On Wednesday Jan. 22, Cortland County Legislator Richard Stock (LD-6) and resident William Hopkins, who advocates for senior citizens, rode around town on two Cortland Transit buses to get an idea of what many people living in Cortland County experience every day. The journey was eye-opening for them-as they chatted with the bus drivers and fellow passengers and learned what it's like to travel by bus.
As county Mobility Manager, Catherine Wilde rode along with them and everyone got an inside look at the experience of riding the local buses.
The trio met at the County Office Building, first boarding Route 1, which goes past places like the library, Marietta Corp, the Cortland Jr/Senior High School, and Riverside Plaza. The bus driver, Ron Gardner, told them how he gets to know the habits of all the passengers along the way, knows when to expect them and what stops they will be making, and how he forms friendships with many.
For example, Gardner told of how he was saddened to hear of the recent passing of one passenger, and how brings another a case of Mountain Dew weekly. Gardner learned the man likes it, and he lives nearby, so he decided to help him out and it's something they've both come to enjoy.
Gardner also explained how he passed the CDL road test -- narrating everything along the way to the tester.
"As I was driving I'd say, I'm turning on my signals here to turn left, I'm scanning the road ahead of me, checking for passengers," he said. Not everyone does this, but Gardner thinks it helped him pass the test.
From Route 1, Hopkins, Stock and Wilde then hopped aboard Route 4, making the transfer at the County Office Building hub.
On Route 4, everyone got an inside look at Cortland Transit's busiest route. The route goes past the housing complex at 42 Church Street (where the driver knew to pick up one regular who was running late, swiveling the bus through the parking lot to get him as he came running out) then travels out Tompkins Street before jutting down McLean Road to the shopping center that has Big Lots, Thrifty Shopper and more.
The route also goes through Walmart, where some passengers got on and off, and the driver explained how the run that leaves the County Office Building at 2:15 p.m. gets the busiest, as that's when JM Murray Center workers get out of work and hop aboard.
Some takeaways from the experience for Hopkins and Stock were how committed the bus drivers are, how the public has to sometimes wait outside in the elements if weather isn't nice, and how each bus route has its own distinct flavor.
Stock said the ride-along was a learning process and he encouraged fellow legislators to also ride the routes, adding he plans to take more bus trips.
"I was impressed with both drivers and I think we have a great service," said Stock. "However we can expand it would be great as well."
"You have to ride the bus to know the bus," said Hopkins.
He described the driver as more than a driver, a caring friend to the people who ride the bus. And he was struck by the communal nature of the bus-how riders become friends with one another and how they also care for the driver, often bringing him or her gifts and cookies.
"The total experience is exactly that: an experience all should try," he said.