Thursday, October 01, 2009

Riding the Flex Bus from Wellfleet to Orleans

The Flex Bus has always sounded like a great idea, so when our Volvo spent the night with a mechanic in Orleans, I jumped at the opportunity to try out this energy-efficient means of travel: Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority or CCRTA. Unfortunately, our schedule only worked with the first bus. No matter. I’m an old hand at rising early, so I called to make an appointment. We chose to meet at Seamens’ Bank rather than have it “flex” down our dirt road in case this proved too much of a challenge.

“Should we be there at 7:40?” I asked and the woman confirmed that exact time.

Off Sven and I went this morning, arriving at Route 6, a minute or two after 7:30. To my horror, I see the bus whiz past and veer onto Main Street towards the stop in Wellfleet center.

“Okay, Sven. You wait at Seamens’ and I’ll flag it down.”

I felt like a cowboy, trying to rope a recalcitrant steer. I take up position at the intersection with my lasso. Five minutes later, the bus swings into view as the light turns red. I rush to the door and knock ferociously. The driver opens it a crack.

“Hi!” (I’m using my most cheerful voice.) “Weren’t you supposed to pick two people up at Seamens’ Bank?”

“I was there. You weren’t,” said the driver, not the verbal type.

We were, at 7:33, but why argue?

“My husband’s across the street. Could you pick us up? We really need to get to Orleans.”

“I’ll turn around,” he says gruffly, not really wanting to.

Once on board, I reach for my wallet and find it went AWOL.

“OMG! I left my money at home. Can I write you a check?”

“No checks. Just cash.”

“Wait!” said Sven. “I’ll get money at the ATM.”

The surly driver and I wait, sneaking curious peeks at each other from time to time. There are two other passengers on the bus, resigned somehow to this delay.

Then we discover Flex Bus drivers do not make change. We owe $4 each, since the extra stop raised the rate from $2. Seeing my distress, the driver allows us to remain on board and off we go at a fast clip, zipping past Jim Rose’s tomato stand and the WHAT theater complex. For once I get to enjoy the marshland in South Wellfleet, hard to appreciate with the need to concentrate on traffic. The bus flexes off Route 6 into Eastham village and pulls up at 1165. After three minutes, the driver has a brief phone conversation with a superior.

“It happens every week!” giggles the female passenger. “I take the bus every day. Every day we stop and no one gets on.”

The male passenger sits sullen, eyes closed, perhaps asleep?

We're moving again. The driver turns off Route 6 at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, which offers a DVD about the Flex Bus in the hope more people will go car-free on the Outer Cape. There are no passengers in sight at 8:05 so we don’t even slow down.

A couple boards the bus at the Eastham Superette. That makes seven of us, including the driver. Soon the Orleans rotary is in view. We pull into the Stop & Shop parking lot at 8:15. The nice talkative lady gets off.

“Run inside and make change,” the driver orders, somewhat more friendly now.

Once back on board, we bump up Route 6 A to the center of Orleans. The bus doesn’t stop at the CVS since there are no passengers waiting outside. At 8:20 we reach Shaw’s. The driver continues on to Harwich, alone.

From June 20th to September 8 the Flex Bus runs more frequently. The off-season schedule seems whimsical, with only five trips per day. As we discovered, you have to really want to ride this bus and reach the stop early to be picked up at all. No buses on Sunday. To request a flex off the regular route, call 800 352 7155. Riding a bus is obviously better for the planet. One other benefit is you get to appreciate the landscape more and can observe things that go unnoticed when driving. I’m glad we finally tried this method of regional transportation. Not sure I would do it again, though. Too much risk of missing the bus!