Had it with Asheville Transit

For the seventh time since I have lived in Asheville, the Asheville Transit System has been unable to get me to a job, resulting in my being unemployed again. This time it was Bele Chere that did it.

The first day of Bele Chere, buses seemed to be mysteriously cancelled, with no reason given. None of those running appeared to be on time. … I have never seen such ill planning in my entire life.

[M]y main focus in this letter is to ask why the Transit Commission is not addressing correcting the most important aspect of having a transit system — buses leaving on time and getting people to their destinations.

The Monday after Bele Chere, one run I personally needed to catch was so late (by 45 minutes) that that run was skipped for the day, with no regard for the chain of dominoes. … I have learned the hard way that the staff of the Asheville Transit System simply does not care that each action affects at least one person, and sometimes in a dramatically negative way. …

I have attended meetings of the Transit Commission, given my concerns and heard much discussion of millions of dollars budgeted for new buses, with that being given top priority. My question is, where are the new buses? Where is the actual money? Does it really exist? If it does, where is it going? …

A public audit of the Asheville Transit System is in order. Elected Transit Commission members are in order as well.

Why is there not a fleet of two or three extra buses sitting in waiting at the station to leave precisely on time to cover when a bus is late? Those buses could be rotated throughout the day, and buses could leave on time. According to the budget, millions of dollars are there to pay for it — easily.  Why is this simple, common-sense solution not in place? The only answer I can think of is that the money for new buses is not actually there and these buses can't be purchased. So, is this indeed the case?

What can be done to implore and ensure the Commission addresses and solves these and other issues while the transition to the new routes is occurring?

— Keef Robert
Asheville

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27 thoughts on “Had it with Asheville Transit

  1. Bill Milestone

    “Why is there not a fleet of two or three extra buses sitting in waiting at the station to leave precisely on time to cover when a bus is late?”

    Keef I hear you about your frustration about the buses not running on time, or not showing up, at times. It must be frustrating. As far as the quote above, there just isn’t the money available to have extra buses sitting around with extra drivers playing checkers while waiting for a need for their services.

    Someone should be held accountable for very late and missing buses. I agree there. But I get the idea you are blaming the buses for you being unemployed. You say you just moved to Asheville. Well guess what? There have never been many jobs here, and far fewer good paying jobs. Asheville is primarily a retirement town where jobs revolve around elder care and the medical industry.

    If you want good public transit and more jobs to chose from, I’m afraid you’ll have to move to New Jersey, New York, or Boston. Get a good job there. Save for retirement,then move back here then. That’s the route most newcomers have taken.

  2. who

    Yeah Keef, how dare you complain. Before you moved here to Asheville you should have looked into our city and surmised a coveted mediocrity that doesn’t like to be critisized. Don’t ask for anything around here cause you ain’t going to get it. We like things just the way they are. If you want working improvement go somewhere to some yankee city. Sheesh – the gall!

  3. travelah

    My grandfather used to walk five miles into town to catch a ride to travel 4 more in order to get to a job as a weaver in a woolen mill. Suck it up and walk if you have to.

  4. Crawley

    Bill Milestone was actually making a good point there, until his last paragraph.

    travelah, as usual, just makes himself appear foolish.

    Keef-Asheville’s bus system is notoriously terrible. Get a bike. Or a boyfriend/girlfriend with a car. In the meantime, while you fix the system of course.

  5. Rob Close

    “You say you just moved to Asheville.”

    Where in the letter does it say this? I’ve read it 3 times now. Are we all just going to keep going off Bill “the Fox-loving liberal” Milestone’s ability to read & comprehend?

    Keef’s letter is based around one valid point which is this – our public transportation HAS to be reliable as it’s #1 priority, or else people like Keef end up getting royally ^&*#$(ed.

    If you people could just read a letter and treat the writer like a human being – you’d see this. And y’know, Brownie Newman has pushed himself as the guy who is fixing our bus system, so hearing how “fixed” it actually is – well, i find it quite refreshing.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Keef. Sorry Asheville has disappointed you once again – and I’m sure you don’t need to be told inane things like “buy a bike”, or “a partner with a car”, or “suck it up and walk”. If those things were really your solution, I’m sure you’d have considered them.

    And you people who posted such pretentious garbage disgust me. $&(^ you.

  6. Keef Robert

    A few replies:

    Mr. Who, you have no idea how long I’ve lived here or whether I’m a native or not. Your presumption is quite rude. How dare I complain? I dare because there is no getting around getting around.

    Mr. Milestone, no I haven’t “just moved to Asheville” and I’m not sure where you’ve gotten that. I see nothing in my letter that would even suggest that. I’ve lived here for a very long time, and the first time I lost a job to the bus system’s lateness, it was more than a few years ago.

