Transit 101 – Episode 6 – Riding the train

Learn how to ride the train…

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In this episode of Transit 101, I will explain how to get from A to B via rail. If you’re riding a passenger rail system for the first time, you may be intimidated. Don’t worry though, it’s not as hard as you may think. However, there’s a few key things you’ll want to follow before heading out to the rail station.

  1. Have your origin & destination stops in mind. Or at least the closest landmarks or other points of interest that will help you get to where you need to go. Need to plan out your trip? Check out Episode 1.
  2. Allow enough time for departure & arrival. Ideally, you’ll want to get to your origin rail station no later than 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. If your transit agency has a real-time transit tracker application, this can certainly help with knowing approximately what time your train will arrive. Need help with understanding a transit schedule? Check out Episode 2.
  3. Have your fare ready. Unlike bus systems, rail systems will require that you have some form of purchased fare media ready – whether it be a pre-purchased mag-swipe card, tap-and-go card, or mobile fare payment application. Need to know more about transit fares? Check out Episode 3.
Just like a bus system, Google Maps can help you pinpoint the location of your nearest rail station.

Heading to the origin rail station

Once you’ve been able to locate your starting train route & where the nearest station for that route & direction are located, you’ll want to leave promptly when it is time to do so in order to allow enough time to catch the train. If you’re having to use a bus route or two to reach your respective rail station, you will need to account for the time needed to get to the origin bus stop, travel time, & any transfers you’ll need to make, as well as weather conditions.

Also be mindful that not all rail systems will allow you to bring your bike with you – especially during peak times, so be sure to check with your respective transit agency as to what their policy is regarding bringing your bike with you on the train. Just like getting to a bus stop, weather conditions & other unforseen circumstances may make your journey more difficult.

  • Bringing your bike with you? Check out Episode 3.
  • Need to use the bus to connect to your train? Check out Episode 4.

Just like a bus stop, rail stations take on many forms, so identifying your respective station may be a challenge.

Arriving at the rail station

Because many rail stations are uniquely constructed, identifying them can sometimes be more of a challenge than locating a bus stop. Even more confusing sometimes, is locating where the exact entrance is. Light rail, streetcar, commuter/suburban rail, intercity rail, & elevated subway/metro stations often have easily identifiable station entrances. With underground subway/metro stations though, some entrances can be obscured within existing buildings.

Once you’ve identified where the station entrance is, be sure to have your fare media ready to validate at the turnstile or validator machine. Virtually all subway/metro systems & some commuter/suburban rail systems have controlled access, where you must pass through traditional turnstiles with valid fare media before you can access the train platform. Other commuter/suburban rail systems, intercity rail systems, & streetcar/light rail systems typically have more of an open access protocol, where you are basically freely able to walk onto the train platform without encountering a turnstile or other gated access. However, you must still have valid fare media with you at all times – as transit agencies typically employ staff members who are required to check that your fare media is indeed valid.

While many rail stations have the option of purchasing fare media from a staffed booth on-site, many also have ticket vending machines where fare media can be purchased. Many transit agencies allow you to purchase transit passes/cards online & are also adopting mobile fare payment apps. Additionally, contactless bank cards are being adopted as an additional avenue to pay transit fares without having to have separate media in hand.

Once you’ve ensured that your valid fare media is ready, it’s time to proceed to the train platform. Just like riding the bus system, riding the train system can be challenging if you don’t know which platform your train will arrive on. Virtually all rail stations have signage of some sort to help lead you in the right direction – including which track & platform you’ll need to proceed to. If you’re traversing through a complex rail station with multiple lines & services, it’s extremely important that you follow the signs to the correct concourse by which your particular rail line will board at.


Be sure to locate the correct track…

Waiting for the train to arrive

Once you’ve located the correct platform and track by which your train is set to arrive at, be sure to stand clear of the platform edge, as failing to do so can result in serious injury or even death (that’s not a joke folks). The platform edge is typically indicated by some form of special surface that is brightly colored (either white or yellow). Most subway/metro stations will have some form of limited basic seating available, but you should be courteous & offer such seats to those with disabilities, the elderly, expectant mothers, & young children. If you must stand, please stand a reasonable distance away from the platform edge, while not brushing up against other commuters.

While many light rail, streetcar, commuter, & intercity rail lines are powered either by overhead electrical wiring (also known as catenary wire) – with some commuter & intercity rail lines using diesel-powered trains, many subway/metro systems are powered by what is known as a third rail. This special beam (indicated in the second photo above) carries the electrical current that is needed to power the subway/metro train & can carry deadly results should a person make contact with it in any way while it’s live.

Many subway/metro systems, as well as many commuter rail systems, have countdown clocks to inform customers of when the next train will arrive.

As you’re waiting for the train, you may notice some form of a countdown clock nearby to inform you of when the next train will arrive. Such clocks can come in the form of an LED display or LCD TV screen.

As the train approaches, please step away from the platform edge.

As the train approaches the station, you may hear an automated intercom announcement stating to step away from the platform edge & prepare to board the train. Please be sure to keep a reasonable distance from the train as it arrives, & wait until it has made a complete stop before attempting to board. Additionally, as a courtesy, you want to allow departing customers to exit the train first before attempting to board.


A very crowded subway train in New York City.

Once on board the train…

…find a seat & enjoy the ride! Keep in mind that there may be times where you will be standing – especially during peak hours. While many trains have ample seating, please always be mindful of any “Priority Seating” areas that are specifically designated for those with disabilities, the elderly, & expectant mothers. You’ll want want to offer these seats to such individuals if they board the train. Also, many subway/metro systems do not have special provisions – especially on older trains – so please be mindful to offer your seat to these individuals as trains become crowded.

Please be mindful of when your next stop will be. Unlike buses, there are no push buttons or cords to notify the operator as to when you wish to exit. You’ll want to have either a print or digital copy of the rail system map as reference for where to exit. Many newer trains have automated stop announcements & (in many cases as well) digital displays that show what the next stops are. Older trains should have static maps available. These tools will also help aid you in getting off at the right stop.

