Meet VeloBusDriver (@VeloBusDriver on Twitter), the part-time driver for King County Metro who loves everything transit-related. He’s also an avid bicycle commuter and a renewable energy enthusiast. In his previous life, he worked in the tech industry as a SQL database developer and a system administrator.
A tweeter extraordinaire, he’s amassed quite a following in the virtual transportation community. We chatted with him briefly about particulars of life as a bus driver, bicycling in Bellevue (yes, it does happen!) and his views on the future of transportation in our region.
CYWB: Your background is in software testing—how did you come to be a Metro bus driver?
VeloBusDriver: I worked for Microsoft for roughly 12 years. As the company grew I became interested in a different direction. I grew up riding the bus and have many fond memories of riding the #4 trolley on Queen Anne with my grandmother. I continued to ride the bus when it was relatively convenient and during my last year at Microsoft I often wondered what it would be like to drive a bus. During one of my commutes I ran across a driver I knew from church who told me all about the wonderful world of bus driving. It took a while before I actually decided to apply, but that’s when the idea took root.
CYWB: What’s your favorite route to drive and why?
VeloBusDriver: I really don’t have a favorite route. Really, it’s more of a favorite type of route. While I currently can be found driving Sound Transit’s 550, I’m equally comfortable driving the 73 in the U District, and soon the RapidRide B Line. I enjoy routes that are busy, well utilized, with a diverse mix of passengers.
What role do you see smart phones and technology playing in encouraging more people to live car-free/light?
VeloBusDriver: First off, there is the ability to get real time bus arrival information using One Bus Away, Metro’s bus “Tracker”, or Bing’s iPhone app. Knowing how long you have to wait for the next bus goes a long way to make the wait more comfortable. Once you’re on the bus, a smartphone is great for reading the news, Tweeting, or listening to music (with headphones, of course).
CYWB: Bellevue is getting excited about the RapidRide B Line, which will begin service from Bellevue to Redmond in October. We’ve heard some rumors that you’ll be driving. Can you confirm, and tell us what’s cool about Rapid Ride B?
RapidRide B Line has many Bus Rapid Transit features that will increase the speed and reliability of the old 253 bus line. RapidRide B coaches have 3 doors. When you couple that with the ability for passengers to pay off the bus using their ORCA card at the busier stations, you can see that loading the bus will go much faster once people get used to the system. Simply tap your card while you’re waiting for the bus and get on at any door. Another speed enhancing feature for folks utilizing mobility aids is the passive restraint system that allows the individual to simply park their mobility aid and set the brake—the driver no longer needs to secure them into position. (For those who are uncomfortable with the new system, RR B coaches still have a standard forward-facing restraint system like existing buses.) RapidRide coaches also have the ability to interface with the city’s traffic control system to keep green lights green just a little longer and turn red lights green just a little faster. Given the number of traffic lights along the RapidRide route you can quickly see how this will speed the buses along.
CYWB: You’re also a professed cyclist—aside from painting a bunch of bike lanes, what do you think could be done to encourage more bicycling in Bellevue?
VeloBusDriver: Personally, I’d like to see more city employees out on bikes where it makes sense. Given the maneuverability and cost effectiveness of bicycles, they make a lot of sense in denser areas like downtown. I’ve seen Bellevue bicycle police but they are hard to find. Though Bellevue appears to contract out parking enforcement, there is no reason that function couldn’t be done by bicycle. Reading water meters seems like a natural task for a bike for certain parts of the city. I’m not suggesting the city switch over completely to bikes but looking for ways to integrate these inexpensive and useful tools into the city’s operations would go a long way to showing others that you can get around by bike. It could also save the city money!
CYWB: What else are you looking forward to in the realm of regional transportation plans?
VeloBusDriver: While the car will be with us for a very long time, I’d like to see more of a focus on moving people, not simply vehicles. The key is to give people many options to get from point A to point B. Today, for much of our region, the only comfortable choice is to use a car. Sadly, that “choice” leaves us stuck in traffic.
CYWB: From a driver’s perspective, if you could tell the public one thing about how to make the ride go more smoothly, what would you say to them?
VeloBusDriver: Have your fare ready when it’s time to pay. The best way to do this is to use an ORCA card ePurse or monthly pass. ORCA cards can be loaded with cash, credit cards, or debit cards and also offer a 2 hour transfer for use on other public transportation systems/modes. Given the larger number of people on the buses these days, every little bit of time savings adds up. But more broadly speaking, I just wish folks would slow down a bit in life and be willing to try the bus for at least a trip or two per week. Everybody is in such a rush that they always answer “the bus takes longer” as to why they don’t take public transportation. Many of us who ride the bus would answer, “So what? At least I can read, nap, smash birds into blocks, etc… You can’t/shouldn’t do that when driving.” Frankly, I don’t really enjoy driving and do everything I can to avoid it. Yes, I know that is ironic—that’s kind of the point! 😉