Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Public Transportation

The adventures of the gimpy traveller have continued apace since my last posting; I have just been delinquent in writing up some of our trips. I owe this blog some insights from our family Mediterranean cruise. But today's blog is from Monday's excursion into New York City using public transportation.

Brushing aside my dear wife's misgivings, I decided that an experimental foray was called for because my twice a week car trip under the Hudson was beginning to wear way too thin. I thought the train would be a good first shot. I like trains, and the Westfield train station is only a little over a mile from where I live. The Garwood train station is much closer, but the platform is not handicapped friendly. I left the house around 6 AM bound for the 6:25 express train to Newark Penn Station. It took about 20 minutes to ride my travel scooter down North Avenue to Westfield. This included the usual diversions around crappy sidewalks; the traffic is not yet heavy enough at that hour to prevent the careful crossing of route 28 to find the smoothest going.

At the train station there are two elevators and a tunnel that take you from street level on the north side of the tracks to track level on the south - New York bound - side. The train was on time, and the conductor quickly found the metal plate that bridges the gap between the platform and the train so I could easily board with my scooter. The ticket to New York City was only $4 – the special gimp rate that applies even during rush-hour. In a few stops we were in Newark, and reversed the procedure with the boarding plate, two elevators to switch tracks, and board the train from Newark to New York's Penn Station. The conductors on all the trains were helpful and attentive to my needs to move quickly on and off each train.

New York's Penn Station required a quick elevator ride from the track to the station, and then a little confusion finding the seventh Avenue exit with an elevator. As with anything else, there were plenty of instances along the way where first trip confusion will lead to second trip efficiencies. From Penn Station I headed crosstown to Fifth Avenue, then uptown to 59th St. It was pretty uneventful. I have to be careful because my scooter speed is faster than the ambient walking traffic, and there were a few diversions. Twice I ran into corners with no curb cut causing me to backtrack and cross the street, and once construction diverted walkers into the street, also without a curb cut. That trip on the scooter took about half an hour. All in all it was a two hour trip door-to-door, that can be done somewhat quicker now that I know where I'm going.

Once in the office I consulted with my colleague Joe who is a Westfield resident and veteran commuter. He told me that in the mornings he usually takes the express bus into Port Authority from a bus stop right across the street from where I live. It turns out that all the New Jersey transit buses have wheelchair lifts. He usually takes the train home at night. Gee, I thought wouldn't it have been smart to have talked to Joe BEFORE attempting this little joy ride. But where's the excitement and adventure in that? I decided to take the 113 SX bus home.

Leaving the office at 5:15 PM I was at Port Authority by 5:40. Port Authority – wow what an operation. There are several buildings, and of course I was in the wrong one. I was directed next door and the woman at the information kiosk directed me to Windows 1 through 10, and suggested that they should send me to a special gate for loading. The ticket agent sold me the ticket, and at my suggestion radioed some operations control center and I was directed to a gate with handicapped access. There was some confusion when they sent the 115 bus instead of a 113 bus, but an extra 10 minutes of discussion between two supervisors got the designation on my bus changed. All this time, a steady stream of buses kept driving down the ramp (one of many) to loading gates.

Perhaps my Spidey sense should have tingled a bit as a supervisor used loading me into the bus with the wheelchair lift as an impromptu training session for the driver. But, loaded safely on the bus, we rolled down the ramp to the gate. We evidently were jumped ahead of another 113 bus waiting to pick up passengers so they wouldn't have to send us out onto the road to New Jersey with just the driver and me on board. Passengers who were looking for the express bus toward Rahway quickly got on the bus and we finally debarked for New Jersey. It was about 6:25. This part of the trip could definitely have been shorter, but not completely under my control.

Rolling down a ramp directly into the Lincoln Tunnel seems a minor miracle to someone who has waited in traffic for the privilege of crossing under the Hudson. Tunnel, Turnpike, route 24, Garden State Parkway, exit 137, first stop Cranford train station. I signaled to get off the bus at Chestnut Street, along with one other passenger. The driver stopped in front of Creme Berre (yet another frozen yogurt store), and the driver began the process of activating the wheelchair lift. After several attempts she re-boarded the bus and reported that the apparatus was jammed. I suspect that she attempted to open the door before the lift was fully in place, but it was hard to tell from the inside. From the look on her face it was obvious that there was no plan B.

My plan B was to assure her that with a few volunteers we could disassemble the scooter, reassemble it outside the bus, and with a little help I could walk off the bus. Cheerful, willing and enthusiastic volunteers were quickly assembled and the scooter disassembled. They had it assembled again on the sidewalk well before I made my way down the steps of the bus. My thanks to the friendly riders of New Jersey transit. I'm sure the bus driver was greatly relieved that she didn't have to drive around New Jersey with a grumpy gimp in the back of the bus. Even with all the drama, this trip was also two hours door-to-door. It can definitely be done more quickly.

Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to take the 113 SX bus from Garwood into New York City. We'll see how well trained the driver is. I've heard rumors that untrained drivers tend to bypass gimps at bus stops. I can't wait.