Handrails; when you’re able to reach onto one, hold tight, cause the train may travel fast.

Commuter/suburban rail & intercity rail systems are much different than urban systems like subways/metros, streetcars, & light rail.

Commuter/suburban & intercity rail trains are configured differently than subway/metro & light rail/streetcar trains. Many commuter & intercity rail cars have plush seating – with some seats having pull-down trays (like on commercial aircraft) or static tables (such as the ones pictured above). Many such trains also feature bar and/or dining cars available to add onto the customer experience. Again though, there are no special buttons or pull cords to indicate to the operator that you wish to exit, so it’s always helpful to have a map handy so that you know which stop to exit at. Also, be sure to have your valid fare media ready to show to on-board staff members in the event that they commence with a fare inspection (the latter also applies to many light rail/streetcar systems).


Once you’ve exited the train, step back from the platform edge & allow others to exit & enter.

Exiting the train

When you’ve reached your destination station, be sure to stand close to the nearest exit door so that you can exit as quickly as possible. For your own safety, as well as the safety of others, refrain from pushing your way out of the train, as such can risk injury to yourself & others. On some commuter rail & many intercity rail lines, the boarding/de-boarding process may be a bit more similar to commercial aviation, so please be extra patient in these situations because different rules may apply.

Once off the train, step a reasonable distance away from the platform edge & allow others to exit & board. If you need to make a transfer, please be sure to locate signage that will lead you to the correct concourse, platform, & track. If exiting the station, follow the respective signs to exit the station.


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Transit 101 – Episode 5 – Riding the bus

Learn how to ride the bus…



In this episode of Transit 101, I will explain how to get from A to B via bus. If you’re riding a public bus system for the first time, you may be intimidated. Don’t worry though, it’s not as hard as you may think. However, there’s a few key things you’ll want to follow before heading out to the bus stop.

  1. Have your origin & destination stops in mind. Or at least the closest landmarks or other points of interest that will help you get to where you need to go. Need to plan out your trip? Check out Episode 1.
  2. Allow enough time for departure & arrival. Ideally, you’ll want to get to your origin bus stop no later than 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. If your transit agency has a real-time transit tracker application, this can certainly help with knowing approximately what time your bus will arrive. Need help with understanding a transit schedule? Check out Episode 2.
  3. Have your fare ready – whether it be exact change (cash), a pre-purchased mag-swipe card, tap-and-go card, or mobile fare payment application. Having your fare ready prior to the bus arriving at your stop allows for faster boarding & reduces the chance of the bus operator running behind schedule. Need to know more about transit fares? Check out Episode 3.

Google Maps can help assist with locating your closest bus stop.

Heading to the origin bus stop

Once you’ve been able to locate your starting bus route & where the nearest bus stop for that route & direction are located, you’ll want to leave promptly when it is time to do so in order to allow enough time to catch the bus. While everyone has a different way of getting to & from their respective bus stops – including by bike, weather conditions & other unforseen circumstances may make your journey more difficult.

For example, let’s say you’re catching Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) Route 52 northbound from the stop at 62nd Ave N & 49th St N in Pinellas Park, FL, but your residence is about a 20 minute walk from the west. You want to catch the bus that is predicted to arrive at about 10:24am. This means you’ll want to be at the respective bus stop no later than about 10:14am. So try to leave your residence no later than 9:45am in this case so that you have enough time to get to your stop. For me, I tend to walk faster than others, but if you’re not a generally fast walker, or have mobility issues, then you’ll want to allow additional time as it pertains to your normal pace of travel.


Bus stops can vary by transit agency and location.

Locating the bus stop

Locating your respective origin bus stop can sometimes be challenging, because not all stops look the same. Some stops can be distinguished by a simple concrete pad or a sidewalk with a designated bus stop sign (like the one above), while others will have the designated sign – along with a bench or even a covered shelter. It is very important though that you see the designated sign, as in most cases, the bus operator will only serve a bus stop with the designated sign posted at the location.

You sometimes may see stray benches on the side of the road with no bus stop sign to be found. Often times, this is the case because a bus route no longer travels through the area or stops have been moved or consolidated. The benches themselves may not belong to the transit agency, but rather a third party, and thus you should not solely rely on looking for the bench. Always look for the designated bus stop sign first.

Once you’ve found the bus stop sign, carefully look at which route it serves. You always want to make sure that you’re catching the correct route. Once you’ve confirmed that this is your stop, simply wait for the bus to arrive.

Note: If your transit agency has a real-time tracking application, you may have the ability to type in the designated bus stop ID number located on the bus stop sign. This will pinpoint your location in relation to the bus route & vehicle that you wish to catch.


You see a bus approaching your stop, is it yours?

Preparing to board

Be sure to stand next to the bus stop sign, close to the curb as your bus approaches.

As the bus approaches your stop, you’ll want to step close to the curb, next to the bus stop sign and be prepared to board (please have your fare ready at this point for payment). To ensure that you’re boarding the correct bus, pay close attention to the headsign above the windshield. Many transit agencies have electronic (LED) headsigns that digitally display the route number (typically on the left side of the sign) and the destination. Some smaller agencies may rely on placards to show this information & such may be displayed in the windshield or along the side of the vehicle.

If you see that this is the bus that you want, simply motion to the bus operator (I typically hold my right arm and hand up to signal to the operator) to stop.

When I want the bus to stop and pick me up, I raise my right hand like this.

Now of course, if the bus that is approaching isn’t the one you need to board, step away from the curb and signal to the bus operator to continue along the route (I typically use my left arm to motion left-to-right repeatedly to indicate to the operate that “you’re not the bus I want to catch, keep going please). See the video below for an example.

