Thursday, May 07, 2009

Blogging on the Bus

I'm riding on a bus as I write this blog entry, which illustrates, in just one trip, a few trends affecting elders (and all of us in America) -- changes in employment patterns, in technology, and in mass transit.

The bus I'm riding is a Setra, Model S-417 Luxury Coach, assembled in North Carolina by
Daimler Buses North America. The operator is RDC Bus Lines, LLC, a small business headquartered in western Pennsylvania. The express luxury coach service is operated between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, PA, daily, via the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as the "Steel City Flyer."

The new service was announced in November, 2008, and was followed thereafter, by newspaper reports.
See: "New Steel City Flyer service to Harrisburg begins this month" (11/07/08) by Kim Leonard, published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; "Can a luxury bus fill the gap on a dropped US Airways route?" (11/12/08) by Ben Mutzabaugh published by USA Today's Blog "Today in the Sky";"New bus service to Harrisburg expands" (01/06/09) by Tom Barnes published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and "Bus line adds Camp Hill stop" (04/09/09) by Erica Dolson published by the Harrisburg Patriot-News (on Penn-Live).

The Steel City Flyer offers service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh for business and leisure travelers.

One of the goals of this new stop [in Camp Hill] is to make travel more convenient for business people whose firms have a strong presence in both central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, Railroad Development Corp. president Bob Pietrandrea said.

The Steel City Flyer has also adjusted its westbound schedule to add an earlier morning departure time.

The driver today is Jim Wade, 64, of Bergholz, Ohio, who has operated or driven buses for 24 years, and who is now officially "retired." He just talked by cell phone with his supervisor, George, who is in his mid-sixties. Jim was talking about people he knew in the business who were "still goin'" in their eighties and nineties.

This is my first point: This is a business largely operated by persons near or over 60 years of age; and it runs smoothly.

This modern bus rides smoothly too while I type on my Asus Eee "netbook" connected continuously
(even through the Turnpike's tunnels!) through the on-board wireless router to Verizon's high-speed 3G Wi-Fi service.

Gone are the days when a bus ride promised jolts, noise, stuffy air, and spills, but little time for productive work. Instead, on this luxury coach, I'm researching sources, adding links, and writing text in comfort and without stress, despite the curves and construction on the PA Turnpike.

My experience with this transportation service parallels that of another user (Susan D., of Pittsburgh), who posted her experiences on the
Yelp! consumer review web site, rating it four of four stars. See: "Steel City Flyer" Review (02/09/09).

This is my second point: The fact that I am writing this posting enroute while riding at 55 mph (according to Jim when I asked) or higher most times, shows how transportation and technology have combined to allow greater business and personal efficiency, while conserving natural resources.

Clearly mass transportation is a trend that should be supported. Most recently, our federal government appears to favor high-speed train service.

The article "
Pennsylvania part of plan for high-speed trains across the nation" (04/17/09) by Jon Schmitz, published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reported that "President Barack Obama's announcement yesterday of an ambitious plan for high-speed passenger trains connecting American cities puts Pennsylvania into a national competition for billions of dollars in federal aid."
Ten corridors, including one from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg and Philadelphia, were designated as eligible for some of the $13 billion authorized in the economic stimulus legislation or proposed by Mr. Obama for high-speed rail development. * * *

A statement by Gov. Ed Rendell and state Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler did not mention the maglev project. Instead it speculated about whether money could be obtained for studies of expanding rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg -- currently served by just one daily Amtrak trip. * * *

"Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes," Mr. Obama said.

"Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination." * * *
This is my third point: A Change is Gonna Come to long-haul, public transportation. New modes of conveyance will bring greater efficiency, convenience, comfort, and safety, which will empower all travelers, especially those who are older.

But that vision will be some time until full realization. A Steel City Flyer representative was quoted in the article:

"Realistically speaking, it's going to be years before you see anything resembling high-speed rail extended to Pittsburgh," said Mr. Posner, who recently started a luxury bus service to Harrisburg to fill the void in train and airline service to the state capital.

"As a railroad man, I look forward to the day when the Steel City Flyer [bus to Harrisburg] will have outlived its usefulness," he said. * * *

Reading this, I'm pleased that I took the Steel City Flyer today as the best way to travel between these two cities. However, I, too, look forward to the day in Pennsylvania when it "will have outlived its usefulness."

Now, please excuse me. I've got to jaw with our driver, Jim, a bit more before I "de-bus" in Pittsburgh's Center City.

Update: July, 2009:

As of July 16, 2009, the Steel City Flyer service terminated. See: Press Release, "Steel City Flyer to End Service on July 16, 2009" dated July 10, 2009, issued by Railroad Development Corporation (PDF, 1 page). For an intelligent blog commentary and responsive reader comments, see: So Long Steel City Flyer, posted July 10, 2009, on the East Busway Blog.

Update: October, 2009:

Amtrak expressed interest in expanding passenger train service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, dependent upon government subsidies. See: Article, "Amtrak recommends new train between Pittsburgh, Harrisburg" dated October 20, 2009, by Matthew Santoni, published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Amtrak is recommending that another train be added to the sparse service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, if state and federal legislators decide the additional ridership is worth the expense.

In a study mandated by the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, Amtrak officials looked at passenger service in Pennsylvania and decided that the potential riders and revenue were sufficient to consider increasing the Pennsylvanian route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg from one train per day in each direction to two, adding a midday departure from Pittsburgh and a late-night arrival that could connect to trains heading west to Chicago.

"The ridership was there, and it would have a minimal impact on operations," said Steve Kulm, Amtrak spokesman. "If this is going to move forward, state and federal legislators will have to make the next step." * * *