Fresno, Calif. — My experience riding the Fresno Area Express, or FAX, buses has continually tested my patience — and I know I’m not the only rider who feels this way. I have been riding the FAX buses for about five years now, and so consider myself an informed rider. Over the years on my way to school, work and other activities I have noticed many advertisements proclaiming that riding the FAX is good for Fresno’s air quality, which of course is among the worst in the country.
But what about the people who ride the bus? After my countless trips across town on the FAX, it’s time to give the system a report card. The improvements that I suggest might help to reverse the fact that FAX ridership has been in decline for years, even though Fresno’s population continues to grow. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the millions of dollars being invested by the city in an updated BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) system, expected to launch in January 2017, will address some of these concern raised in my report card, otherwise I predict that FAX ridership will continue on its downward spiral.
ROUTES AND SCHEDULE — GRADE: C
In general I feel the FAX routes are reasonable. I can usually get to where I need to go, whether it’s to school, work or a friend’s house. The schedule, on the other hand, has huge gaps. Through the week the bus I take comes every thirty minutes, and on the weekends it’s only once an hour! Buses are very often late or delayed. I rely on FAX to get me to school on time, and when they are late I’m late too, which is very stressful and upsetting.
If FAX added more buses to the schedule people would place more trust in the system to get them from one place to the next in a reasonable amount of time. Additional buses on the schedule could really win people back to be frequent FAX riders if the city made sure to let everyone know about them with a ad campaign.
CLEANLINESS — D+
How often are the seats on a bus cleaned, the holding rails wiped, the floor swept or the trash picked up? On one of my recent FAX adventures, I spoke to an rider named Brandy who shared my concern for Fresno’s grimy transit. “There has been times when I sit on the bus and the seat next to me is either wet or may have something stuck to it,” she said. “We don’t know what the wet stuff is, so no one would want to sit there.”
I’ve come to ask myself if riding the FAX bus is worth sitting in an unidentified substance, or getting a cold or flu. Without regular cleaning and maintenance of the decades-old FAX buses, many harmful germs get passed from one person to the next.
On a recent day I met Aaron Page, a young man riding the bus to school with his little sister. “I try to keep hand sanitizer on me so I can keep my little sister from getting sick,” he says. “She has really bad allergies and when she gets sick it gets bad really fast.”
There are plenty of solutions that would improve the experience for FAX riders, such as adding trash cans in the back of the bus so riders can throw their trash in the proper place instead of all over the bus. Besides more regular cleaning, adding a hand sanitizer dispenser for everyone that passes through can also eliminate the chances of spreading germs among passengers.
COMFORT — GRADE: C
Very few buses have a working air conditioning system, and being packed into a bus in hot Central Valley weather with few open windows is horribly uncomfortable, claustrophobic, and can cause health issues, especially for young children and elders.
A bus driver who would not share his name explained that “If the AC isn’t working then there’s not much [bus drivers] can do besides open the windows and call for assistance.” In my experience assistance does not come quickly, if ever, as this seems to be a constant problem. While comfort may not seem like a small issue, I’m sure that these unbearably hot buses are keeping people from taking public transport at all.
SAFETY — GRADE: C-
Besides schedule, cleanliness and comfort, the most important area FAX could improve on is safety. I often don’t feel safe on FAX, especially when it’s very crowded, which happens a lot.
If I’m lucky, I get to sit closest to the window; it helps me forget that I’m surrounded by complete strangers. While strangers are a given for public transit, FAX needs to step it up to make our buses safer. I spoke to many other riders, especially young women, who have felt unsafe on the bus or have experienced some form of harassment.
The presence of more security cameras might help this problem slightly, but a bus driver I spoke to told me that the cameras don’t always work and the drivers on the bus do not control or even have access to footage. The city needs to ensure these camera work properly and are being monitored to prevent unsafe situations.
But FAX should take it beyond cameras to ensure riders act in a respectful and safe way at all times. Cities including Boston and Washington D.C. have introduced public awareness anti-harassment advertising on buses and trains to remind riders that everyone is entitled to a safe ride. The signs tell riders that sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct should be taken seriously and reported to the police. Fresno could consider doing the same. This would educate the public about this unacceptable problem and remind people to take action to prevent harassment.
FAX should also increase driver training to be better equip them to intervene if a situation arises while they are operating the bus or while the bus is stopped.
On a recent long bus ride, Longtime Fresno resident Abby Dennis told me that when she was young, bus trips were a lot more enjoyable as everyone had a seat. “It was much more comfortable to know everyone’s rump was in a seat and not in someone’s face,” she explained.
While I don’t think it’s possible now for everyone to have a seat at all times, Dennis informed me that the buses were cleaner too. “The drivers were always on top of people when they weren’t listening to the rules, now when I see someone eating they just throw their trash on the floor and leave it there.”
So what’s a FAX rider to do? I’d like the good old days of a clean, safe FAX system for everyone to come back to Fresno. These small changes could make riding FAX a much safer, more efficient and more enjoyable experience for all Fresno residents. This would encourage more people to take public transit rather than driving their own cars, which will keep pollution out of our air.
Fresno’s population is projected to keep growing, and our city public transit needs to keep up.
How could FAX better serve your public transportation needs? To send a suggestion or complaint to FAX, fill out this form.