FRESNO, Calif. – It was 6:59 in the morning. I was standing on the corner of Cedar and Eleventh waiting for the Fresno Area Express (FAX) to take me to school. It wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another 18 minutes.
On a normal day, I would still be in bed, probably snoozing my alarm clock for the second time. But it wasn’t a normal day.
As someone who relies on their car way too much, I thought it’d be a great experiment to see what it would be like if I took the bus for a day. I have heard stories about how FAX operates and people’s experience using it, but I thought I’d put those preconceived notions aside and experience it for myself.
So, there I was, waiting for the bus on a cold, winter morning.
The bus arrived on time and dropped me off at my destination within 10 minutes. But what normally would’ve taken me five minutes in my car, took me thirty on the bus when you consider the wait time and actual ride. Considering all the stops the bus had to make, though, my first impression of FAX was off to a good start.
After school, I walked back to where the bus dropped me off that morning; I was ready to go home. It was 11:06 when the bus arrived. I boarded, swiped my Fresno State card and sat down. I was on the bus for about 10 minutes before I realized what I had done wrong.
I had boarded the wrong bus. I was going southbound instead of north. I started freaking out. But it’s 2016 and thank goodness for the Internet.
After looking at bus routes, I decided to turn my misfortune into an adventure. I got off at Tulare and Cedar and headed for the Fulton Mall – well, I would’ve if I hadn’t missed my transfer bus by a minute.
I sulked my way to the bench and waited for the next bus.
Twenty minutes passed and nothing. I’m usually a patient person, but it was hot and I was annoyed. Not a good combination.
Luckily, a woman joined me at the bus stop and started talking to me. I wasn’t up for the conversation at first, but with nothing else to do, I engaged. I’m glad I did. She told me her story and it was one of the most heartbreaking yet inspiring stories I had ever heard.
She moved to Fresno from Atlanta just a week before we met, having escaped an abusive relationship. She had to leave her son behind and all she wants is to be with him again. She shared with me that she wanted to go back to school and study biology and chemistry, with hopes that she’ll save enough money one day and be reunited with her son again.
The bus arrived and oddly, I wish it hadn’t; I wasn’t done listening to her story. We climbed aboard and we went our separate ways. I checked the time. I had waited almost 35 minutes for this bus to arrive.
On the way to Fulton Mall, I stopped about a block earlier than I expected because I thought I saw a taco truck. (Hey, it was noon and I didn’t have breakfast. And tacos – yum!)
To add another to the list of things to be disappointed about that day, it wasn’t even a taco truck. It sold hot dogs. So, with a hot dog in hand, I walked around Courthouse Park and Fulton Mall for about an hour.
When I have my car, I usually go to where I need to go, do what I need to do and leave right away. Not having it allowed me to take in what downtown Fresno has to offer. I saw the beauty in the buildings. I was able to watch people and how they interact with others. I felt enraptured with my surroundings and it felt great.
Next, I walked down Tulare Street to see more of downtown (I also saw a taco truck on the other side of Courthouse Park – great). I stopped at the 7 Eleven, bought a bottle of water and waited for the next bus to arrive – which didn’t come for another 15 minutes.
It was 1:48 when I arrived back at Tulare and Cedar and it took another 45 minutes before the next bus came to take me home.
Now that I have experienced riding FAX, I understand the stories that I have been told.
I have the luxury of owning a car, but not everybody has that luxury. For some people, FAX is the only mode of transportation they have. The City of Fresno has a duty to its residents and to its community to make sure everyone’s riding experience is as easy and comfortable as it can be.
Fresno can improve FAX by including the buses’ routes and schedules at the bus stops. As a first time rider, it was a hassle constantly having to check my phone to see when the next bus would arrive. And some aren’t lucky enough to have access to the Internet on their mobile devices.
And speaking of schedules, FAX needs to improve theirs. If a bus is supposed to arrive at a certain time, it should arrive at that time, not 20-30 minutes later. People need to be able to rely on FAX to take them to their destinations on time and they can’t do that if it’s late. Possible solution? Add more buses to the schedule.
The last improvement I could think of during my time on FAX is definitely cleanliness. Just because it looks clean, doesn’t mean it is clean. Clean doesn’t mean picking up the trash left by the riders. It means scrubbing the seats and wiping the rails. I got sick the day after I rode FAX and I hardly ever get sick. I missed two full days of class and work because I couldn’t get out of bed.
Overall, my experience using FAX wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Like I mentioned earlier, the City of Fresno has a duty to its residents. The next time I take the bus, I hope to see that the city has taken the time the improve FAX to make the riders’ time on the bus as pleasant as possible.
If you would like to read more recent coverage of public transportation in Fresno, see our FAX report card.