiting to go and only two shuttles to take them.

Well a degree in calculus is not necessary to conclude not everyone left downtown on those two buses. By now everyone’s level of frustration was maxed out. As passengers, we were unable to ascertain when if at all would we be leaving the downtown area, and what to expect at the next drop point. The common answer from the bus drivers, security and even personnel employed by MTA was “were not sure, but we’re working on it”. Without question everyone anticipated a certain amount of interruption to regular service, but the inability of anyone in charge to offer answers to even the most basic questions regarding service was surreal.

Another factor which added to the level of exasperation was those who were concerned about getting to work on time. Constant phone calls were made to employers explaining the dilemma with the stipulation of calling back to update one’s status. In the middle of the chaos, there was a strange irony taking place. There were at least three shuttles available for The Crim runners to take them to their vehicles after the race. They boarded directly across from the transfer center where we were, and without a hitch went, you guessed it SOUTH! Even after the majority of the runners had departed, the shuttles remained available to them, often carrying as few as four passengers each. Needless to say, impatience, anger and confusion were the emotions of the day and worn on the sleeve in full display.

I did express my dissatisfaction to the officials on the scene Saturday, and Monday, August 25, 2014, I met with the department chief/Manager of Fixed Routes at MTA/Flint. While it is not my intent to speak for others, I did convey the expressed opinions of others involved in the matter. He was extremely attentive and understanding of not only my concerns, but those of the other passengers who were affected. On behalf of The MTA, he offered an apology and I accepted. I am satisfied with his assurances that future route changes due to events like The Crim would be handled differently and the outcome will be positive for the passengers/customers of MTA/Flint.

So when the bus leaves the station…, how long does it take to reach its destination? The winner of The Crim had a time of 46 minutes and 35 seconds. 448 of 7455 officially registered runners completed the 10mile course with an average time of 2 hours and 57 minutes (my estimation). A 4 mile trip lasted 3 hours and 37 minutes. After an exhausting and infuriating ordeal, I’ll pose the question; Man versus machine..? Hmmm!!

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