Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: Cleveland Rapid's Green Line

My son and I rode the Cleveland Rapid train system the other day to see baseball's Indians play. I had ridden the Rapid once before, but it was 14 years ago, so I felt like a newbie this time around.

The Indians did well –  they won, 3-2 but could still improve. The same could be said about the train system.

We caught the Green Line at, appropriately enough, Green Road station. There was ample, free parking   definitely a positive. A train, conveniently, was waiting. It wasn't immediately obvious how we were supposed to buy tickets, but as we boarded the driver told us to pay when we got to our destination, downtown Cleveland's Tower City.

I soon discerned that on inbound trains, those going toward downtown, you pay when you get off. For outbound trains, you pay as you get on. That's fine, but a sign saying so would make it easier for newcomers and keep the drivers from having to explain it.

The train was comfortable and ran smoothly, though a bit slowly, since it seemed to stop every three blocks along Shaker Avenue. About halfway into the ride, the driver told those of us going to the Indians' game (there were a couple dozen of us) to get off   the train we were on was going out of service. The driver told us to catch the next train, which was connecting in from the Blue Line. This seemed a bit odd, but the wait was short and we reached Tower City about 30-35 minutes from when we first got on.

We bought tickets here, though somewhat confusingly, they're not called tickets. Your choices are "farecards" and "passes." Ultimately, I bought a $5 "all day pass" for me and a similar $2.50 pass for my son (available for ages 6-12).  The child's discount was nice   that's not offered on my usual transit system, Los Angeles Metro, where kids over 5 pay full fare.  In all, the $7.50 was definitely cheaper than paying for parking at the ballpark.

From there, we just followed the Indians crowd through the Tower City center. There's a food court right there, which could be a good place to get something to eat and avoid the high prices at the ballpark.  A short walk brought us to the game. Nice.

On the way home, though, I started to see a few more weakpoints in the Rapid. First, we had to wait a good 20 minutes for a train, and when it did come, it wasn't entirely clear it was the right train. While one end said "Green," the other said something different. There was no announcement or overhead sign indicating the train's destination. I had to ask another passenger to be sure.

It was dark on the way home and I found it almost impossible to tell where we were along the line. This was somewhat academic, since we were going to the end of the line anyway, but I wanted to judge how far we had to go. There were few announcements of stations, and even when there were, they were too soft or muddled to understand. Further, as we went through each station, it was nearly impossible to find a sign identifying the stop. Clearly, the Rapid needs to work on its communication skills.

Experienced riders, of course, don't worry about station announcements or signs. They know what train to get on and when to get off. But for newcomers, missing your stop, getting on the wrong train, or getting off in the wrong place are big fears. And if people are afraid of getting lost, they won't ride the train in the first place.

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