When I don’t want the bus to stop and pick me up, I motion my hand like so…

During early morning or late evening hours – when it is dark outside, it’s helpful to wear bright clothing, as well as to carry a flash light or use the screen lighting from your cell phone to signal to the operator that you wish to board. If you’re using a flash light, please be careful not to shine the light directly towards the operator.

Why did the bus pass me by? Credit: PSTA.

Once you’ve flagged down the bus that you need, just hop aboard…


Once on board, simply insert your fare into the farebox (circled in red). For those using tap-and-go cards or certain mobile fare payment apps, you’ll see a validator (example is circled in green) to tap your card against or scan your phone screen against for validation. Keep in mind that some mobile fare payment apps require that you show the operator the activated ticket on screen per app instructions.

Once on board the bus…

…you’ll first want to pay for your fare as instructed. For those using cash to pay for a one-way fare or purchase a day pass (mag-swipe card) on board the bus, simply insert your cash into the designated slots on the farebox. There will be a slot for dollar bills & a separate slot for coins. You’ll want to insert the bills first before inserting coins. If you’re purchasing a day pass, you’ll want to tell the bus operator that you’re doing so before inserting money so that he or she can enter the proper code on the farebox.

If you’re using a tap-and-go card (i.e. Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s STAR Card in Jacksonville, FL, or the Flamingo Fares Card in the Tampa Bay, FL Area), simply proceed to the on-board validator and tap your activated card against it. Once you see the screen acknowledge that your card is valid and the fare was deducted, then you’re good to go! For mobile fare payment apps, simply follow the on screen instructions. Some apps will work with a corresponding on-board validator for validating your fare, while other apps will require that you show the bus operator your activated ticket on screen.

Once you’ve paid your fare, find a seat, and relax. If you brought your bike on board the bus (see Episode 4), you’ll want to sit relatively close to the front of the bus so that you can see your bike on the bike rack. Please keep in mind that the seats closest to the bus operator may be designated as “Priority Seating”, meaning that those using mobility aids (including wheelchairs), the elderly, & expectant mothers will have seating priority. You’ll want to offer these seats to the elderly & expectant mothers. If someone using a mobility aid boards, you may be asked by the bus operator to vacate your seat if you are seated in the “Priority Seating” area.

State & Federal guidelines require that all individuals using mobility devices – such as a wheelchair or an electric scooter chair/power chair – be properly secured via a four-point harness system. This system uses special harnesses to secure the mobility device so that it does not shift while the bus is in motion.

Once you’re properly seated, simply enjoy the ride! Some transit agencies now provide amenities on board buses – such as USB charging ports & complimentary WiFi. If you decide to use your mobile device to listen to music or watch a video, please use headphones, as loud volume can disturb others on board. Below is a listing of other general rules to follow while on board.

  • Virtually all transit agencies forbid eating, drinking, & smoking on board the bus. Bottled water & infant formula are generally exceptions, but bottles must be closed when not in use.
  • Solicitation of any kind is also forbidden on board all transit vehicles.
  • Be courteous to your fellow riders & the bus operator by keeping conversations with other riders at a low volume. Please keep cell phone conversations at a low volume & to a minimum, & do not engage in unnecessary conversation with the bus operator – especially when the bus is in motion.
  • Weapons of any kind are not allowed – unless your particular country, state, or province has a law passed allowing for such.
  • Designated service animals are allowed on board to assist their respective owner. Some transit agencies may also allow small pets on board – given that they are properly secured in a carrier & not blocking aisles.
  • Strollers & carts should be folded & secured so as to not block aisles.
  • All customers should be properly dressed. Shirts, bottoms, & shoes are required.
  • Standees should hold firmly onto the handrails or overhead straps located on the bus.

Please make sure you’re seated properly while on board the bus & keep alert to when you need to get off.

Approaching your stop

Since transit buses cannot stop as fast as most personal vehicles, it is very important to signal to the bus operator when you need to get off. Most transit vehicles will be equipped with a stop request system that involves either pulling a cord or pressing a button to signal to the operator that you need to get off at the next stop.


Exiting the bus

If you’re able to, please try to exit the bus via the rear door – if there is one. If you need to retrieve your bike from the bike rack, please inform the operator & exit out the front door.

Never try to step in front of the bus unless you’re retrieving your bike, and never cross the street in front of or behind the bus. As much as possible, use designated crosswalks instead. If no crosswalk is available, wait for all traffic to clear before crossing – BUT BEWARE, some municipalities have strict jaywalking laws that by which you’ll be issued a hefty fine by law enforcement if they catch you, so once again…as much as possible, use designated crosswalks.

If exiting at a transit center or other transfer point by which buses pull up right behind another, parallel to the walkway/sidewalk, do not attempt to walk between buses, as the operator might not be able to see you. This is extremely dangerous!

Transit 101 – Episode 4 – Bikes on transit

Post was updated on 07/07/2018
Created new content to add to the post

Ever wanted to take your bike with you when you embark on your transit commute? Well in many cases, you can! Many transit agencies have equipped their buses with bike racks, which allow for easy transport of your bike when going from A to B. Additionally, many transit agencies no longer require you to have a special permit to use this service.

In this episode of Transit 101, I’ll show you how easy it can be to bring your bike with you while riding the bus or train.


Bikes on Buses

You can see the bike rack that is attached to the front of this Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus.

As I mentioned a moment ago, many transit agencies have equipped their buses with bike racks. While many agencies use racks that can accommodate two bikes, some agencies use racks that can accommodate three. The way that the racks look may vary based on the supplier that the transit agency uses, but a wide array of bikes can be accommodated regardless of the type of rack used.

Below is a quick glance of how I load my bicycle onto the bike rack of a PSTA bus. You can then read through the step-by-step instructions. Before the bus arrives at your stop, be sure to have your proper fare ready and step near the curb with your bike with you. It is a general courtesy to notify the operator of your bike before loading it onto the bike rack of the bus.

Loading your bike

Using the bike rack on the front of the bus can look intimidating at first, but it’s a very simple process.

