Transit Adventures

A Through the Night: Bus – Jet – Subway – Trip Back from Colorado Springs

“Why is this bus late? People have to get to work, flights to make! It was never late last week when you were on vacation!” -An Irate Regular Rider on the 8:45pm departure of RTD SkyRide Route AB, running a half-hour to 45 minutes late

Well, this morning I finally arrived back at my parents’ apartment in New York, where I’ll be only for the next two weeks after yet another red-eye flight (this time on JetBlue’s, not Continental’s). I’ll be spending the rest of the summer doing research for the Colorado College, State of the Rockies Project, on the current infrastructure needs of the Rocky Mountain West. The year ended up well, but I was far to busy to get as so much as post in (and nothing to post about since I wasn’t riding transit).

Anyway, onto the long trip log. The trip started with me in Colorado Springs, leaving the house of the friends I had been staying with for graduation weekend (I had been kicked out of my dorm room the previous thursday) at about 3:40PM, and slowly wheeling my rolling duffel bag down some quite uneven sidewalks and to the FrontRange Express stop in downtown Colorado Springs, arriving at the stop shortly after 4PM. I wasn’t taking the last FREX this time, but the second to last, in order to visit and have dinner with an old friend in Boulder on my way to DIA. The bus pulled in a couple of minutes after its scheduled departure time of 4:09, late enough a lady waiting at the stop with me, who told me she had never ridden FREX before to ask me if the bus was often late. I paid my fare of $11 (the 72 mile trip costs 15¢ a mile)  I through my rolling duffle bag on the luggage rack on top of the front wheel well at the front of the bus and took off for Denver, on the low-floor Gillig BRT, making its way at 75 mph up to Denver, at  using the free Wi-Fi a bit before dozing off to my iPod. There were about six people more or less of us on the bus as it made its scheduled stops at the Woodman Park & Ride in Colorado Springs, Monument, and the Arapahoe stop in the southeastern Denver Suburbs. It dropped me off right at the Market Street bus Station at 6pm. Average bus speed about 36 mph.

I got off of FREX and rushed downstairs into the bus terminal, and got on an awaiting ‘BX-Boulder Express’ Bus for the trip to Boulder. This was on a Neoplan Metroliner, that has the basic ‘coach’ design which works really well for this regional route. The front of the bus has a bike rack for two bikes, but this isn’t enough on such a commuter route, so I noticed 3 more bikes that the driver got off and out of his seat to put in the luggage bays. He also offered to put my duffel down in them, but I decided to bring it up onto the bus with me, placing it in the empty unusable space to the side of the wheelchair lift where I also sat. I paid my fare of $4.50 for the 28-mile ride up to Boulder (about 16¢ per mile traveled, not bad I guess). We left a couple minutes after our scheduled departure time of 6:05, I was on the bus before that time. The commuter coach bus was almost completely full with most seats taken, once we made our second downtown Denver stop on the transitway in front of Union Station. It was a fast ride up the HOV/Express Toll Lanes of I-25, and onto the Denver-Boulder Turnpike (US-36, no toll here since the 1960s). We made one intermediate stop along US-36, at the US-36 & McCaslin P&R, this stop was faster than most P & R stops on highways, because of the fact that all stops (including the ones my express bus bypassed) along US-36 have been made into slip-ramp stops. These consists of a bus stop directly on an off or on ramp of US-36, with separate stops on eitherside of the highway, and a bridge or tunnel pedestrian crossing connecting them. This means the buses have to only wait at a single traffic light, generally at the top of the off-ramp before continuing onto the on-ramp to get back on the highway, this makes intermediate stops a lot faster than FREX’s, FREX for every stop must get off the highway and take local streets. The bus got off US-36, at the Table Mesa P & R and made its way by CU’s campus making local stops on local streets before reaching it’s final stop at the Boulder Transit Center, we arrived a couple minutes late of our scheduled arrival time of 6:50pm, average bus speed about 37 mph, almost the same as FREX’s, not too bad.

