A New Comfort Zone: Shannon’s Alternative Commute Challenge Part 3 of 5

Parkesburg Train Station

This 5 part blog series is about TMACC’s Manager of Member Services, Shannon Maria Jones, navigating through the next 4 weeks car free.  

The tricky part about my current commute is that in some ways, it’s unrealistic.  Right now I’m riding my bike (mode one) to the train (mode two) and then getting on a bus (mode three).  I have created for myself a morning respite at the Paoli Starbucks, which I must walk two blocks to get to, and that walk could be called mode four. Four modes each morning gives many opportunities for things to go wrong – delays, malfunctions, timing issues, though admittedly I have been lucky so far.

After my first day of snafus, days two and three were quite comfortable.  Instead of focusing on the logistics of getting myself to each place at the right time, I had the opportunity to work at learning the etiquette and flow of the people who use mass transit.

I’ve tried to take pictures to help reinforce some of these lessons when possible:

  • There are never going to be two empty seats on the Amtrak, as it starts in Harrisburg and heads to Philadelphia picking up and dropping off scores of people along the way. Don’t worry about walking yourself and all of your baggage through several cars.  Find an empty seat and plop down, everyone else will be glad and other passengers getting on the train can now get by more easily.
  • Handicapped SeatingThe bus seats reserved for the handicapped and elderly are clearly marked. The people who get priority seating in those seats are also fairly easy to spot.  You CAN sit in these seats when the bus is full, just realize that you may have to abdicate your spot if someone in a wheelchair or is older comes onto the bus.
  • You can eat, drink, and be merry on the train. I’ve even seen people drinking fine wine out of Styrofoam cups.  You should not, however, eat or drink on the buses – so finish your coffee before boarding.  There are signs to this effect and most people respect them.
  • Shannon Biking 2As a biker you know that cars should respect your space on the road, but realize that the onus is on you to make sure you’re easy to spot. Consider wearing bright colors or a vest and helmet so that you can be seen in a variety of conditions.  Remember, unfortunately many drivers are distracted by cell phones, music, other occupants, etc.

At TMACC, we spend a lot of time speaking with our member organizations and the general public about strategies to mitigate traffic congestion, specifically the idling single occupancy vehicles (SOV) that clog our roads.  Page 7 of our summer newsletter, contains five tips that you and your employer can use to avoid commute headaches. So far, I’ve tried the FlexTime and the Telecommute.  Next week I try my hand at ride share!

Shannon BikingShannon Maria Jones is TMACC’s Manager of Member Services. She’s a resident of West Sadsbury Township, Chester County where she lives with her husband Jasen and their rescued dog, Sadie. An avid traveler, Shannon navigates public transit when overseas or in urban areas, but has rarely used public transportation as part of her daily commute. Slightly obsessed with “Super Size Me” and Morgan Spurlock’s series “30 Days” she is perhaps too excited about what this challenge will bring in terms of personal growth.

If you would like to re-publish this blog, or ask Shannon any questions about her commute please contact her at shannon@tmacc.org.

“What Did I Get Myself Into?”-Shannon’s Alternative Commute Challenge Part 2 of 5

This 5 part blog series is about TMACC’s Manager of Member Services, Shannon Maria Jones, navigating through the next 4 weeks car free.  This blog is about Shannon’s first day on the challenge.  

July 15, 2015- It rained.  It poured.  Thunder rolled and lightning flashed.

At 3:15 AM my husband turned to me after a crash of thunder shook us both awake.  “You’re not riding your bike in this, I don’t care what you committed to on the internet.”

By 7:00 AM, the rain stopped though the clouds were thick and heavy.  We compromised: he drove me to the train station where we locked up my bike for later.  With that, he departed for work and I rushed to get to the train platform.The train was of course late, due to the extreme weather.

All was well as the Amtrak pulled into Paoli where I would transfer to the Septa 206 bus.  I thought I was prepared with my Septa token in my pocket (saving me 15% per ride because I bought ahead of time ) until I disembarked the train to realize the deluge had resumed and I hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella.