Here’s a bus without any bikes loaded on the rack. If this is your situation, you’re good to load your bike without issue.

Before loading your bike onto the bike rack of the bus, you want to first and foremost, make sure that the bus has made a complete stop. Once the bus has stopped, you will want to make eye contact with the bus operator to signal to him or her that you are going to load your bike onto the rack.

Here’s a closeup of the empty bike rack in the upright position.

One of the first things you should notice when looking at the bike rack is the handle towards the front-center of the rack. Simply squeeze the handle and pull the rack outward towards you until it lays flat, parallel to the ground.

This handle is used to lower the rack to its downward flat position, as well as to raise the rack back to its upright position when emptied.

Once you’ve lowered the rack, it should look like the photo below…

A HART bus with the bike rack in the downward/flat position.

You are now ready to load your bike! When loading, be sure to read the labeling on the rack carefully to know how to position your bike.  You should see a sticker that indicates where to position the front wheel of the bike.

My bike is loaded onto the bike rack, but there’s one more step we need to do to secure it.

Before boarding the bus, you will need to make sure that your bike is secured. Each bike rack slot has a securement arm to do just that while the bus is in motion. You will want to look at the rack, towards the front wheel slot, to locate the arm.

Here’s a closeup of where you will find the securement arm.

Once you’ve located the securement arm, grab the hooked portion and pull it outward, then upward over the front wheel of your bike.

Pulling the securement arm over the front wheel will help secure your bike while the bus is in motion.

If performed successfully, the hooked portion of the arm should be secured over the top of your front bike wheel, in front of the frame, just like shown in the photo below.

Closeup of where the securement arm should be, once raised over the front wheel of your bike.

Another closeup of where the securement arm should be, once raised over the front wheel of your bike.

Once your bike is fully secured to the bike rack, simply board the bus and pay your fare. While on board, you’ll want to sit close to the front of the bus so that you can keep watch of your bike while the bus is in motion.  Being that I’ve had several bikes stolen when I was younger, I’m always doing my best to make sure that my bike is secured at all times.

My bike is loaded and secured! I’m ready to board the bus!

When you’ve reached your destination stop, notify the operator that you’re going to remove the bike from the rack and exit the bus through the front door. Then, follow the above process in reverse – pulling and lowering the securement arm, removing your bike from the rack, then squeezing the center rack handle, and pulling the rack back up to its upright position.

Always make sure that the bike rack is clear and raised back to its upright position before leaving, unless another customer wishes to load his or her bike onto the rack.

Be sure that the rack has locked back into place before leaving the roadway. And always be sure to thank your bus operator and leave the roadway as quickly as possible so that the operator can proceed to his or her next stop.

The bike rack on the bus can fill up quickly – especially during peak weekday hours and also times where frequencies aren’t as great.

If another customer wishes to load his or her bike onto the rack, then you can leave the rack down. If another bike is occupying the other slot(s) of the rack, please be considerate of the other customer’s bike so that you do not cause any inadvertent damage while loading or unloading your bike.

Some transit agencies use different types of bike racks for their buses. While the general loading and unloading process is the same, the securement arms may be different.

In the photo above, you might notice that the bike rack is somewhat different than the ones illustrated in the other photos. That’s because PSTA is among several transit agencies that use more than one type of bike rack.  The manufacturer of the rack used on bus #10113 above is BykRak, while the manufacturer of the rack used in my other photos above is SportWorks. Each manufacturer will have a similar design for their racks, but there may also be fundamental differences – such as the securement arm and how it attaches to the front wheel of your bike. You will want to be mindful of this when loading and unloading your bike so that you do not cause inadvertent damage to the arm.


Bikes on Trains

Two bikes are secured to the on-board bike rack on a SunRail Commuter Rail train car.

Many transit agencies that operate subway, light rail, or commuter rail systems will also allow customers to bring their bikes with them while on board a train. Specific rules may vary between agencies, including whether an on-board bike rack is available. Generally, older trains will not have on-board bike racks available – so if you’re allowed to take your bike with you, you’ll need to make sure that you hold your bike securely and keep all aisles and doors clear.

Accessing rail lines that do not utilize traditional fare gates or turnstiles are usually not an issue if you have your bike with you. However, accessing systems that do use such mechanisms can be very challenging and intimidating. In these situations, never attempt to lift your bike over a turnstile. Instead, utilize the service swing gate to access the rail platform. Always carry your bike up and down stairways and use elevators when they are available. Do not attempt to carry your bike onto an escalator, as you may wind up easily falling on the moving steps – which can result in serious injury or even death.

If a transit agency staff member or security guard is visible, it is generally advised that you notify them first so that they may assist you in getting your bike to and from the platform area. On older subway systems (like the New York City Subway), some entrances and exits may be configured in a manner by which entering or exiting the platform area with a bike may be impossible (for instance, the station exit only features a full-height revolving gate with metal bars). In these cases, simply proceed to the next available station that has a service swing gate.

If the station exit only features full-length revolving gates like this, do not attempt to exit, simply proceed to the next station. You don’t end up like this unlucky soul (who did not have a bike, but was attempting to evade fare). Credit: NY Post.


General Rules

While specific rules regarding bikes on transit vehicles may vary between transit agency, below are the general guidelines to follow when taking your bike with you on your transit journey.

In addition to the above, do your best to not create a situation by which you may be denied boarding because your bike is suddenly considered a safety hazard. Always be considerate of those around you and wait for exiting customers to leave the transit vehicle before boarding. Always keep doors and aisles clear, properly secure your bike, and follow instructions given by transit agency staff, security guards, and law enforcement officers. But above all, enjoy your transit journey with your bike close by!