    If there were an extra couple of buses to rotate the schedules in just for the purpose of keeping the buses on schedule no one would be sitting around playing checkers. They’d be leaving on time and the late buses would become the floating route, and they would round robin all day. I can see where this might be detrimental because there might not be an actual attempt to make the schedule on time, and to rely on the floaters, but something has to be done. If you’ve a better solution, please, let us know what it is.

    I’m assuming that neither one of you have actually been to the Transit Commission meetings and actually seen the budget (as I have). My aim is to question publicly whether the numbers in the budget exist as actual liquid. If they don’t, a public audit is in order. If they do, then I would like an explanation why the millions of dollars budgeted for new buses are not being used for that, and why is the money just simply sitting?

  7. travelah

    Yes, it is foolish to be committed to getting to work come hell or high water or in this case no b-b-b-b-bus.

  8. Dionysis

    “Mr. Milestone, no I haven’t “just moved to Asheville” and I’m not sure where you’ve gotten that.”

    Probably either from thin air or from his southernmost orifice. Same place as the claim that this is a ‘retirement town’. The median age of the residents of Asheville is 39.2. 72% are under age 54. Sure, people retire here (and the trend is increasing), but compare the demographics to real retirement communities and a huge diffence emerges. Tourists typically don’t flock to retirement towns for vacation.

    http://www.ashevillenc.gov/uploadedFiles/Departments/Finance/community profile(1).pdf

  9. Keef Robert

    Hmmm … it’s quite cute the way the subject keeps getting changed. Reminds me of the child who’s done something that he knows he shouldn’t ought to have done.

    We’re not talking about what can be done to make it better for me. We’re talking about:

    1. If the Transit Commission says there’s millions of dollars for new buses, where is it?

    &

    2. Why is there no attempt to keep the buses on schedule, running all routes?

    If the bus were indeed reliable and routes were made timely, wouldn’t our city economy get some sort of boost out of it?

  10. Piffy!

    [b]If the Transit Commission says there’s millions of dollars for new buses, where is it?[/b]

    You seem misled about how much money is/was available and how much a new bus costs, not to mention what it costs to keep them running.

    from the AC-T

    [i]City bus riders can expect to see new diesel buses replacing some of an aging fleet in the next year and a half, thanks to a $2 million federal stimulus grant.

    The city will use funds from the American Recovery and Investment Act to order five new diesel buses, said Mariate Echeverry, director of the Asheville Transit Authority.

    Another $600,000 of the grant — through the U.S. Department of Transportation — goes to Henderson County for three buses, a van and 10 bus shelters.

    The department officially approved the grant this week as part of $52.5 million in stimulus money for transit projects across North Carolina.

    … Asheville’s fleet currently has 20 conventional buses and a spare, which all run on biodiesel. The city replaced five buses three years ago. The remaining vehicles date to 1996; typically, transit buses have a life span of about 10 years.[/i]

    So, yes, millions were there. And they bought a couple new busses with that money.

    The Asheville Transit system leaves a lot to be desired, but your expectations seem highly unreasonable. What you are asking for-even more busses, with funds to employ even more drivers-would take millions more.

  11. Keef Robert

    Ah okay, very good. Real debate. Thanks for the education. So the money that was there is not enough and it’s not there now. I think that should have been thrown down from the start rather all the warm fuzzy language it was coated with to mislead.

    It is not unreasonable to expect someone to be where they say they are when they say they’re going to be there and not have routes mysteriously cancelled because they couldn’t make it.

    I must not be the only one in the county who has been turned down for jobs because the employer did not believe that I could get there (as opposed to whether I could get there or not). If one follows the chain of dominoes, what sort of stimulus to our local economy would happen if the buses actually ran on time the way that they’re supposed to or meant to?

  12. Piffy!

    Oh, i agree with Asheville Bus System sucks. I already said that. It always has, from what I can tell. And I wish the best of luck in trying to remedy the situation. Many others are trying, as well.

    I just think you might be more successful if you packaged your complaint in a way that doesnt come across as sounding kinda whiny… as it stands now, true or not, you sound like a recent transplant who has unrealistic expectations for a city with a deep divide between the monied folks and the working class.

    just my two cents as someone who wouldnt dream of trying to get somewhere in an efficient, timely manner on asheville public transit. In my own experience, i can get to most places much faster with a bike than with the bus.

    Where do you work (or were trying to work) and where are you living?

  13. Keef Robert

    What I sound like shouldn’t matter (ref: comment about changing the subject above). My own personal plight doesn’t matter, either — that’s solved temporarily, but thanks for asking. If it weren’t I wouldn’t be devoting time to this.

