Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pittsburgh Transit

On the whole, the Pittsburgh buses do not rival the Prague combination of tram, bus, and metro. There were never enough of these buses, and their schedules have been curtailed even further in the past year. Two years ago, I often watched three packed buses sail past without stopping, and if the weather permitted, I walked the two miles to school. This year I live farther out and get on my bus closer to the start of the route, so I always get a seat on the inbound trip.
I have learned, however, that the bus I generally take is a less than desirable bus. The 71A is invariably a rolling sardine tin on the outbound trip, and I often hear people announce that they will hang around school for another hour or two in the hopes of getting a seat on this bus. It also takes a route along Centre rather than sticking to Fifth, and Centre is a surprisingly narrow street considering its importance. Consequently, I am pleased to find that I can also take the 500, which is less crowded, appears to be faster, and requires only a few blocks' walk to my door.
I will say, however, that the Pittsburgh buses are well equipped for wheelchair access and that wheelchairs are very efficiently accommodated. The bus "kneels," a ramp extrudes, the bus driver folds up some seats, and the wheelchair rolls into place. This is not something one sees in Prague, where wheelchairs are extremely rare.
I haven't figured out whether wheelchairs are rare in Prague because 1) everyone in a wheelchair is institutionalized and never sees the light of day or 2) 99% of the people who would be in wheelchairs in the US are hobbling around Prague using canes and crutches. I suspect it is some mixture of the two. In any case, I can remember seeing at least two separate individuals in wheelchairs. One was a child taking the tram with his parents (I suppose he was lifted up just the way everyone lifts up prams and other weighty objects); he appeared to have cerebral palsy or a similar problem. The other was a man who often studies at the library. He too appears to have cerebral palsy or something of the kind, and always goes to the library with a helper. I could never understand a word he said, but I have always been impressed by his determination, because the Czech Republic does not strike me as a place that offers much accommodation for the disabled or where there seems to be a strong belief in higher education for anyone with special needs.
In any case, another difference between Pittsburgh and Prague transit lies in the interchanges between drivers and passengers. In Prague, the driver only speaks to passengers regarding practical matters; passengers do address the driver more often than vice versa, but generally also on matters relating to things like needing extra time to dismount. In Pittsburgh, drivers are more loquacious. While in general they do not embark on entire discourses unless the hour is late and the passengers few, they can often be drawn into conversation by talkative passengers.
The other day I was returning home on the 500, which stopped near the Vintage senior center. (At first I assumed that Vintage, which is across from Home Depot, was a wine store, but it would probably be against the law to have a wine store within a mile of two other wine purveyors. Pittsburgh has strange laws about alcoholic beverage sales.) Some elderly persons were waiting at the bus stop, and one of them got on.
"Are you sure you want me?" inquired the bus driver. (I could only assume he was acquainted with his passenger, as he had not asked anyone else this question.)
The embarkee assured him that she did want him, and planted herself at the front of the bus where he would be sure to hear her. She informed him that she and another woman had been busy talking to their dead husbands.
As I was not listening all that carefully, I missed out on exactly why she and her friend had been talking to their dead husbands. In fact, I missed quite a bit of significant data about urns and ashes, but I did eventually hear her say, indignantly, "I sed, they're trying to make a singles bar on my husband's grave!"
Life is rarely boring in Pittsburgh.

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