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— As a blind person, Swail deals with problems most riders never consider in negotiating the bus system. "Caravanning" is the name he uses to characterize a bunching of buses at some stops. "Three buses will pull up, one behind the other," says Swail, who uses a white cane. "I can't see the route numbers, so by the time I figure out which bus is mine, I might miss it. The last bus in the row sometimes pulls out and passes the other two before I even get down to it."

In the context of an entire transit system, details like that might strike some as small, but Conan Cheung says his planners are trying to address them, if possible. A problem that irks many riders is that different buses traveling along the same streets often are scheduled to arrive at stops at about the same time.

Passengers boarding at the SDSU Transit Center tell me that the 955 bus commonly arrives immediately after the 11. From there both buses go west on Montezuma Road, diverging at the intersection with Collwood Boulevard. One woman told me that she can take either bus to that intersection, which is near her apartment, but she wishes the two buses left at different times so that she had more options for when she could depart SDSU. Fortunately, however, both the 11 and the 955 leave every 15 minutes during most of the day. The inconvenience is greater when service intervals are an hour or half hour. Even though three buses travel El Cajon Boulevard, on weekends riders still can wait 30 minutes to catch one -- and that's when the buses are running on time.

In regard to the upcoming route alterations, Point Loma Nazarene's Art Seamans takes a different approach than the one taken by the transit system. Instead of asking which routes attract the most riders, he wants to know how many different communities the various lines serve. Even though a small number of people ride it, Seamans identifies five different groups served by the Route 26 he takes to the university. Few professors ever ride the bus, he acknowledges, but a substantial number of students and university service workers do. The route also serves civilian workers and a small number of Navy personnel at the submarine base toward the southern end of Point Loma. Both tourists and locals can use the bus to reach Cabrillo National Monument at its tip. There are also visitors to the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery along the way. And many Spanish-speaking women, says Seamans, ride the 26 to houses they clean for Point Loma residents. Still, the transit agency considers the farthest extension of the route, beyond Sports Arena Boulevard, to be unproductive.

According to Conan Cheung, the Metropolitan Transit System earns approximately $73 million annually in operating revenues from fares and advertising it sells. Additionally, California's Transportation Development Act and the San Diego Association of Governments provide most of another $140 million in public money to help the local transit system to operate. The latter suggests that, as much as it wants to, the transit system cannot take a completely free-market approach to updating its plans. Perhaps that is why it does listen attentively to bus riders like Art Seamans. Already, after initially floating the idea of closing Route 26's extension to the end of Point Loma, the agency is now considering a compromise. According to Cheung, it will probably end up reducing only the frequency of trips the 26 makes to the end of the line.

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