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Transit 101 – Episode 3 – Transit Fares

transit-101-cover-1

Welcome back to Transit 101, where I talk about everything that you need to know about using public transit. In this episode, I’m going to talk about all things transit fares! Topics will include the following:

Paying with cash or tokens

Paying with a mag-swipe card

Paying through a smartphone app

Paying through a smart-card

Ordering transit fare media online

Customer Service Centers and Third Party Vendors


Paying with Cash or Tokens

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Paying for your transit journey with cash is very simple to do – especially if you’re paying for only a one-way trip. However, you’ll need to make sure that you have exact change with you at all times – as transit operators cannot handle change. If you need to make change, I strongly advise that you visit a customer service center, or a grocery store service desk. In some cases, change machines may be provided on-site at a transit center. You’ll want to contact your transit agency or visit their website to view updated fare information so that you’re not boarding the bus or train unprepared.

Most transit agencies allow customers to purchase one-day transit passes on board the bus, please make sure to have exact change and notify the bus operator that you’ll be purchasing a day pass prior to inserting money into the farebox. This will allow the operator to enter the necessary code to register to the farebox that you’re purchasing a day pass. Many transit agencies also have ticket vending machines that accept cash as payment for purchasing transit fare media.

While many transit agencies have eliminated tokens as fare payment, there are a small number of agencies that still accept tokens. If your transit agency accepts tokens as fare payment, you can normally purchase tokens at a customer service center or other designated sales outlet. Please be sure to insert your tokens in the designated slot on the farebox or turnstile.


Paying with a Mag-Swipe Card

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Front of a PSTA GO Card. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012 (You are welcome to share this photo for NON-PROFIT-GENERATING PURPOSES, but please provide credit to me. Thank you.)

Many transit agencies produce mag-swipe cards for use as transit passes. These cards come in many forms; but often include One-Day, Three-Day, Five-Day, Seven-Day, Fourteen-Day, and Thirty One-Day categories. Pass categories can vary by transit agency, so please be sure to contact your transit agency or visit their website for a listing of available passes and how much each pass costs.

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Back of a PSTA GO Card with the dates and times of first use and expiration. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012 (You are welcome to share this photo for NON-PROFIT-GENERATING PURPOSES, but please provide credit to me. Thank you.)

To purchase a transit pass, you can visit a customer service center or ticket vending machine. Many transit agencies accept both cash and credit/debit cards at their customer service centers and ticket vending machines. As I mentioned earlier, many transit agencies also allow customers to purchase a one-day pass on board buses with cash.

When activating your transit pass for the first time, be sure to insert your card into the designated slot on the farebox or ticket reader machine so that it prints the date and time of first use and the expiration date and time. Please see the photo above for an example of this. After your pass is activated, all you have to do is swipe the black stripe of the pass along the reader on the farebox, turnstile, or ticket reader machine.

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SunRail Ticket Validator.

 

For transit systems that use the “Tap And Go” procedure, simply tap your pass against the ticket validator screen until you receive a message stating that your ticket is valid. This procedure is also done for smart cards (i.e. Chicago’s “Ventra” fare system).


Paying through a Smartphone app

Many transit agencies are gradually shifting away from mag-swipe cards as the primary form of payment. While many transit agencies will continue to accept cash for some time, many agencies are enticing customers who have smartphones to use an app to purchase transit fare via a credit or debit card. While some apps can only be used for purchasing physical transit passes (like a mag-swipe card) other apps can allow a customer to add value to a smart card (i.e. Chicago’s “Ventra” fare system) or the app itself can act as the transit pass (i.e. Flamingo Fares App).

When opening the smartphone ticketing app for the first time, be sure to follow the screens to set up your account, including adding your credit or debit card information for purchases. Locating these screens will vary per app, and some apps will have these screens appear for first time users automatically.

Once you’re finished setting up your account, including desired payment method, head to the screen to purchase your tickets. Like mag-swipe passes, smartphone app tickets can be separated into different categories. Be sure to take note of the price of each ticket and how long the ticket is valid for before selecting, as in many cases, you will not be able to receive a refund if you select the wrong ticket. And unlike mag-swipe cards that haven’t been activated yet, you won’t be able to transfer your purchased ticket to someone else.

Once you’ve selected the ticket that you wish to purchase, tap the ticket and go through the purchasing process. You will be asked to confirm your purchase before it becomes final. Once your ticket has been purchased, it’s ready to be activated. When you’re ready to use your ticket, follow the screens on the app to activate the ticket. Once the ticket is activated, follow the prompts to show the bus operator or rail ticket inspector your valid activated ticket.

With the Flamingo Fares App, when a ticket is activated, you will be able to open to ticket and be greeted with a screen with moving text. You will need to show this screen to the bus operator or rail ticket inspector to certify that your ticket is valid. To further ensure that your Flamingo ticket is valid, tap the screen so that it changes from pink to gray. This is will tell the bus operator or rail ticket inspector that your ticket is indeed valid.

Always be sure to take note as to when your ticket expires. Once your ticket has expired, you will be prompted to purchase a new one.

For the Tampa Bay Region (Hillsborough, Pinellas, and coming soon – Sarasota – counties), here’s a short video on how to use the Flamingo Fares App (put together by PSTA).


Paying with a Smart Card

Credit: Ventra Chicago

For transit agencies that utilize a smart card for transit fares (i.e. the Chicago CTA and Pace Bus via “Ventra”), you’ll want to first make sure that you’ve purchased and activated your card. Your transit agency will provide instructions on how to do so and can also help walk you through the steps to using the card. With smart cards, you’ll simply use the “Tap and Go” procedure that I mentioned earlier in this post by tapping your card against the fare validator screen. Once you receive a message that your fare is valid, simply proceed to the bus or train for boarding.

Transit agencies that utilize smart cards often make it easy for you to manage your account. This can be done online or even through a smartphone app. The Chicago “Ventra” fare payment system recently launched its own smartphone app so that customers can manage their account and add funds to their smart card easily and efficiently. Some agencies (including the Chicago CTA and Pace Bus) allow the smart card to also be used as a normal debit card, so that you can store money on the card not just for transit fares, but also for regular purchases – like that grab-and-go sandwich when you don’t have time to dine in before your commute to work.

