After 23 years of riding buses and in the neighborhood of 20,000 bus rides, I think I can size up fellow riders fairly well. In particular, I can identify a neophyte rider in a couple of seconds. Today was no exception. I was on bicycle, racing the 8 Perrysville from where I'd seen it coming out of the plaza as I carried my bike up the steps, hoping to intercept it at the park & ride. As I came flying down the hill to the intersection where the 8 turns to continue down Perry/Perrysville, I see a woman walking out of the extended parking lot for the P&R. I slow to a stop at the bus shelter and ask, "Did you see a bus just turn off that street?" She had not.
As I didn't know if I'd just missed it by 30 seconds or the bus was a mere 30 seconds away, I opted to wait, which allowed us to engage in a little small talk. She apparently had little idea what the bus schedule was, only that if she parked there, she'd get into town eventually. She'd seen a bus go by on the main road, but it didn't stop. OK, that marked her as a neophyte, as she apparently didn't know that about 20 buses go past here at the end of rush hour, returning to the garage a mile down the street. Not a big deal, I just decided that she likely would not have known that she, like me, probably just missed the same 8 Perrysville.
She remarked that she was surprised to see someone riding on the road. I replied that I lived about four miles away, and with the last round of service cuts, there no longer is a bus that gets me to town from my house, so I bike. We talked a bit about riding on the road, and that it is neither difficult nor dangerous once you learn to deal with traffic effectively, but I could sense that cycling was not where this conversation was going.
Her bigger problem is that she was just about clueless to the ways of the Port Authority of Allegheny County bus system, and in that, she needed a bunch of information, and quickly. She didn't know where to get off downtown, what the fare was, or where to get the bus back at the end of the day, all of which are critically important to a neophyte rider. On that, I supplied all the details she needed, the better to allay her concerns about being stranded, lost, late, and paid for the privilege.
I didn't press the cycling issue. I could sense she likely had not been on a bicycle in 15 years, and barring a simple stroll around North Park Lake, wasn't ever going to be on one anytime soon. I stuck to answering questions about getting around by bus.
A second big issue for her was that she apparently got the last, or about the last, parking space in the lot, and wondered where she'd park if not there. I suggested West View Plaza, but with the proviso that that was not looked highly upon. Yet it could easily be done, provided you employed the "hide-and-ride" method: Park near K-Mart or Giant Eagle, but not too closely. Most shoppers will try to park as near the entrance as possible, so don't do that. Go about five rows away, and take the farthest out space that has a car next to it. Then walk into the store, perhaps buy something trivial if your conscience deems it worthy, then come out and go to the bus stop to get on the bus. Nobody will question your going into the store, nor will they question your coming out of the store and waiting for the bus. Chances are better than 98% that you could walk directly from car to bus stop and await the bus without being questioned, too. The important piece is to neither take a desirable spot nor park so far out as to draw attention.
She at least had the sense to park the car at a park & ride at all, so props to her for trying.