So, let me just say this first: overall, taking public transportation is wonderful. People are polite, drivers are lovely - each bus seems like a portable monument to community cooperation. I've been very successful in figuring out routes and have yet to get lost. The transit tracker app is delightful. And I've learned a lot about how to be a successful transit rider. (See ETIQUETTE AND COOLNESS TIPS to learn more).
However, I still have questions - some relating to points of etiquette, some about the basic workings of the various systems - that have yet to be answered. Actually, these are questions I wrote down in a note on my phone.
What does "See Train" actually mean?
So, this past Sunday, I tried to take the green line to Lincoln Park. When I got onto the platform – trying to get to church on time and trying even harder to get the song “Get Me to the Church on Time” out of my head – the big screen that shows when the next train is coming, instead of saying the usual “toward 67th/Cottage Grove” said “See Train.” I stared at it. “Does it mean actually see the actual train?” I thought. “Will there be some observable difference? What kind of difference are we talking about? And why would something observable about the train – unless it’s obviously on fire or obviously broken – affect my commute?”
Then I wondered if it was some kind of code or slang or technical term. I googled about eight different variations of, “CTA green line what does see train mean?” Nothing.
But when I was irrevocably on the train, the conductor (driver? What are they called actually?) said it was not going the whole way down the line because of maintenance. Like, how was I supposed to know this? No one else seemed flummoxed. What does everyone else know that I don’t? Where is everyone else getting their information from?
So, I missed that church service and went to another one. But I still don't really get what "See Train" means. And I would like to know.
I think I've answered this one. If I understand it all correctly, PACE buses serve the suburbs. But when you ask Google whether you need one or not - even when you add words like "tourist" or "new resident" or even "help" to your search - there's no definitive answer. I bought a CTA/PACE pass the first week and didn't seem to use any PACE buses, so I haven't bought it again and have had no problems. So. I consider this one answered.
When is it cool to pull the "stop requested" chain in buses?
I've been trying to watch other passengers really carefully, to see when really Chicagoans pull the chain so I can mimic them, but I haven't really come up with any clear winners. Like, is it uncool to pull it the moment the sign at the front shows your stop is next? Right now I typically do a kind of nonchalant pull soon but not right after the stop is announced. Like I'm aware, but not super concerned about it.
I also want to know what's best for the driver, you know? Do they prefer you to pull it as soon as possible so they're warned? Or do they prefer you to wait until the voice reads your stop out and then pull it? I just don't know.
ETIQUETTE AND COOLNESS TIPS:
Basic: when you're awaiting a bus, let people get off before you get on. I've only seen people break this rule a few times - generally the public is very aware and courteous and everyone tries to follow the unspoken rules so things move along smoothly - but the few times it has happened it's been pandemonium. (Well, not pandemonium. People just have to squeeze by each other. But it's clearly uncomfortable and inefficient.)
DO NOT EAT ON THE BUS. It's just gross. I watched this woman eat some chicken on the bus the other day - she would put pieces in her mouth and then yank the bare bones out - and it was the most nauseating thing I've seen possibly ever. And the smell! In an enclosed space even something that you would normally find delicious-smelling becomes a vile odor when it is imposed upon you. Also, as this woman licked her sill obviously greasy fingers, I though of all the handrails and poles and doors that you have to touch while using public transport, and wanted to wash my skin in acid. (Never mind the thought that maybe I forgot and touched my face or something after getting off a bus...)
On the train, people who are standing who really know what's going on stand with their backs agains walls, feet about shoulder width apart. They don't have to touch any handrails or poles, their backpacks - if they are wearing one - are safely smashed against a wall and therefore inaccessible to light-fingered crooks. Their hands are free for texting or music. And because they're braced against a wall, they are far more stable than anyone holding a pole. Next time I ride the train, I'm going to be a wall leaner. Those people know what's up.