If you live in or are planning to visit the Chicago, IL area, the “Ventra” website will provide all of the information that you need to purchase, activate, and manage your “Ventra” card, including how to download the smartphone app.


 Ordering transit fare media online

Many transit agencies allow you to purchase transit tickets online. Simply visit your transit agency’s website and select the link to purchase your desired fare media. Since the purchasing process for each transit agency varies greatly, I will not be able to provide a step-by-step process. Any detailed questions should be directed to your transit agency’s customer service team.


Customer Service Centers and Third Party Vendors

Many customer service centers, located at major transit hubs and some rail stations, allow you to purchase transit tickets directly from a customer service agent. Cash and checks are accepted at the customer service centers, though restrictions may be placed on the acceptance of checks. For credit and debit card purchases, you may be directed to a ticket vending machine if one is available.

Many transit agencies partner with third party merchants (such as CVS Pharmacy) to sell transit passes. Check with your transit agency to see if such an arrangement is in place and if so, which vendors take part.


Disclaimer

While I do my best to provide the most accurate information regarding fares in this post. Some things may change over time – such as the way that smartphone apps work. This post is designed to provide a general overview on the types of transit fares available and how to purchase fare media. If you have any detailed questions about your particular transit agency’s procedures, please contact their customer service team.


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Transit 101 – Episode 2 – Understanding a transit schedule

Transit 101 Cover 1

In my second episode of Transit 101, I’ll go over how to understand bus and train schedules. This is key to planning out your transit trip efficiently, especially if you’re making connections to other transit lines during your trip. Despite the technological advances that have made transit usage much easier (such as OneBusAway), many customers wind up falling back onto the paper timetable for reference.

System Map.
PSTA System Map cover.

If you’re new to transit, it is often very helpful to first examine the transit agency’s system map – so that you can have an idea of where you are traveling to and which routes to use. Transit system maps can vary greatly by transit agency. Probably one of the most detailed set of system maps I’ve seen thus far is from the New York City MTA.

A SunRail schedule timetable and travel guide. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
A SunRail schedule timetable and travel guide. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Although the appearance of schedule timetables greatly vary by transit agency, the principle structure is largely the same across all agencies and modes. Schedule booklets and brochures typically include a map, showing where the bus or rail route goes to, and corresponding transit connections at each major time point.

Looking at the Weekday section of the schedule timetable for HART Route 5.
Looking at the Weekday section of the schedule timetable for HART Route 5.

Schedule timetables themselves provide the direction the bus or train is travelling, along with the names of major time points (typically intersections, landmarks, or designated stations), and the scheduled times that the bus or train is to depart from that time point. Some agencies even display layover points, by which both arrival and departure times are displayed for the layover point.

Depending on the transit agency – timepoints can be lettered (like HART) or numbered (like the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, or JTA, in Jacksonville, FL)

A close-up view - noting the Span of Service (in this case - Weekday), Route number and destination/corridor name, time points, and beginning runs.
A close-up view – noting the Span of Service (in this case – Weekday), Route number and destination/corridor name, time points, and beginning runs.

At first glance, a transit schedule may look intimidating, especially to a new rider. The more trips and time points there are on a schedule, the more confusing things can get. All of the transit districts that I’ve been on have paper schedules (as well as online timetables) that are pretty straightforward if you have a good idea of where you’re going to. However, these timetables may mean nothing for a new customer unless he or she knows how to use it.

One thing that I’ve always kept in mind when traveling via transit, is to know where you’re going before you leave. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are several ways to plan out your transit trip, including via the internet! It always helps to know where the closest bus stop is to both your origin, and your destination, as well as to know which time points your bus stop falls in between. You always want to allow sufficient time to arrive at the bus or rail stop so that you do not miss your trip.

For example, let’s say that you live right off 40th St in Tampa, just south of Busch Blvd. Since this intersection is a time point on the HART Route 5 schedule, it’s not too difficult to pinpoint when the bus is scheduled to arrive. However, you want to be at the bus or rail stop/station no later than 5 to 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure.  If you need to purchase tickets from a ticket vending machine or staffed ticket booth, then you should arrive at the stop/station no later than 20 to 25 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. If the closest transit stop/station is quite a walk away from where you are, you will need to build in sufficient time to get to the stop/station. Inclement weather situations will require even more time to travel to and from the transit stops.

If you happen to have a smartphone, there are many apps that will help you to locate your closest transit stop/station and pinpoint which transit lines serve them, as well as predict when the next bus or train is to arrive. While I am going to go further in-depth into smartphone apps for transit in a separate blog post, it is to note that more and more transit agencies are implementing GPS tracking for their vehicles so that knowing when your bus or train will arrive involves a lot less guesswork.


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Transit 101 – Episode 1 – Planning your transit trip

Transit 101 Cover 1

Note: This post was originally posted on February 10, 2014 as part of the Transit 101 blog series. I am re-launching this series so that I can proceed with posting episodes that were never previously posted.


Today, I’m launching my inaugural posting of my Transit 101 series. If you have not had a chance to read on my introductory post, please take a moment to do so. Thank you!

In this first episode of Transit 101, I would like to go through the various ways that you can plan your public transit trip! Unlike the 1990s, where most people would have had to call their transit district or visit a customer service center, the advent of technology has made planning a transit trip so much easier! Many transit districts even allow you to purchase transit passes online, and some are now coming out with mobile apps to allow you to purchase transit passes on the go! I’ll go more in-depth into fares in a later episode.


So without further delay, let’s take a look at the ways you can easily plan your transit trip. I’ll be going through each method in detail in a moment.