As I crossed the parking lot, I approached the bus.  I was unsure if I could board because I couldn’t find the driver and we had 26 minutes before departure.  As I stood awkwardly in the rain holding my bike seat, as it was too big for the bag that I brought, I located the driver who told me 2 important pieces of information.  #1- Yes! I may escape into the welcoming dryness of the awaiting bus, all I had to do was drop my token into the fare box as I took my seat. #2- Due to the inclement weather the Paoli/Thorndale Regional Rail train was delayed.  As per Septa rules, and for the convenience of customers, the bus would wait up to 10 minutes for the late regional rail.

“Amazing,” I thought.  “Day 1 and I arrive late and soaked to the bone.  Clearly my judgement is lacking.”  I called ahead to my office to warn them of my unforeseen tardiness and that my ETA was unknown.

The bus departed promptly at 8:27 AM (the full 10 minute window being used, and still no train) and before I knew it, we were cruising up Lancaster Avenue, stopping occasionally along the way to deposit passengers at their respective destinations.  We quickly reached my stop, one of the last on the run.The driver even dropped us on the ideal side of the street so that we didn’t have to cross traffic.  I slogged across the street at the crosswalk, now chastising myself for both the umbrella snafu and also my inappropriate footwear as there are no sidewalks in the industrial park and the grass was sopping wet.

I walked into my office only 12 minutes late- less than many days when I drive in treacherous weather.  Surprisingly, my stress level was LOW despite the collection of new experiences and being drenched, as I did not have to deal with traffic, accidents, or being inundated with radio commercials.  I changed into one of several dry outfits I stashed in my office, and went about my work day with a clear head and focused attention.

On my way home it did, of course, rain again.  A co-worker offered to drive me to the station, an extreme act of kindness especially after letting me borrow an umbrella, but due to traffic we missed the train by 45 seconds.  Watching it pull out while sitting at the traffic light was disheartening, but I went into the station and read peacefully for 54 minutes until the next Amtrak came along.

All in all, I arrived home in good spirits and biking through the country during the evening hours was beautiful.  Though it was a comedy of errors, it was a good day.  Full of commuter lessons to be sure, but I’ll be ready when I do it again tomorrow.

Have I mentioned that it hasn’t rained since?

Shannon Riding

Shannon Maria Jones is TMACC’s Manager of Member Services. She’s a resident of West Sadsbury Township, Chester County where she lives with her husband Jasen and their rescued dog, Sadie. An avid traveler, Shannon navigates public transit when overseas or in urban areas, but has rarely used public transportation as part of her daily commute. Slightly obsessed with “Super Size Me” and Morgan Spurlock’s series “30 Days” she is perhaps too excited about what this challenge will bring in terms of personal growth.

If you would like to re-publish this blog, or ask Shannon any questions about her commute please contact her at shannon@tmacc.org.

#PopePrepping: Are You Prepared for the Papal Visit in September?

Pope Francis comes to Philadelphia in exactly 10 weeks for the World Meeting of Families!  The Transportation Management Association of Chester County (TMACC) will help to disseminate travel and transportation information surrounding the event.  We want to make our regional papal pilgrims physically prepared for the journey into and throughout Philadelphia the weekend of September 26th and 27th.

City Officials announced last month that private transportation will NOT be a viable option into the city.  Visitors wishing to see the Pope will have to use an alternative form of transportation to enter Philadelphia, like public transportation or the trail network.  Once in Center City, visitors will have only two options to travel – walking or biking.  Unless you’re a resident of Philadelphia or took the trail into the city, biking will only be a viable option if you are familiar with Indego, Philadelphia’s Bike Share Program.  SEPTA and Amtrak will not allow bikes onto their trains or buses due to capacity issues.  Be ready to walk!

Most individuals are not prepared to walk long distances; the average American only walks around 1 mile each day.  During the Papal Visit, individuals can expect to walk anywhere between 5 to 7 miles.  If visitors want to be at their prime for the Pope’s visit, early preparation, yes training, is necessary.

To be ready, TMACC suggests following this conveniently-timed 10 week walking schedule scheduled by the Mayo Clinic.  Try utilizing it before or after work with family, friends, and neighbors, or even begin a “lunchtime manifesto”, and get co-workers to walk with you at lunchtime.  Be fit and ready for his visit.

SEPTA began their ticket sales for Regional Rail, buses, and subways this morning.  Make sure you purchase your tickets before they sell out!  You can purchase SEPTA tickets at www.septa.org and Amtrak tickets at www.amtrak.com.