I met up with my old friend from grade school Sam, who now lives in Boulder, we had a quick dinner of pizza, and stopped at a crape place for dissert, I returned to the Bus station at about 8:30, after stopping and buying some Fritos at a convenience store to break a twenty, the only money I had, the cashier wasn’t too happy with me. Now starts the only stressful part of my entire trip home. My AB skyRide trip was supposed to depart at 8:45, a ‘B’ trip to Denver, was about to leave from the bay, that my bus was supposed to leave from, the driver comes up to me and tells me that my airport bus will leave shortly after his, this bus leaves long before 8:45. There’s one other lady waiting with me, she says she lives near the airport and will take the skyRide bus to the airport before taking another bus out of it. 8:45 comes and goes, at 8:47 the display saying my bus’s scheduled departure time is removed, I ask one of the many employees loitering and smoking outside the enclosed waiting area where I am. They say the displays are automatic and not to worry, but my bus is just late. At 9:00 it still hasn’t shown up and I start getting the slightest bit agitated, mostly because the dispature can’t even radio the driver to find out where my bus is, a security guard even tells me to calm down (the last thing I need to hear when I’m scared I’m going to miss a flight). Another ‘B’ bus pulls into the bus bay my skyRide bus is supposed to leave from, this driver knows nothing about the location of my bus. At 9:15 a bus displaying ‘AB’ finally arrives and about 10 people get off, luggage and all. It arrives at a different departure bay since there’s a bus in the one its supposed to use. I walk over there, and the driver asks the dispatcher if he can depart from this bay. The drivers excuse is all those College kids coming home. He says let me just run to the bathroom. The lady waiting with me for the bus says “This Driver is Extremely Slow!” The quite unhelpful, (for most of this ordeal) dispatcher, loads my bag onto the bus, I tell him jetBlue for my airline, and he gives me an odd look, jetBlue has only 3-4 flights a day to JFK and Boston from Denver.

I get on the bus, a  and pay the overpriced (compared to the city buses to JFK and LGA) skyRide fare of $12 (the 44-mile trip, costing 27¢) and ten minutes later my complaining bus driver gets on. We leave at finally at about 9:20 The bus fallows the same route down local streets out of Boulder, I see another AB bus going northbound, that I assume will be the final 9:45 trip of the night, that seems to be right on time and we head back to US-36 taking local streets to Table Mesa P & R. Once we get on US-36, there is a huge traffic jam, one of the two lanes of the highway is closed for late-night construction. It’s the merging  and it takes us like ten minutes to all get in one lane, and travel 1/2 a mile. After that its uneventful, and fast, with no traffic, the lights off, basically, we stop at slip-ramp stops for McCaslin, Broomfield, and Westminster Center Park and Rides. At the Broomfield park and ride the bus gets its third and final passenger, an irate airport employee, the source of the introductory quote. After these three extremely quick stops, with the driver unnecessarily announcing every stop including all of the connecting bus routes (including the local street stops leaving Boulder), we begin the super-express portion of our journey, taking US-36 to I-270 to I-70, and onto Peña Blvd, the 12-mile long airport access road from I-70. The bus driver dropped off the other two passengers first at the West side of the airport, before going around the airport road and dropping me off at the eastside in front of the jetBlue sign. DIA has a very good design with all non-private ground transportation (from skyRide to Commerical Shuttles to Taxis to Couritsey Shuttles) having there own roadway (transponder operated gates, all access), with private departure drop-off above this level, and arrivals pick-up below it. I finally get off the bus at 10:25, about 35 minutes late. The bus driver complaining how he doesn’t have any break with now another run to make, he unloads my bag and I go into the terminal, at an Airport whose entire footprint (with its runways) is the size of Manhattan Island.

I’m finally at DIA, I go into the terminal happy to check my bag, I don’t see an up escalator to the departure concourse (the bus drops you off at arrivals), so I get on a nearby elevator to go up to the departure counter level. On this elevator I notice there are three levels below us, all in the short-term parking garage, wow, never realized how high in the air this level of the airport is. The jetBlue Counter is empty, I skip dealing with the kiosks all together and go straight up to the counter. Most major airlines tell you that its their policies now to make you use the kiosks even if there five employees milling around doing nothing. I just assume skip dealing with kiosks when someone can do the check-in work for me (if there’s a line I will always use the kiosks to avoid it). The friendly jetBlue agent simply asks for my ID, hands me my boarding pass, and tags and check-ins my bag (jetBlue, still gives you, (and heavily advertises, although not as much as Southwest), one free checked bag). The jetBlue ticket counter is sensibly placed at the southern end of the Jeppesen Terminal, right where the one open (during late nights) checkpoint is, the southern one. This is a nice change from when I’ve taken red-eyes on other airlines, and have to walk the length of the terminal just to get to this one open checkpoint whose location I can never remember. There’s practically no line, maybe five people ahead of me for the single ID-checker, but I get my own personal X-ray machine, (no one goes over to the one I’m using), with five employees just milling around. All of a sudden I’m way too early and am going down the escalator to the mandatory one stop ‘train’  (since the checkpoint on the bridge over to the A-gates concourse where my flight leaves from is closed) ride to the A-Gates Station for the A-Concourse. I get to the gate at about 10:50, formalities and getting there only taking 25 minutes, I’m quite impressed since I’m at such a large airport. I notice that the previous flight at my gate (the only one jetBlue has, that’s flashing a message saying they’ve served Colorado for nine years, there’s tons of jetBlue promotions right now since its there 10th Birthday), the jetBlue red-eye for Boston is still boarding and I walk to the other end of the A concourse, the only concourse I’ve ever boarded planes from at DIA, now that I think of it. I’ve deplaned from the C Concourse before, and even spent the wee hours of the night on the floor of it last January when my Delta flight was severely delayed departing from JFK. I sit down in a far corner of it and notice that jetBlue’s the only airline with night operations from the concourse, Frontier no longer has any (I remember taking there red-eye to LaGuardia a couple of years ago). I sit down to relax for a while, a friendly Frontier employee doing some paperwork asks me if I’m leaving tonight and I say yes, and she replies “so on jetBlue”. I almost mention something about how I miss Frontier’s red-eye to LGA, the most convenient airport to my parents house, but don’t think of it in time. Eventually I returned to the gate area a bit before boarding, sitting a bit far away but in earshot of the announcements.