  • Google Maps’ Transit Option
  • Smartphone Apps
  • Trip Planning via Telephone
  • Visiting a Customer Service Center

Google Maps’ Transit Option

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My fictional character, Jeremy Riddle (above), loves to surf the web. When it comes to using public transit, the first place he goes to is Google Maps. Many transit districts have partnered with Google by providing their GTFS data, which allows customers to easily map out where they want to go, and how to get there via transit…all in one interface, and at no cost to the transit district!

In fact, the following transit districts have already partnered with Google to provide this wonderful service to their customers!

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) – Tampa, FL
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) – St. Pete/Clearwater, FL
  • Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) – Sarasota, FL
  • Central Florida Area Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX) – Orlando, FL
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) – Norfolk/Hampton, VA
  • Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) – Chicago, IL
  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York (MTA) – New York City, NY
  • Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) – Paris, France
  • Public Transportation authorities in Manila, Philippines

Although Google Maps has provided a transit option for a few years now, the entire interface has been redesigned with additional features to further help you with planning your transit trip in a snap! A couple of the newest features are the Schedule Explorer option, and the addition of real-time departure times for some transit districts.

Let’s take a glance at Google Maps. Click on the images for a closer look.

The Google Maps interface was recently updated with new features. Some features retained from the old version was good ol' Pegman (lower right-hand box).
The Google Maps interface was recently updated with new features. Some features retained from the old version was good ol’ Pegman (lower right-hand box).

There’s a couple ways you can plan your trip with transit. You can either type in an address in the search box on the upper-left hand corner of the map, or simply select a bus stop. Bus stops are indicated by the blue “bus” logo. In transit systems that have rail services, corresponding “train” buttons will show. Please keep in mind that you have to zoom in a bit for these buttons to show.

Blue transit stop logos show up when the map is zoomed in.
Blue transit stop logos show up when the map is zoomed in.

Clicking on a bus or rail stop will show you what services are available from that stop, where they terminate at, and in many cases, will show what times a particular bus or train departs from the selected location.

Now, notice the small circles next to each departure time? Those circles indicate that real-time information is available for those particular trips. HART is one of several transit districts to allow real-time GTFS data to be transmitted to Google.

A bus stop showing departure times for HART bus routes 4 and 19.
A bus stop showing departure times for HART bus routes 4 and 19.

At locations that show a bunch of routes, you’ll see the following.

The Marion Transit Center and connecting bus routes. Note that MetroRapid North-South is given the route designation of 400.
The Marion Transit Center and connecting bus routes. Note that MetroRapid North-South is given the route designation of 400.

I believe at one time (before the recent update), you could click on the individual routes to see what times each bus departed. However, this functionality seems to have been temporarily disabled.

Now, let’s say you want a step-by-step guide of your transit trip. Just like turn-by-turn driving directions, Google Maps allows you to view your transit itinerary step-by-step. Simply click on a bus or rail stop button, then select the “Preview Steps” link to open up something like this…

Step-by-step transit directions!
Step-by-step transit directions!

Use the directional buttons to scroll through each step. To exit the preview, just click "Exit Preview".
Use the directional buttons to scroll through each step. To exit the preview, just click “Exit Preview”.

Now, let’s do a quick “to” and “from” using the search box. For this demonstration, I’ve chosen the USF Tampa Campus as my origin, and the Rivergate Tower at 400 N Ashley Dr in Downtown Tampa as my destination.

Whether you type in an address into the search box, or just select a transit stop on the map, you’ll always have the option to fetch directions to or from the selected point on the map.

It's always pretty cool to have an interactive map!
It’s always pretty cool to have an interactive map!

Now, by default, when fetching directions to or from a particular point on the map, driving directions will be selected. You’ll want to choose the transit option bu selecting the “bus” tab. Bike and walking options are also available for those who like to walk or bike from place to place. For longer-range travel, an airplane option is available (I haven’t tried that latter option yet).

Any request to fetch directions on Google Maps automatically defaults to the driving directions option.
Any request to fetch directions on Google Maps automatically defaults to the driving directions option (car icon).

Vola! The transit directions option!
Vola! The transit directions option!

Using the transit directions option on Google Maps is pretty straightforward. Just like how Maps plots out the best route for you to take when you drive, Maps also plots out what is the best bus and/or rail route to take to your destination. Please keep in mind that several options may be available to you.

Notice the link on the bottom of the left-hand box that reads “More Options and Times”? Click on it! It will take you to the Schedule Explorer option.

The Schedule Explorer allows you to customize your transit trip!
The Schedule Explorer allows you to customize your transit trip!

Something that I really like about the new Google Maps is the Schedule Explorer Option! This allows you to customize your transit trip by entering a departure time that is best for you, then selecting which routes would best suit your travels.

The top pane shows what routes are available to you based on the departure time and date you selected. Below this pane is step-by-step directions on getting to your destination (walking to the bus or rail stop, the routes you selected, any applicable transfers, and reaching your destination), as well as a map. To return to the map view, select the “Full Map View” button on the right.

GM8
A full view of what’s below the route option pane.

In transit districts with rail services, additional options are available by clicking the “Route Options” button below the route options pane (just above the map).

This pane allows you to further customize your trip by selecting options with the fewest transfers or least walking distance.

Additional Route Options.
Additional Route Options.

And that’s not all! I could probably spend hours going through the different route possibilities for the HART system alone. If you want to try things out for yourself, just head on over to Google Maps now!


Google Trip Planner module on transit district websites.

Google Trip Planner PSTA 1
Some transit agencies have a Google Trip Planner module on their websites. This is the PSTA.net homepage.

Some transit agencies , like PSTA, have a built-in Google Maps module on their websites. In these modules, you would enter an originating and destination address, then specify the date and time that you wish to depart/arrive. You will then be directed to the Google Maps website for the results.


Smartphone Apps

With the advent of Smartphones, comes numerous apps designed to help plan and navigate your transit trip. While I will go into detail regarding Smartphone Apps in a separate post, I thought that it was important to at least mention what apps exist. Please note that these apps are created and operated by third parties and not the transit agencies themselves.

