Annette Bergins, 86, has been dealing with peripheral neuropathy, which causes weakness and numbness in her right leg and foot, for several years. For a while, she used a cane, and now she’s graduated to a walker.
“I know eventually I won’t be able to drive,” she says forthrightly. “And I don’t want to be a hazard to anyone else or impose on my son or be housebound.” So, when Boom scheduled its annual bus trip in October for readers who wanted to try out the bus system and learn more about it, she signed up. Joining about 15 others, Bergins got on at the bus stop at Walmart on Lexington Road, which wound its way to the Multimodal Transit Center (MMTC) downtown, where Athens Clarke-County marketing director Rachel Hopkins explained how the system works.
Describing herself as “independent all my life,” Bergins immediately began taking the bus following the introduction. Armed with route information and a map, she had ridden the bus a half dozen times by mid-November from her home in Cedar Creek near Whit Davis Road to her acupuncture appointment on Milledge Avenue, a doctor’s appointment on Oglethorpe Avenue and grocery shopping at Aldi’s.
She walks from her house, which is about a quarter mile from the bus stop and picks up #27, which takes her to the MMTC, where she gets off to catch #6. It’s a short ride to Hancock and Milledge where she walks a couple of blocks to her acupuncturist. Bus #7 would also get her there, but she would have to cross Prince Avenue.
She says the first time she tried it, she left her house at 1:50 and arrived about 15 minutes early to her 3:30 appointment. On the way back though, she says she made a poor decision. Choosing the Prince Avenue route back to the MMTC instead of the Broad Street route, she missed her bus, and then later, rang the bell to get off at her stop a little too late. Debarking at the next stop and with the help of Siri, she instructed her phone to turn on its flashlight and guide her back home. She arrived at 7 p.m.
“The only dangerous part of the trip was crossing Whit Davis in the dark,” she says.
Another time, Bergins decided to try grocery shopping at the Eastside Kroger’s and Aldi. She says they were small bags, but the bus was late by a half hour so frozen food would be a problem. The whole trip took 2.5 hours instead of an hour by car.
“Until I really can’t drive, I won’t do grocery shopping by bus,” she notes. “But I am learning a lot about the routes nearby, and that’s good.”
Easy peasy and free
Another learning experience occurred when Bergins tried to find a bus stop along Broad as an alternative to picking up the bus on Prince. “I had to walk a long way, so I won’t go that way again.” (Subsequently, Bergins discovered the stop across from the old Varsity building.)
What will make Bergins’ bus travels a lot easier is when she downloads the myStop App. It provides real-time bus information and allows riders to track their bus as it moves along the route and even see how many people are on the bus.
It also shows stops, schedules and routes although printable maps and schedules are available at accgov.com/transit.
“The actual bus ride is always interesting,” Bergins observes. “One time, the bus driver stopped when she saw a man collapsed on the grass near the bus stop. She left the bus twice to see what she could do. I never found out what she said to him but eventually he got up and took the package of cookies she had given him from her own carry-on bag.”
Bergins describes the drivers as very helpful. One time, the #27 driver called ahead to dispatch to get the #6 bus to wait at the MMTC. And since she uses a walker and can’t get off the bus without using the ramp, the drivers always lower it for her. And for those in wheelchairs, the drivers push the front seats up and out of the way and secure the chairs.
Bergins says she’s never felt unsafe or threatened although she’s careful not to take a wallet or purse. She keeps her ID, credit card, glasses
, and phone in her pockets. She says her fellow riders include lots of students, people of color , and older residents.
Her parting advice? Pick a day when you are not in a hurry and go in nonrush hours. Be aware the buses only run once an hour so bring a book in case you have to wait. When you get on the bus tell the driver where you are going and ask if they can tell you the nearest bus stop for your destination. A thank you is always appreciated by the drivers, she says.
In addition, consider taking your car beforehand to check out where the return bus stops are as they are not always directly across the street from where you get off the bus. If you are going to the multi-modal to catch a bus, let the driver know; sometimes they can get a connecting bus to wait a little while if the bus is running behind.
Every week, Bergins continues her travels by bus. “I’m doing what I can do, and what I can’t do, I ask for help.”
Enjoy the Ride
- Arrive at the bus stop a few minutes before your bus is scheduled to arrive. Athens has over 500 stops on 16 routes.
- You must be at the bus stop for the bus to pick you up. Even so, wave at the operator to ensure they know you are ready to ride.
- More than one bus may service your stop so be sure to check the number and route name displayed above the front windshield.
- Enter through the front door and exit through the rear unless you need the front ramp to get off.
- If you need to take more than one bus to your destination, let the operator know so they can help with the connection.
- When the bus approaches your stop, pull the cord above your head; not sure, ask the driver or look it up on myStop app.