At around 12:10AM the flight finally boarded they did it an interesting way, first they thanked us for “Jetting” (jetBlue doesn’t use the phrase flying anymore) it was nice to hear nothing about elietes are welcome to board at anytime. First it was the standard children and those needing extra time to get down the jetway. Then those  passengers without any bags for the overhead bin. Then those in the back rows of the plane, and then all persons all rows. I got on the flight and immediately was handed a ‘Shut-eye kit’ consisting of a jetBlue branded eye-mask, and a pair of blue (what other color)  ear plugs, and at 19A, with an empty middle seat, next to me. I’d say the flight was 80-90% full. Boarding was fine, no “Overhead bins full announcements,” I wish other airlines would realize their operations would be so much more smooth if they stopped charging for bags, oh well, I’ll still play there games and only check a bag if it’s free-my rant will stop

The flight was uneventful, we pulled out of the at 12:42am, 8 minutes early, it was an uneventful, taxi to runway, we as always at DIA were first in line for take-off, I don’t think I’ve ever waited in line at that airport. Onboard the plane I was a bit annoyed because the DirecTV was working fine, but the XM satellite radio wasn’t. I did tell the flight attendant but she claimed she couldn’t do anything about it. So no music as I tried to sleep on this flight. I ended up being awake when they came through with drinks and the snack baskets (a jetBlue trademark), having a midnight snack of the trademark blue potato chips and cookies, with a ginger ale. I dozed off fairly well, and remember awakening briefly and looking out the window as we were passing a bit south of Chicago, its lights twinkling for miles. The over the midwest at least was cloudless, but once we got over New York it was completely cloudy and we were worned of a bumpy landing, which wasn’t so bad and circled over Long Island before landing at JFK which felt empty and not that bustling. We landed and taxied to the gate before it took an extra 5 minutes to be parked because our gate “Required a Tow.” to gate 15 (at terminal 5). About 1626 miles (Great Circle Mapper) for $125, so about 7-8¢ per mile traveled on this portion of the journey.

I arrived in jetBlue’s spacious Terminal 5 for only the second time at gate 15, right at the end of the terminal’s pier with a great view of the tarmat. The entire new terminal is covered in JetBlue’s distinctive branding, and when I stopped in the Men’s room on my way off the concourse I noticed an airport first, there’s a frosted window in it allowing natural light to enter. There also lots of Happy 10th Birthday sings in honor of jetBlue’s short existence. It’s a real 21st century airline. I got to the baggage claim with my red duffel already circling on it, claimed it, and went off on the SkyWalk, what jetBlue calls the enclosed skyway with moving walkways that leads from its terminal to the AirTrain Station, and even the nearest Short-Term Parking lot. I got on the first Air Train that came, it was going to Howard Beach, I decided that I would go via Jamaica and do the extra transfer getting off at Terminals 8/9 (whoops now just renamed as terminal 8, since 9’s been demolished). I got to Jamaica at about 7:10, and paid my $5 AirTrain fee (a trip of 5 miles, by far my most expensive trip, on a per mile bases, a $1 a mile) so I could leave the system. Then it was off on the E train, I decided to spend the extra 10? minutes and get on an uptown train, ride it the one stop to Jamaica Center, to get my seat of preference and somehow manage to doze off on the uncomfortable railings that are the edges of the R160s seats that I was riding. I slept through many of the stops, and almost slept through 42 Street where I got off and noticed a downtown A train (R44) waiting across the platform, I decided to hop on this to 34th Street to avoid having to carry my bag up and over the mezzanine at 42 Street. I take this down to 34 Street, where express trains share an island platform and almost immediately an uptown A train comes into the station, I than doze off for most of the ride uptown to 181 Street where I barely wake myself up in time to get off and hoist my luggage through the rain and to my parents apartment at 8:50AM. $2.25 have taken me about 20 miles, about 11¢ a mile, my best deal per mile wise of the entire trip, with the exception of my flight. The NYC Subway’s still a pretty good deal.

(I appoligize for the length of the post but there’s definitely some good c0ntent, and the contrasts of Express buses in Colorado and the local trains in New York). Hope you’ve enjoyed this TripLog, I appoligize there no photos.