Yesterday, I got to ride buses in Williamsburg and I’m going to say, after riding Hampton Roads Transit buses for seven years, it was time to check out our neighbor, Williamsburg. In addition to this report, may I also point you to my Video Report.
- Flickr Image Set: Williamsburg Area Transport Authority (pictures of WATA buses I took)
- On YouTube: Ideas for Hampton Roads Transit rides the buses in Williamsburg: A Video Report
I started out at 7:30 AM riding the 967 (er, the “761” because of a glitch on the destination sign and made a pit stop at Victoria Blvd offices to grab a packet from HRT’s recent board meeting. At 8:54 AM, the 103 Shell Rd to Newport News Transportation Center picked me up and I was off on my journey.
When I arrived at Lee Hall at the connection between HRT’s #116 and WATA’s Gray Line, I immediately noticed a major bus culture shift when I boarded the bus. There was the operator and there was a trainee and get this: on my entire ride on WATA, I was always properly secured onto the bus!! I immediately placed a phone call to someone with internal (“friends in high places”) contacts with HRT to explain this immediate culture shift and how delighted I was at the amazing level of passenger pampering everyone gets from WATA operators.
* Williamsburg Area Transport
* Hampton Roads Transit (two morning trips and two evening trips)
* Carolina Trailways
* Greyhound Lines
When I arrived at the “Train Station” (what operators call it over their internal radio), I was greeted by another WATA operator who assisted with getting me unstrapped from the bus and directed me to where the Blue Line would pull in.
I got on the Blue Line and explained where I was trying to get to and the operator suggested riding to the Williamsburg Outlet Mall in Lightfoot (look it up on a map, I went very far west) where there was a McDonald’s on the other side of the mall (Williamsburg Outlet Mall, sadly, makes Pembroke look grand in comparison).
Here’s when I learned about what I think is the best policy WATA has: The Blue Line pulled up as the first bus to arrive at the Outlet Mall and the operator, realizing I was looking for the Tan Line, explained that buses can NOT leave until ALL buses arrive at a Lineup, NO EXCEPTION! (yeah, try telling that to an HRT operator, you’d get laughed at)
This brings me to another point: I received very obvious dirty looks from any WATA operator when I discussed Hampton Roads Transit. It’s very clear that no one at the agency trusts HRT, and truth is: I don’t blame any of them. HRT’s been in the news lately, and it’s not been pretty.
Anyhow, got to ride the Tan Line next which basically took me on the back roads (whereas the Blue Line travels U.S. Route 60, the main drag) back to the train station where I caught the Red Line. There’s not much to talk about with the Tan Line (other than it’s the bus to the main hospital), so let’s skip to the Red Line.
The Red Line takes you to New Town (a “lifestyle center” in James City County similar in idea to the Peninsula Town Center) and on its return trip, one of the stops is Merchant’s Square. I started chatting with the operator explaining that I was just exploring the bus system and I explained I wanted to be dropped off at Merchant’s Square (no, I didn’t have time to go look at it) and I caught the Williamsburg Trolley.
When Trolley #2 pulled up, I realized the wheelchair lift was at the back door (it looked like the operator was going to come outside and tell me, but I beat him to it). Eventually, after being loaded (the vehicle uses a Ricon Wheelchair Lift, I absolutely hate them), I sat down on a slippery park bench-like seat. We went riding around on the noisiest vehicle in WATA’s fleet and when I returned to Merchant’s Square, the Red Line came behind us (same bus / same operator as before) and I made my way back to the train station to catch HRT Route 121.
Bus 1208 pulled into WATA Station at just past 4:45 and I thought to myself, “What the Hell is this Piece of SHIT doing up here!!??”
I immediately placed a phone call to someone I knew who has high-level contacts within HRT and immediately stated bitching about the bus I was riding, my biggest gripe being that #1208’s wheelchair securement system was missing its Lap Belt (a lap belt just like on a car).
OK, That’s a Service Report and it’s 99% Positive for WATA. Amazing little bus service, yes!
Now, for the (very few, easily fixable) complaints:
WATA offers a $1.50 All Day Pass, which is not advertised on its website or on its service brochure. The All Day Pass is a great idea and it’s dirt cheap at $1.50 (this fare is for everyone) so I went with it. Love the Day Pass, please keep offering it. (regular fare is $1.25 + $0.25 per transfer for a one-way trip)
The bigger problem is both the website and service brochure feature outdated route information: during mid-day (roughly 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM), select routes (the Blue, Gray, and Orange) run every 30 minutes, while the rest of the routes come once every hour. However, on both the brochure and the website, the Tan Line is listed as every 30 minutes during that time frame (it’s once every 60 minutes).
Third, and finally: the WATA website is disorganized. It seems like they’re trying to cram as much on their home page as they can. Easy to fix!
Now, compare just three complaints about WATA (all of which are minor and easily fixable) with the numerous complaints (sometimes MAJOR) I have with Hampton Roads Transit. WATA pampers its passengers, and I say that in a good way. I noticed it when I first wheeled onto the Gray Line at Lee Hall to begin my journey into Williamsburg.
The buses themselves were extremely clean and very well maintained and not once did I have a problem having my wheelchair secured on their buses. I was always properly secured and operators didn’t mind that I wanted the seat belt to keep me secured into my wheelchair (nor, unlike HRT, did they care that my chair doesn’t have “straps” – they just put the restraint on my wheelchair frame, where its designed to go).
Overall, WATA has an amazing little system that puts even HRT’s best operators to shame. This is Williamsburg and Williamsburg is a tourist / history buff economy. Their bus operators put a premium of catering to their guests.
HRT: you could learn a lot from WATA. Number One: these operators sincerely care about their passengers and I did not meet any asshole operators (HRT, you have quite a few – not going to name any names, but you know who you are).