Louisville Magazine

MAR 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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4 4 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.14 Ten, it forks. Some buses head to the Meijer in Jefersontown. Another shoots of to Baptist Hospital East and Dutchmans Lane. A third servic- es GE Appliance Park in the morning and late afternoon. Even TARC's executive director, Barry Barker, admits that the 23 "gets really goofy" once it clears the Highlands. But like in many cities, public transit here faces great challenges. And not just the fnancial kind, though those certainly exist. Over the last 50 years, Louisville's tidy urban core has lost people and jobs to suburbs. Routes must stretch like rubber bands or branch of, meaning more stops, longer waits. Riders don't care about TARC's business challenges. Tey want to get where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time, when they choose, with as few transfers as possible. Long commutes — say, 45 minutes or more — greatly increase a customer's frustration with TARC. "Hey driver," Kent growls, "we're looking for the Fegenbush Lane route." "It should be the next one coming," the driver says. "Can you drop us of at the 24-hour Kroger?" Kent asks as the store fades in the rearview mirror. Te driver deposits them at a bus stop in front of a Walgreens. Kent and his friend gather their bags and wait underneath a brick archway. Teir transfer bus won't arrive for another 12 minutes. Ice seals the sidewalks like layers of Scotch tape. "I suggest we start a bonfre, Kent!" the friend says. "Tat might be a good idea," Kent replies. Te two bicker — old married couple style — about what to do dur- ing the downtime. Kent wants to go to a McDonald's across the street. His friend does not. "At this rate I'm gonna freeze my gonads of!" Kent says. He digs at his pockets for a $2 lottery ticket he'll cash. With seven bucks total, he'll buy some cigarettes, hopefully some beer. Te transfer bus pulls up just after 5:30, a symphony of beeps and belches. About a dozen drowsy faces scatter among the 41 seats. Hoods and hats cover heads. Rugged Carhartt-style outerwear and wool coats add bulk to the bodies. Te bus turns right on Bashford Manor Lane, gliding past Lowe's and Walmart, destinations for those riding the 23 later today. Teresa Smith, a 53-year-old woman with dark eyes, reddish-blond hair and light brown skin, stares out the front windshield. Smith's been up since four this morning. She's used to the early wake-up, having relied on this bus for about six months now. A little cofee and by 4:50 or so she's headed to her frst bus on 18th Street. Sometimes she'll use her hour-long TARC commute to nap. Today that's difcult. "Look, we're going to the frst convenient store we fnd and get some beer," Kent spouts in an evangelical octave. A few passengers glance up. No one noticeably reacts. Smith, a cafeteria worker at GE, says her morning rides come in two varieties: silence or spectacle. Occasionally, rowdy drinkers board at this hour. Presumably, many are homeless men and women seeking warmth. Late-night and wee-hour buses also attract those seeking a place to avoid winter. As the bus enters Appliance Park at 5:52, Smith looks out at the lot already full of cars. She enjoys her commute. It's convenient, almost always on time. When snow and glassy ice cancel Jeferson County Public Schools (as is the case this morning), she doesn't worry. "Te bus is going to run," she says with a smile. As the 23 circles the 900-acre GE campus, Smith and her co-workers disembark. Single-fle lines of dark fgures march into the park's manufacturing plants, lunch bags swinging at their hips. J ust after six in the morning, a diferent No. 23 bus heads west from a neighborhood near Appliance Park. A woman with a University of Kentucky scarf and hat steps on board, high-fving two older men — regulars on this route — as she perches herself in the bus's last row of fve seats. Rear seats usually fll frst, like at church or a lecture hall. Te Just past Bardstown and Grinstead, the young woman rises from her seat, steps of the bus and presumably heads for work at the Highlands Dairy Queen, the morning's frst completed commute. Last year TARC counted just under 15 million individual rides. (Tis number does not take into account that the same people tallied many of those rides.) Six years ago the transit company totaled over 16 million rides. Year to date, TARC's seen a slight improvement from last year. Tose fgures may read as impressive. But recent Census data shows that in Jefer- son County, 97 percent of working residents do not commute by bus. According to a 2013 TARC report, just over 90 percent of the general public never utilizes a bus. Not even for a trip to the mall. Nor do they plan to in the future. Tis, despite the fact that a majority of Louisville residents see great value in public transit for its environmental and societal benefts. Like it or not, Louisville's built for cars. Tey provide the fastest, easiest option. Te region's car habit will only grow with the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Hand an addict more highway, more highway he will take. For the next 12 hours I'll loop Louisville four times, courtesy of seven buses and eight bus drivers. I'll lose count of passengers in the afternoon, I think around 120 riders. East to west, west to east. Te repetition clarifes a lot of what works and what lacks with the city's only public transit system. It's a steady grind of point A to point B travel. Actually, travel isn't the right word. Tat implies escape. On a city bus during the workday, life demands most destinations: ofce, DMV, doc- tor's ofce, grocery store. Ride time can zip by in fve minutes or drag an hour and a half. One day TARC's a welcome, dependable daydream- mobile. Te next, it's a beast that's running 30 minutes late. Public transit perfects unpredictable reliability. A workhorse, the 23 is one of three routes that together carry almost half of all TARC passengers. In the process of selecting a route for this story, one TARC employee ofered, "Tere's nothing quite like the 23." A t 5:02, the 23 pauses on Bardstown Road near the MidCity Mall. Two older men step in, toting a reusable canvas grocery bag, about a half-dozen plastic bags and gas-station cofee. Each plops change into the fare box. "Forty, 50, 55" — the older of the two counts each coin as it drops. Cling cling cling. Clad in grey sweats, he walks hunched, a soft 45-degree angle. His voice rasps deep, like a freight of coal tore its way through his pipes. He goes by Kent. His friend, who wears a thick red winter coat and bushels of brown and silver facial hair, plucks a stray hair from his black sweatshirt, ficking it to the foor. Te men are trying to hook up with a buddy who lives near GE Appliance Park. As the driver acceler- ates, we lurch forward in one dramatic hiccup. "Oh! Tat's the transmission!" Kent's friend shouts. "Yup. Not a good sign," the driver returns as the bus settles into a gentle forward momentum. Before retiring, TARC buses will log up to 500,000 miles covering 41 routes in fve counties. "Te 23 has three bus routes," Kent explains to his friend, fearing they've caught the wrong one. "Aw, just get us out of the neighbor- hood." Tis route confuses a handful of riders nearly every day. From Broad- way's blunt fnish at Shawnee Park up to where Bardstown Road, Tay- lorsville Road and Trevilian Way split, the 23's path remains constant. One day TARC's a welcome, dependable daydream-mobile. The next, it's a beast that's running 30 minutes late. 42-53 Abort BUS.indd 44 2/19/14 4:25 PM

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