    I live quite near the dispatch station, within a five minute walk, and the job I lost was actually on several routes, which makes it even worse.

    I’m thinking of the community in this and I want to put the forum as in-public as I can, as I don’t think over a beer at the Thirsty Monk is really that public of a forum — one doesn’t get to answer in their own time.

    What interests me more about your comment Mr “The”, is that (to borrow your words) you wouldn’t dream of trying to get somewhere in an efficient timely manner using the public transit. In and of itself.

    The implication I’m getting from you is that by not attempting to clear up the timeliness issues the Asheville Transit System is shooting itself in the foot as it were, lowering ridership, losing that revenue, and so on. If you won’t even *attempt* to rely on the bus to get you somewhere in a timely manner, certainly there are many others. Is this indeed what you meant?

    It’s my opinion that the routing is unrealistic for the size and needs of the county. I’ve heard of several attempts at solutions but no actual proposals. I have offered two possible solutions myself, but have received no feedback —

    1) multiple auxiliary hubs around Asheville with intersecting routes, like Manhattan. There’s no reason all the buses must return to the same place.

    2) spokes from the downtown hub with loops around the city throughout, like Raleigh.

    Part of the aim is to cover areas that aren’t currently being covered, such as the south end of Brevard Road, where industrial jobs abound and new jobs are opening up with the new complexes that are being built in that direction.

    What concrete proposals are you aware of and where can I see them?

  14. I must not be the only one in the county who has been turned down for jobs because the employer did not believe that I could get there (as opposed to whether I could get there or not).

    I’m pretty sure that it’s illegal for a potential employer to ask if you have transportation, unless the job requires transportation.

  15. who

    Keef, I was being ironic. I was doing a parody of Millstone’s mindset. I tied to make it seem obvious and over-the-top. It’s telling that you thought me serious; that there are those who seriously sound that way. It was actually a letter of support. Sorry that you missed that. I need to work on my irony, I guess.

  16. Piffy!

    [b]1) multiple auxiliary hubs around Asheville with intersecting routes, like Manhattan. There’s no reason all the buses must return to the same place.

    2) spokes from the downtown hub with loops around the city throughout, like Raleigh.[/b]

    You are aware that asheville is Nowhere near the size of raleigh or manhatten, right?

    No, really, good luck with your endeavor. As I said, many others have tried before you. It’s a worthy effort.

    How long have you lived in asheville?

  17. Keef Robert

    Raleigh does suffer from sprawl but Manhattan is only 13 miles from Dyckman St to South St/Battery Park. It’s over 13 miles from Coxe St to the Airport. I’ve walked it.

    I’ve lived here since the 80’s since it matters so much for some weird reason. I’m not sure how it fits into the question of fixing the bus system and am very suspicious of diversion tactics.

    Back to the subject at hand: the goal should be to get anyone anywhere in the county and back within an hour and a half on time. There should be a way to do it with what we have at hand without spending any more money beyond paying someone to figure it out.

  18. Rob Close

    the schedule should be built in with flex-time, so each bus has another couple minutes for each stop – so they won’t run significantly late, and each bus will be there.

    this might result in 1 less bus going each day (money saved!), though the con is that each bus trip will take a little bit longer.

    would bus riders be willing to have their trip take 5-10% longer for a greater guarantee of timeliness?

  19. Keef Robert

    Consider the #6, the bus to the airport. That one used to try to make the airport and back in an hour. This is impossible. That was the one that first got me let go from a job because it couldn’t make it on time.

    The transit’s solution has extended that one to an hour and a half and it hasn’t worked so well. The last few times I’ve taken it it’s still been ridiculously late.

  20. Fred Keyster

    Keef, one solution for you would be to buy a scooter. The 50cc variety does not require a driver’s license or plate. They get very good mileage,and are relatively cheap, especially if they are used. There are a fair amount of them on the road around Asheville, if you have noticed. And you can get to almost anywhere on them, sometimes taking a more round-about route to stay off the higher speed limit and crowded roadways.

    Heck, you can drive on to Hendersonville by taking US 25 all the way, starting on Biltmore Ave and Pack Square. You can get to Black Mountain by taking Tunnel Road then staying on it when it becomes old US 70. It is a good alternative to bicycling because you can ride in traffic, not on the side of the road, at 35MPH or so. On a bike, you are riding on the shoulder at a lower rate of speed and that is dangerous, with the occasional pushy driver out there. Especially if they are armed (ouch). -:) Good luck!

  21. Keef Robert

    There’s two issues with that, Fred:

    1) You have to buy me the scooter. I don’t have the money.

    2) If you’ve got a way to restore my sight so I can ride it without running into anything, please let me know.