For more useful tips for the Papal Visit, visit TMACC’s website www.tmacc.org, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @chescocommuter.  Information about parking stations will be soon to come!

“My Rural Life Without A Car”: Shannon’s Alternative Commute Challenge Part 1 of 5

This 5 part blog series is about TMACC’s Manager of Member Services, Shannon Maria Jones, navigating through the next 4 weeks car free.

No one likes a hypocrite, and yet I’m here to tell you that I am one.  I realize that this could apply to many things, but what I mean specifically (this is a TMACC Blog after all) is that I drive my single-occupancy vehicle every day.

For the past 14 months, I’ve used every opportunity I could to tell people that alternative transportation is easy to navigate. Not just for “everyone else.” But it WAS for everyone else for me.

Until now.

The Challenge:
For the next 30 days, I’m going to practice what I preach.  I’m going to live my life without my car.  Work, errands, doctor visits, meeting friends. Anything I need to do I will do using public transit or getting a ride with someone.

Why Now?
Truly, part of it is because I need to do it before I lose my nerve.  But I also know me… I don’t like the cold. I prefer when the mornings have light.  The summer is the right time for me to be navigating this. in case I’m waiting at bus stops forever or when I ride my bike in the rain to the train station.  I also know that commuter rates are lower during summer months, so I’m hoping more seats are available on trains and buses.

Shannon's Electric Bike

My pedal-assisted bicycle that I’ll be using to get to and from the train station.

Acceptable Modes:
Bus, train, bicycle, walking, carpooling, share-a-ride, gondola, trolley, subway. ANYTHING that isn’t me sitting in my car getting frustrated by traffic and killing the planet with my emissions.
Also worth noting, TMACC advocates strongly for flexible work environments- allow your employees to commute at off-peak hours to avoid idling. Encourage them to work remotely.  As part of this, I will be implementing one work from home day per week.

Obstacles:
I live in West Sadsbury 1 ½ miles from the Amtrak station and ~ ½ mile from the nearest bus stop- CHESCOBUS’s Coatesville  LINK route.  Unfortunately, due to recent funding cuts, the LINK only runs Monday to Friday now, so this will require me to get creative with errands and weekend plans.  I’m also not in great shape and have bad knees- so though I feel that biking is a viable option for my day-to-day, I’m concerned that my body might not support that goal.

Goals:
1. Reduce stress by not sitting in traffic.  My commute is approximately 26 miles one way and takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on traffic conditions.

  1. Reduce emissions. I drive a LOT for work and pleasure. In 2011, the average car in the US was driven 11,300 miles. I average 30,000 miles per year. If there’s someone that should find ways to cut back- it’s me. Since 17.68 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gasoline is released into the ozone that means I have the ability to save over 1200 pounds of carbon dioxide if I skip just six tanks of gas in 30 days.
  2. Understand public transit in Chester County and hopefully inspire other people to use it not because they have to, but because they WANT to!

Preparations:
I’m starting Wednesday, July 15.  Right now to prepare I bought a 10 trip ticket for the Amtrak Train from Parkesburg to Paoli.  Once in Paoli I’ll board the SEPTA 206 bus to get to my office so I’ve also bought tokens.  I’m prepared with a 10-trip ticket on the LINK as well, and I’ve stocked up on the most current copies of schedules.  I’ve also started to plan my work meetings at times of day that work with the transit schedule (the 206 bus only operates during peak commute times) or scheduling meetings with a friend who can drive.  I’ve also downloaded the SEPTA and AMTRAK apps so I can check service delays and times.

What You Can Do:
Follow me here, on Twitter @ChesCoCommuter and on Facebook (ChesCoTMA) to hear my story.  I’ll blog once a week but the social media updates can come at all times.  And of course… consider trying it yourself!

Shannon Maria JonesShannon Maria Jones is TMACC’s Manager of Member Services. She’s a resident of West Sadsbury Township, Chester County where she lives with her husband Jasen and their rescued dog, Sadie. An avid traveler, Shannon navigates public transit when overseas or in urban areas, but has rarely used public transportation as part of her daily commute. Slightly obsessed with “Super Size Me” and Morgan Spurlock’s series “30 Days” she is perhaps too excited about what this challenge will bring in terms of personal growth.