Wednesday, May 29, 1996
How to save on bus fare - and save face

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The first-timer bounded onto the bus, straightened his tie and flashed a smile that shouted: "I know what I'm doing."

His smile lied. He didn't have a clue.

But that didn't stop him from trying to act like a veteran bus-rider. Talking loudly enough to wake the dead, he waved a dollar bill at the driver and asked for change.

Metro drivers don't make change. Haven't for decades.

After this discovery, the novice rider showed his other hand. It held a squat coffee mug - the weighted kind that won't slide across a car's dashboard.

But this was no car on the morning commute. This was public transportation. So, the driver gently told Mr. First-Timer, no drinking or eating on the Metro.

Red-faced, the uneasy rider paid his fare, scurried to the back of the bus and did something he never could safely do while driving in rush-hour traffic - fell asleep. Snored, too. And, he lived to tell about it.

This scene could soon be repeated at a bus stop near you. Starting Saturday and running through Labor Day, Metro is having a summer sale, reducing its fare to 50 cents for one-way trips from here to just about anywhere in Greater Cincinnati.

It's part of the transportation system's effort to clear the air by getting air-polluting cars off the road, new riders into buses and the government off our backs.

If smog becomes serious this summer, Cincinnati is threatened with more stringent auto emissions tests and cutbacks at polluting industries. The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce says that could cost the area $112 million in lost jobs and closed factories. Worst of all, people could die. Humans are funny that way, if they can't breathe, they can't live.

Based on our track record as public-spirited angels and perpetual bargain-hunters, Cincinnatians will shop this sale. Metro last offered a summerlong Clear Air Fare in 1994. Ridership increased 15 percent, with 442,083 more passengers. Metro figures that 2 million fewer miles were put on the odometers of area cars and 46.64 tons of pollutants - the combined weight of 3.5 buses - were kept out of the air and away from our lungs.

Bus manners

Clearly, it pays to ride the bus.

It also pays to know the rules of the road. As one of Metro's frequent fliers who hopes you won't embarrass yourself as Mr. First-Timer did, I suggest following these rules of rider etiquette:

Step up - "To get picked up, stand by the bus-stop sign," urges Ruby Neal, schedule lady, supervisor and one-woman complaint department at Metro's Government Square kiosk. "People lean on a nearby wall and don't even raise a hand to hail the bus. Then, they complain when we don't stop."

No shirt, no service - "Have your clothes on," advises driver Todd Jackson, one of seven recent recipients of Metro's Best Attitude Award. "People try to walk on just wearing shorts. I ask them: 'Who would want to sit on your seat after your sweaty body touched it?' "

Hold on - Put your money in the meter, and grab the handholds. The bus is leaving the station, and it's on a timetable. If you don't want to roll to the back like a giant head of cabbage, get a grip.

Arrive pretty - Apply makeup at home. The bus hits a bump and you could wind up spritzing your neighbor with perfume or applying lipstick to your forehead.

Watch your mouth - "Beware," warns Todd the Driver, "high school kids will get on and cuss in front of adults to get attention. I tell them, 'If your mama was on this bus, you wouldn't be doin' this,' and they shut up.' "

Umbrellas - Since we're in the midst of the never-ending monsoon season, stow your umbrella - damp side down - on the floor. No one wants to begin the day with a wet end.

Share - Don't hog two seats. Slide to the one by the window. But first, check the seat cushion. (See above.)

Location - The back of the bus rocks. The front rolls. (Besides, its side seats are for seniors and the infirm). For the smoothest ride, head for the middle.

Read on - To avoid riders who bathe infrequently and talk to themselves, read. Oddballs seldom bother someone whose nose is buried in a good book or newspaper.

Best of all, sit back and relish the ride. It's nice to see the landscape unfold as you roll along instead of always having your eyes glued to a ribbon of blacktop.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.