    As I said before, this isn’t about me.

    This is about the good of the community.

    Moral: Don’t assume.

  22. Fred Keyster

    Sorry Keef. I had no idea you were sight-challenged. I do hope you are able to get the city to improve the bus service. All the best to you. Have you considered Mountain Mobility? I believe if you schedule a ride the day ahead, they will pick you up and take you where you need to go.

  23. Piffy!

    [b]Back to the subject at hand: the goal should be to get anyone anywhere in the county and back within an hour and a half on time. There should be a way to do it with what we have at hand without spending any more money beyond paying someone to figure it out. [/b]

    That is a worthy goal. Although I would wager an impossible one unless you increase the ATS budget by quite a bit (remember those numbers you quoted that we discussed earlier were for a grant for new buses, not the annual budget, which is much much lower).

    i’d love to see a tangible plan on how that could be implemented. I bet someone could be a very popular individual if they could move a plan like that forward.

    But any person from any point in the county to another? That just isnt feasible. I’d be happy if it was just functional within downtown, befor we talk about major overhauls there is neither the public interest or budget for.

  24. Piffy!

    [b]Raleigh does suffer from sprawl but Manhattan is only 13 miles from Dyckman St to South St/Battery Park.[/b]

    Right, but manhatten has a population of about 1.6 million, or more than 71,000 people per sq. foot. Buncombe county has a population of a little over 220,000, with the population spread much, much thinner. So obviously that is not a relevant comparison.

  25. Keef Robert

    I’m sure you’re aware of the huge complexes that are currently being constructed out Long Shoals to Brevard Rd. There’s *jobs* there. A lot of jobs. A lot of jobs I could but for not being able to get there.

    My point in bringing up Manhattan is to describe the layout of their bus system over what’s basically a rectangle 13 miles by 2 miles at the most to move that many people around. It’s also to point out that perhaps their work ethic could be a model, and that is highly relevant. Have you ever tried to ask any driver or dispatch how to get somewhere on the system? In many cases it’s fruitless. That bunch really need to learn that they’re providing a service.

    Once again, there is absolutely no reason that every bus must come back downtown (pointing this out is why I pointed out Manhattan — their system is based on quadrant hubs). As far as I can see the main reason that the buses can’t get anywhere on time is because they’re literally fighting gluts of traffic for every single bus. Especially for Bele Chere when everything is occupied.

    If we divide up the county into four quadrants — say, Tunnel Road and beyond, West Asheville, South Asheville, and East Asheville, plus a downtown loop — with the goal of them all intersecting, maybe eventually four “spoke” buses as I’d described (this is all just brainstorming mind you), and run small loops within the area, we could cover the county with what we have. Dountown could be the dispatch, and existing landmarks —

    Asheville Mall for West Asheville,

    the intersection of Haywood and Patton for West Asheville,

    Ingles in north Asheville,

    Ingles/Earthfare in South Asheville —

    could be the auxiliary hubs. There doesn’t even have to be a structure there or anyone manning it. Just simply a place that one could be to get a bus every 15 minutes.

    Eventually the spokes could travel to and from the hubs.

    Routes could intersect on the edges to also help with the time factor. That is, to make it possible to not need to go downtown when travelling from south Asheville to west Asheville. Raleigh’s is more or less set up this way. Their main hub is downtown but there are many around the city.

    This could also set up routes out in the areas where there are jobs that the bus currently doesn’t run — like Long Shoals to Brevard.

    This is a more or less tangible plan *off the top of my head* based on the fact that I am well traveled all over the world. I can’t think of a city’s bus system that doesn’t do this somewhat, except for Asheville’s. Surely the number of buses that we have could be divided up in this manner, skeletally at first, but as the issue of timeliness is tackled and the bus system gets a better reputation for getting people places on time it can grow.

  26. drmike

    I’ve used the bus system for years to get to and from jobs. I always take the bus 2 hours before my scheduled arrival time. That way when something does happen to the buses I can call my supervisors and tell them I’m waiting on the transit system.
    Yes the bus system might be better. but as it stands it’s a ‘middle of the road’ scenario. it’s designed to help the most people with the lest amount of trouble. On our route I know the bus driver(s) sometime skip stops where there are handicap people for want of keeping the schedule [it’s happened more than once ]. Does anything happen when you tell the transit authority? not that I’ve seen.
    I know the system needs work, odds are the transit authority posted schedule changes on either the city or county channel – but that’s only useful if you’ve got cable.
    There is no perfect solution to the current situation with the way it’s configured. File complaints, not only with the transit authority, but the city and county and the watchdog that is handling the grant money, eventually someone may listen and try to fix it.

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