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Sunday, May 19, 2024

I don't own a car, so I keep a colorful, expensively designed Regional Transit System bus schedule by my bedside.

One of the last things I do every night is reference my RTS schedule so that I can coordinate my personal schedule for the next day.

That way, I leave my apartment in the morning ready to make the most of my day. Instead, I end up sitting at multiple RTS bus stops well past the scheduled pick-up time, crossing things off of my to-do list.

Purchase my textbooks? Forget it. I guess I'll catch up with my class work some other way.

Cooking and eating a healthy dinner? No time. Over-priced junk food will have to do.

Coffee with a friend? Not going to happen. The bus driver is feeling chatty.

I don't mean to take a trivial issue and blow it out of proportion, but the RTS bus schedule is as worthless as my assurances that I tried to get to the bank on time to pay my credit card bill.

I will say it is nice that public transportation has taken a leap into the Internet age with global tracking of buses. Unfortunately, this only means I can use my computer now to confirm that the schedule has deceived me.

It would be easy to whine about our need for more buses, newer buses and better-paid drivers, but I realize these things take time and money.

UF students pay more than half the RTS operating budget for the privilege of sitting together at a bus stop and talking about how many times we could have walked home while sitting there.

I feel like I've had this conversation with fellow students a million times, and it almost always ends with, "Screw this. I'd rather buy a decal and find a parking spot."

Because the published schedule is basically a theoretical list of times, students who, in theory, would make frugal, environmentally friendly choices end up paying extra to be a part of everyone else's traffic jam. A traffic jam that, by the way, includes RTS buses and makes them even later.

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The bottom line is this - if buses can't consistently arrive at bus stops every half-hour or hour or whatever is printed in the schedule, then just set a more realistic schedule. Period.

I'll plan differently if I have to.

Students will still wait, but maybe they'd be less likely to give up on Gainesville's public transportation, and maybe they would talk less trash about RTS because its management overpromised and underperformed - the cardinal sin of good business practice.

Let's not blame all of this on the new school session getting under way, as if UF popped up out of nowhere over the summer.

This is my eighth fall term in this town, and RTS still operates as if it's shocked to find that a few more people suddenly show up at bus stops around the end of August.

While service does improve as the semester goes on, it is not a laudable strategy to frustrate the customers forced to pay until ridership has been lowered to the point where the schedule is accurate.

All in all, it is thoughtless, inconsiderate and wasteful to publicly distribute an inaccurate schedule that only complicates day-to-day life, not to mention makes it impossible to set goals for improvement when current standards aren't even being met.

Michael Belle is a second-year political science graduate student.

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