The Big Ride

[Ed. Note: Over the next few months Xpress will ride and report on every route in the Asheville Transit Authority bus system. Herewith, our first foray.]

There’s a young man out in Haw Creek who actually walks to work. He gets up every morning before the buses start running and hikes past the mall and on through Oakley. Grazing Biltmore, he turns down Sweeten Creek and thence south to Givens Estates — six miles, give or take. He’s a groundskeeper at Givens, and you have to figure he’s right ready for a ride by the time evening rolls around. He can catch the #30 bus uptown and then the #4 to the Asheville Mall for the relatively short walk home along Tunnel Road. (He could wait for the #13 and get dropped even closer to home, but because of the schedule, it’s faster on foot.)

On the day I rode the route, this man missed the bus — perhaps kept late by some pressing matter of shrub or sod. The driver, John Johnson, even paused to speak to him — still perched on his garden tractor — when we rolled by at 5:50 p.m., the last bus of the day from that corner of town. Alas, we couldn’t wait, and I didn’t envy the fellow his long walk home.

Johnson says he knows all the regulars on his route. “I know where they get on and off in the morning, and I know where they get on and off at night,” he told me. “This is a fairly new route, and it takes awhile for people to learn about a new one, so it hasn’t gotten busy yet.” After four-and-a-half years, the gregarious driver still loves his job. He enjoys helping people, giving directions or strapping wheelchairs in place. (All of Asheville’s buses are equipped with wheelchair-access ramps.)

With both the Mission-St.Joseph’s complex and the Sweeten Creek Regional Medical Center on the route, the #30 bus could figure in the travel plans of anyone in town who needs transportation to health care. The route also offers easy access to downtown shopping for residents along Sweeten Creek Road.

A woman who lives at Givens Estates told me she rides the bus three or four times a month, “whenever I need to travel up to town. I’ve had too many close calls driving,” she allowed, adding, “This is so much safer.”

Johnson, the driver, concurs. “I think a lot of people don’t take the bus because they are afraid,” he said. “But we almost never see troublemakers, and we are ready for them if we do.” He continued, “Drunks are occasionally a nuisance, but we just call the APD and they show up right away.” Furthermore, since 9/11, drivers have had special training to deal with the possibility of more serious threats to passengers.

The #30 was cool, comfortable and right on time. In fact, after living in town for nearly a year, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to discover the Asheville Transit System. If this ride proves typical, I don’t know why I would want to drive in town. And with free bike transport on every bus, I can even bring my wheels!

ROUTE #30 – Sweeten Creek/Givens Estate

The Monday-through-Friday schedule is as regular as a heartbeat. The bus runs hourly, departing the Asheville Transit Center at 6:15 a.m. It reaches Biltmore Avenue/Victoria Road at 6:20; Biltmore Village at 6:23; Regional Medical (Asheville Surgery Center) at 6:30; Rock Hill Road/Sweeten Creek Road at 6:35 and Givens Estates at 6:45. Then it’s back to Rock Hill/Sweeten Creek at 6:55; Regional Medical at 7; Biltmore Village at 7:05; Asheville High School at 7:08; and the Transit Center at 7:12. The pattern repeats every hour, with the last ride of the afternoon pulling into the Transit Center at 6:15 p.m.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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