Friday, November 12, 2010

12 NOV 10: Two-Fare to Be True

A group of Fort Benning "Wounded Warriors" received a Veterans Day treat - as they boarded a flight for a weekend in Las Vegas. Considering they could have put on a bus for Victoryland a few months ago, I'd say they traded up.

If you wanted to fly from Columbus Airport to Las Vegas, you'd have to change planes in Dallas-Fort Worth or Atlanta. Would you expect to pay for a second ticket, to board the connecting flight? Most U.S. airlines don't work that way - but sadly, the Columbus bus system does these days. The METRA-Mind seems almost as sneaky as that new movie "Megamind."

This double-charging policy slapped me in the face a few weeks ago, when I used METRA to travel to a rental car agency. The trip from my home required me to board the Uptown Trolley, then switch to the Rosehill route -- which for some reason does NOT have a rose-colored bus.

I had a free METRA pass for the journey, thanks to numerous library trips. And I'd made this bus run before, so I knew I could board the Rosehill bus at the Transfer Center on Linwood Boulevard. I even took a book to read, because I'd have to wait several minutes. Not that the poker book has helped me win lately, but that's another story....

A couple of minutes after I boarded the Rosehill bus, the METRA driver climbed aboard after a short break - and that's when the trouble started. "Are you going to pay?" he asked me.

"I came from another bus," I explained.

"You still have to pay," the somewhat-startled driver insisted. This was a shock to me, because no one had asked for it at the Transfer Center before. Maybe if the Rosehill bus had more than three or four passengers on it....

"But I thought this was a Transfer Center," I said in a vain attempt to make my point. Didn't "transfer" mean a switch from one bus to another, to complete a route?

"It's really not," the driver answered. In METRA's eyes, each leg of a trip counts as a separate trip -- and if you're not prepared, you'll need two good legs for the second leg.

"I've made this run in other years, and no one asked for a second fare...."

"Other years?!?" the bus driver responded. Should I have acted like a cool regular customer at that point, to win the argument?

It's a good thing I had two dollars in my wallet, to finish the trip on the Rosehill bus. Trouble is, METRA's one-way fare is $1.30 - and you're expected to bring exact change. I hope the driver appreciated my leaving him a tip of more than 50 percent.

After picking up my rental car and taking it home to pack for vacation, I called the METRA office for clarification. Sure enough - the woman who answered the phone said the bus line charges for each part of a trip, even if you switch at the Transfer Center. So unlike some weekend sales, METRA's deal is one for the price of two.

I checked the METRA website, and nothing warns potential riders of this double charge. Things are very different in Atlanta -- where you can take a MARTA bus to the train, ride the train across town and board another bus to your destination for one charge. When they say "It'sMARTA," the directors mean it more than they know.

To be fare fair, METRA's charge of $1.30 per trip is lower than MARTA's $2.00 fee. When I moved to metro Atlanta 26 years ago today, a MARTA ride cost only 60 cents. Those were the days -- of cheap Friday train rides to Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza to window-shop, on what I called "Yuppie Scum Day."

I was reminded of METRA's double-fare policy this week, when Phenix City Schools announced a new system for school buses. Soon all students will be given a "swipe card" to use when stepping on and off the bus - and we hope no bullies will swipe those cards, in a more traditional way....

Superintendent Larry DiChiara told WTVM the school bus swipe cards will be part of a GPS system, to make sure students are on the right bus and buses are in the right places. I suppose there are security benefits to this. But doesn't it smell like a plot to get grade-schoolers ready for credit card addiction when they're older?

BLOG UPDATE: WXTX presented a special report Thursday night on a typical 24-hour Columbus Fire/EMS shift. If there's a "plantation mentality" at Fire Station 10 on Benning Drive, I didn't notice it. For one thing, Caucasian firefighters washed the truck and cleaned the dishes.

The special report revealed Fire Marshal Thomas Streeter's son also is a firefighter. If there's a patten of racial discrimination in Columbus Fire/EMS, why would an African-American son want to follow in his father's footsteps? Wouldn't he have hurried to Aflac instead, to sell insurance?

Perhaps the biggest surprise from the special report was that Fire Station 10 still uses paper log books to record its daily calls. Maybe if the department still used paper "time cards," some of the recent controversy could have been averted.

Let's see what else made the news on Veterans Day....

+ WTVM interviewed a Columbus couple which was aboard that stranded cruise ship off the Mexican coast. Wayne Cartledge says he never ate Spam and Pop-Tarts - but the crew had plenty of beer and wine to share. On the two-day cruise I took, the beer and wine would have been marked up to pay for ship repairs.

+ The Landings Shopping Center lighted its holiday lights. The event had a school chorus, a ballet performance, a horse and buggy - but apparently lacked a Fort Benning soldier, to remind everyone of what the REAL holiday of the day was.

+ Outgoing Georgia Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond told GPB state Democrats need to address racial tensions within their own party. In Thurmond's words: "We need more white folk." Especially since most of the "white folk" were on the state ballot last week, and lost to Republicans.

(Columbus Rep. Carolyn Hugley was named Georgia House Democratic Whip this week. Rep. Calvin Smyre was named Democratic Caucus "Chairman Emeritus" - which sounds like a way for Zeph Baker to promote his youthful vigor, if he challenges Smyre again in 2012.)

+ The accused middleman in the Cam Newton "pay for play" probe told a Dallas radio station Newton's father wanted at least $100,000 for his son to play quarterback at Mississippi State. Cecil Newton reportedly said his son's college commitment was "not gonna be free." But please, don't wire any money from "War Cam Eagle" T-shirts to Cam Newton's dorm at Auburn until mid-January.

+ The Atlanta Falcons drove downfield for a touchdown in the final minute, to bash Baltimore 26-21. Deion Sanders was inducted into the Georgia Dome "Ring of Honor" at halftime - and I assume his name is the only one in neon lights.

(Falcons radio announcer Wes Durham noted referee Ron Winter also worked the Monday night game in Cincinnati. With two pro football games in four days, his schedule for handling appeals is almost as busy as the Georgia Supreme Court.)

+ Instant Message to Nissan: Really now - a car called the Juke? It's 2010, you know. Not many people will want to face ridicule for being inside a Juke-Box.

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