Taking charge of transit

­­­By Anita Rao
UNC Staff writer
the Durham VOICE

Frequent riders on Durham public buses may notice new faces along their bus routes this month as Triangle Transit employees come on board to conduct surveys and personal interviews as part of the “Designing Better Bus Services” effort.

The two-part effort is an attempt to better understand how the public transit system can serve the needs of its riders, said Cha’ssem Anderson, a transit service planner for Triangle Transit. The first component of the program officially began in March, when Triangle Transit and Durham’s Neighborhood Improvement Services started meeting with neighborhood groups throughout the city to solicit their feedback.

“We want to seek direct feedback from the public to make an informed recommendation to the city of Durham about what new initiatives and system changes we need in this area,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that passenger’s feedback would inform them about issues like what stops are unnecessary and what routes need more frequent services.

So, in the spirit of this initiative, VOICE reporter Anita Rao sought out the stories of two Northeast Central Durham transit gurus, one who sits in the driver’s seat, and another who rides as a passenger every day, to learn their perspectives of the transit system.

Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) Bus Operator Johnny Tindall

DATA Bus Operator Johnny Tindall sits in the driver’s seat of a bus at the DATA bus depot where he starts and ends his driving shifts five days a week. Although his primary focus is always on driving safely, Tindall said this job lets him get to know the city and its people. “I even get to watch kids in the community grow up,” he said. (Staff photo by Anita Rao)

Unlike most Durham residents, 41-year-old Johnny Tindall has explored the entirety of the city each week for the past nine years.

As a substitute, “Extra Board,” bus driver for DATA, Tindall drives different routes each day depending on which other drivers are sick or taking time off.

“I like to keep switching it up so that I don’t get bored,” Tindall said. “Plus, I get to know so many more people this way.”

Through driving all routes around Durham, Tindall said that he has been able to watch the city grow and change.

“A lot of people of different nationalities and from different cities in North Carolina are trickling into Durham,” Tindall said. “I see an increasing number of people just riding the routes to get to know their way around here because they are new to the community.”

Tindall explained that driving public buses has also heightened his awareness of widespread economic issues. Since the recession, the number of riders on his buses has dramatically increased, and due to this change, he said he thinks the current Triangle Transit survey is important.

“Ridership patterns have really changed, and we need to look at where we are going that we don’t need to go, and where we need to go more often,” Tindall said.

Tindall frequently drives routes in Northeast Central Durham neighborhoods and noticed that after the opening of the Holton Career and Resource Center and Holton Wellness Center, route 13 was expanded to provide direct public transit access to this building. He said that because ridership is so high in many areas in Northeast Central Durham, it is important to continue to assess if public transportation is responding appropriately to the needs of the area.

Drivers often report route issues to DATA management, but they are not responsible for making final decisions about where the buses run. Tindall said the role of the driver requires a different kind of mental energy.

“I am responsible for a lot of people, and I have to make sure they get safely from point A to point B,” Tindall said.

He goes to bed around 8 p.m. in order to get enough sleep to be a safe and alert driver for the start of his shift at 5 a.m. To stay vigilant on the road throughout the day, he said he gets off the bus to stretch and take quick walks.

Although Tindall worked in army transportation and as a driver for Pepsi before he started driving for DATA, he said what he loves about his job now is that he gets to interact with people; he has developed many friendships with citizens who frequently ride Durham buses.

Tindall said he feels most proud of his job and aware of his responsibility to the community when he goes out in public and people still recognize him as a bus driver.

“It’s when I go to places like the mall and little kids yell, ‘Hey mama, that’s the bus driver!’” Tindall said. “I love that.”

People Riding in Durham Everyday (PRIDE) Ambassador Travon Ward

At the central DATA Bus Terminal in Durham, PRIDE Ambassador Travon Ward explains the public transportation system as he poses for a picture. “Public transit is about people, so to make a good transit system you have to understand people and all of the things they are dealing with on a daily basis,” Ward said. (Staff photo by Anita Rao)

After witnessing a bus driver zoom past an elderly woman as she slowly walked toward her bus stop, 35-year-old Northeast Central Durham resident Travon Ward was moved to action.

Ward said he had noted a number of incidents in which passengers were not being treated respectfully on DATA buses, so he decided to get involved.

“I do not want anybody to be treated like a second class citizen no matter what the circumstance,” Ward said. “If the buses are running late, that is still no excuse.”

He expressed his concerns to DATA management, and they encouraged him to apply to the PRIDE Ambassador program. The program is a way for Durham resident volunteers to be active participants in improving the transit system, said Anderson. They bring passenger concerns to the attention of DATA management and promote the public transit system throughout the community, Anderson said, “They are our eyes and ears on the buses.”

Ward applied to the program and has been working as an ambassador since August 2010. He and seven other ambassadors attend bimonthly public Triangle Transit meetings where he said they bring up problems they have noticed with bus stop signs, bus shelters, drivers or route schedules.

However, Ward said he also thinks it is his responsibility to be an advocate and a mediator when he is riding on the bus. “I help answer questions passengers have, do simple things like pick up the trash and help keep things clean, and also try to prevent conflict by explaining to people why we may be running late,” Ward said.

Ward is originally from Baltimore, Md., but has lived in Durham since 2000. Since moving here, he said that has become more civic minded. Living in a smaller city encourages him to feel more involved in what is going on, but he said that it also makes him more aware of what needs are not being met.

“A lot of people are moving here from places where their transportation systems ran a little better,” Ward said. “Our city is growing, and we need to keep up with the increasing demand for public transit.”

The best way to do this, said Ward, is to make sure that the transit system reflects the needs of the people it is serving. “I want people to not have a defeated mentality and know that changes are possible,” Ward said.

He said that through participating in Triangle Transit’s interviews, surveys and group meetings, people could help create the kind of transportation system on which they would want to ride.

“As passengers and supporters of public transit, it is important for us to be more community involved,” Ward said. “When changes are made, we need to be at least a small part of them.”

A March 3 Press Release reported that neighborhoods, groups or organizations can request additional information or public transit presentations by contacting the Service Planning staff at Triangle Transit by e-mail or telephone.

Contact: serviceplanning@triangletransit.org, or phone 919-485-PLAN.

One thought on “Taking charge of transit

  1. Visit data.gotriangle.org for more on Designing Better Bus Service in Durham. Click on the image top left of page and take our survey.

    John Tallmadge
    Director of Commuter Resources
    Triangle Transit

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