OneBusAway

Transit App

Mapnificent


Trip Planning via Telephone

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Although Google Maps is by far the fastest and easiest way to plan your transit trip, I understand that there are people that either don’t have access to a computer and/or the internet, as well as those who prefer to use the telephone rather than the internet. Don’t worry! Pretty much transit districts still have their telephone lines open, and they are still staffed by customer service representatives during the week. In addition, many transit districts are able to provide an automated interface (or IVR – Interactive Voice Response) through their InfoLine phone system to provide transit scheduling information 24/7!

Below, I’ve listed the InfoLine phone numbers for each transit district that I’ve covered through blog posts and through my Transport sections. Please note that calls to the InfoLine after hours may be routed directly to the agency’s transit dispatch center.

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).
    • 813-254-4278.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm and Weekends from 8am to 5pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 5pm.
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
    • 727-540-1900.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm, Saturdays from 7am to 8pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4:30pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4:30pm.
  • Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT).
    • 941-749-7116.
    • Hours of operation are not currently available.
  • Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
    • 941-861-5000.
    • Hours of operation are not currently available.
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
    • 757-222-6100.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 5am to 7pm, Saturdays from 7am to 7pm, and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 9am to 4pm.

Visiting a Customer Service Center

The Marion Street Transit Center in northern Downtown Tampa
HART’s Marion Transit Center has a staffed Customer Service Window during selected hours Monday through Saturday, and some holidays.

Some customers would rather speak to someone in person about planning their transit trip. That’s perfectly fine! Most transit districts still provide customer service centers by which customers can pick up schedules and speak with a customer service agent face-to-face. And while hours will vary depending on the district and day of the week, most customer service centers are typically staffed at least Monday through Saturday, with some districts being able to provide Sunday and Holiday hours. Please keep in mind that some districts close down their customer service operations on some holidays like Thanksgiving.

Below, I’ve listed locations of customer service centers for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, and Hampton Roads Transit. Please keep in mind that hours are subject to change, and up-to-date information can be accessed through the district’s website.

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).
    • Marion St and University Area Transit Centers.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 7am to 5pm. Closed on Sundays.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 5pm.
    • HART at City Hall is open from 11am to 1pm Monday through Friday. Closed on weekends and holidays.
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
    • Williams Park Customer Service Center.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 8am to 4:30pm.
    • Grand Central Station.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
    • Park St Terminal.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
    • Pinellas Park Transit Center (at Shoppes at Park Place)
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
    • Hampton and Newport News Transit Centers.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. Closed Sundays. Holiday operation may vary.
    • Silverleaf Commuter Station.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 5am to 9pm. Closed weekends and holidays.

Regardless of what method you choose to to plan your transit journey, please always keep in mind to have everything planned out prior to leaving for the bus or rail stop, and always arrive at the stop at least five to ten minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time. If inclement weather should arise, please arrive at your stop at least ten to fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time.

If you happen to come across anything that is incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible and I will correct the information. I always strive to make sure everything is up to date.

An Introduction to Transit 101

Hi everyone!

I’m about to begin a new blogging series called Transit 101, which will provide my readers with helpful information on using public transit. While these posts are specifically targeted at new public transit customers, long-time riders can also benefit from the information that I’ll be blogging about throughout the next few weeks.

Before I begin my first post, let me briefly explain how I got the idea for Transit 101. During the past couple months, I’ve received email inquires from people who are relatively new to the Tampa area. They’ve asked me how can they get around using public transit? And while I answered their inquiries to the best of my ability (remember folks, I’m not affiliated with any public transit district), I knew that these wouldn’t be the last such inquiries that I would receive.

With these inquiries in mind, I began to wonder how would I be able to help new transit customers get around? With transit ridership continuing to rise, I know that many of transit riders out there are relatively new to the system and are just learning to find their way around town via transit. Although I’m very fortunate to have a public transit district (HART) that has a transit system training program for new transit customers, I suspect that not all transit districts are able to provide such services due to funding constraints.

I’ll explain how such a program works in one of my Transit 101 posts, but to provide a basic idea of what this particular service is about; HART’s Travel Training Program allows new transit customers to be paired with a HART staff member who walks the customer through each step of using the area’s transit system; from planning a trip, to understanding schedules, to making transfers. These programs are very, very helpful, but not everyone is aware of them, so please be sure to ask your local transit district if they offer such services.

With that said, I hope that you will be able to find my Transit 101 posts to be very helpful! My first topic will be about planning your transit trip, and I hope to have the first post up by the middle of next week! If you have a suggestion for a future post, please feel free to drop me a line via the Contact Page!

Enjoy your day!

HARTride 2012

New Blogging Series Coming in December! Transit 101!

Before I go on a brief blogging hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to let my readers know of a new blog post series that I will be starting up in December, called Transit 101!

The Transit 101 series will be dedicated to new public transit customers and will provide helpful tips to make your public transit commute better! Such topics will include, but will not be limited to, the following:

  • How to ride the bus/train
  • Understanding transit fares
  • Understanding bus/train schedules
  • Bikes on Transit
  • Travel Training Programs (many transit districts provide travel training programs to assist new customers in becoming familiar with riding transit)
  • Transit terms (every transit district is different in the way they classify routes, services, etc.)
  • Lost and Found
  • Safety and Security
  • And much, much, more!

Each post will have a general overview as to what the said topic is about. Then I’ll go over how the topic relates to public transit as a whole. If there are differences between how each transit district does things, I will then distinguish each district’s policies and procedures on the matter being discussed. Additionally, I’ll have a page set up with links to various computer and mobile transit apps, like OneBusAway!

I plan on publishing my first Transit 101 series post on Tuesday, December 2, 2013! After the initial post, I plan on posting a new topic each week as time allows. If you have an idea for a Transit 101 post, please let me know through the Contact Page!

With that said, enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday! Be safe!

HARTride 2012