Foothill Transit: Serving reliably and giving independence

When it was announced that our next assignment would be to cover public transportation in Los Angeles county, I admit that I had my hesitations. My experience in the past with public transportation, specifically via bus routes, has been anything but satisfactory.

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Photo Credit: Josh Contreras, contributing writer

The Foothill Transit has 330 buses in service, according their website,15 of which are fast-charge electric buses that can charge in about 10 minutes. The rest of the transit agency’s vehicles run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). There are 36 local and express routes available to riders within San Gabriel and Pomona Valley. Over 48,000 individuals utilize the Foothill Transit per week, which estimates to about 14 million riders per year. As a means of public transportation, it is the second largest operator in LA County just below the regional Metro system..

When I lived in Riverside, I would often use the bus to get from here to there since I have never owned a vehicle of my own, and most of the time it was a disaster. Buses would often be late or early, but hardly ever on time. As a rider, I would often have to arrive 15 minutes before its scheduled arrival just to be sure I would be able to get on. This was always a major concern, in addition to the buses being left in poor conditions as far as cleanliness was concerned.

Due to my past experiences, I made a plan as I always had where I arrived 15 minutes early so as to not miss the bus that was to arrive at 1:25. I was absolutely dumbfounded when the bus arrived and I checked the time which was 1:24. I asked fellow rider, Monica Torres, if the 187 usually operated in a timely manner to which she replied, “Oh yes, I’ve rode the bus all my life and I’ve never had a problem with it being late or anything like that. It’s really dependable.”

Torres expanded how useful the Foothill Transit was, claiming she could give you all the transit numbers from Long Beach to San Bernadino. I played along and checked the bus route numbers while she recited them by heart, and did so accurately.

I was astonished when I got on the bus, to see Torres greeting a few other fellow riders as if the both of them were well acquainted. The both of us took our seats and I asked if this too was a normal occasion, since my experience was always that riders usually keep to themselves and avoid each other. Torres stated, “It’s actually really common because people make friends riding [the bus]. When you have to go to work, you recognize and get to know people, or when you’re on your way home, there’s another group you get to know. The more you ride, the more people you know.”

The bus was extremely clean, although a bit cold from the air conditioning, but was much more pleasant than anything I had experienced. The bus was also not at all loud, which allowed people to talk comfortably with one another, as Torres did.

According to the Foothill Transit website’s history page, the Foothill Transit became the first transit agency in America to use a fast-electric bus into service back in 2010. All of the agency’s lines use CNG or all-electricvehicles, thus they are quieter than other transit agencies whose vehicles still use diesel fuels.

When I had to make my transfer to the 267/264 towards Altadena, she said goodbye and said that it was really nice to meet me to which I concurred. I walked about ten minutes to the next bus stop and waited about 10 minutes before getting on the 267/264 towards Montclair.

I sat next to another rider and introduced myself to him. David Lara was dressed in a construction outfit and so I assumed he was coming from or going to work. I asked him how difficult or dependable it is to ride the bus to and from work. Lara said,

“You know, I’ve never had a problem with it but I can see how others may find it difficult. I used to ride the bus all the time as a teenager and I grew up in East Los Angeles, so I am used to public transportation. I know the routes, the bus stops, and the times so getting to and from work isn’t hard for me. But for someone who has had a vehicle their whole life, I could see them thinking it to be harder than I do.”

Lara discussed that he used to have his own vehicle six months ago, but an occurrence happened where operating a vehicle of his own was no longer a possibility. Therefore, he went back to using the bus as a means of getting around. I asked why he would not ask a friend for a ride and he discussed that the bus gives people independence because they do not have to wait for anybody, nor does anybody have to wait on them.

“You’re your own person, and the bus lets you still do that, even if you don’t have a car of your own to drive. If I want to go to the store, I can go to the store without asking anybody for favors. Maybe it’s pride, I don’t know,” said Lara as him and I began laughing. I thought about what he said concerning independence, and how necessary it is for a person’s well-being to have that in their lives.

I asked him if he has had any complications, crazy stories, or bad experiences to share about his experiences from riding the Foothill Transit. “All the fights I’ve seen were from when I lived out in East LA,” said Lara, “but nothing too crazy out here. People are calmer and more friendly around here.” Lara mentioned a time when after coming home from a long day from work at the construction site, fatigue kicked in and he fell asleep. When finally awake, Lara claimed he was an hour away from home and it was the last bus, where he had to walk home for about three to four hours.

I came to Pasadena after about an hour and a half ride from the 187 and the 267/264 towards Altadena. I walked to the bus stop off of Los Robles Ave to take the 267/264 back towards Montclair. The ride back to my next transfer to get back on the 187 eastbound towards the Montclair Transit Center took about 30 minutes. I waited 20 minutes for the next bus to come along that would take me back to Azusa, the 187. During those 20 minutes, I met Corina Lopez, a community college student who was going back home from work.

Lopez was three months new to the Foothill Transit for two reasons. The first reason was that she had just moved in the Glendora area to go to Citrus Community College. The second reason she had to take the bus was that she had totaled her car. I asked Lopez how she felt about her circumstance, to which she replied,

“You know I’m not going to lie and say that I love taking the bus. It is much more convenient having a car of your own and if I had the choice, I would be back driving my own again. With that said, it’s not horrible to ride the bus. It’s dependable, and you don’t spend so much money on gas. Especially for me, I live in and go to school in Glendora, but I work in Pasadena. It’s just not convenient with all of the stops, especially for those unlucky times when you run late. It happens to everyone sooner or later.”

I talked with Lopez about various things to look out for as a new rider, to which she said to not be on your phone too much or fall asleep because it is easy to miss your stop and have to walk more than is required. She also said to download apps to help route one’s trips, and to try to go on the bus as much as possible to get accustomed to it in order to not have to rely so heavily on phone apps.

Once I arrived back in Azusa, it was a little over an hour and a half from when I departed from Pasadena, as was expected by the bus schedule. I called Lilly Powers, a colleague and student from Azusa Pacific University who commutes from West Covina. She mentioned that for her, she dislikes having to take the bus because it negatively affects her education, because it does not offer services beyond a certain point in the morning or at night and therefore, she is unable to take certain classes because of the bus schedules.

According to the Foothill Transit’s 2015 Business plan, their actual schedule adherence is 74%. For every 100,000 riders, less than 12 file complaints. The business plan initiatives for 2014-2015 hope to increase vehicle service hours from 701,455 to 754,227, a 7.5% increase from last year. The target for schedule adherence for 2015 is lowered from 90% to 85%.

As for myself, I feel that the Foothill Transit is a exceptional transit agency with high standards for itself which makes it more enjoyable and accessible for riders. Its dependability speaks for itself, and continues to seek ways with every year to improve upon itself.

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