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Mining the Gold Rush

by Christa Wagner

January 4,2005

Let me tell you something you probably don’t know. Public transportation is for hipsters. And because one’s hip quotient can never be too high, I decided to learn how to use the Charlotte bus system.

It is a dream. My first experience on the Charlotte Area Transit circulator service, the Gold Rush, happened the day I served on jury duty. I know, I know, dull civic duty stuff, but my jury service was, in fact, a day full of rewards. I didn’t get called in, for one. The jury coordinator was funny and showed us cool movies and gave us popcorn. I had a great book to read. But, most importantly, we got two hours off for lunch.

I used that stroke of luck to try out the Gold Rush. It happened quite by accident. I bundled up for the walk back to the Adam’s Mark hotel where I’d parked my car, in order to get to a meeting at Discovery Place I had hoped to attend that day. On the way to the parking lot, the Gold Rush rolled by. I thought, “Hmmm. I can spend a ridiculous amount of time and frustration trying to park on or near Tryon Street during the lunch hour or I can get on this magic bus that probably has the heat cranked up to 10 and ride my way to a more relaxed afternoon.”

Don’t say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The Gold Rush is 100 percent free. And don’t think I mean your tax dollars are secretly being squandered on daft progressive notions like public transportation. In the case of the Gold Rush, there’s a healthy public/private partnership keeping the program running, made possible by the well-placed support of many prominent Charlotte area businesses.

On the trip back, I gave myself a fair 20 minutes to get from Discovery Place to the courthouse. I hopped on the first bus that stopped in front of the museum. Oops, it was the red line and I needed the blue, which stops at Davidson and 3rd, one block up from my destination. I got off at the next stop to change lines, but ended up having to walk three blocks to the next blue line stop. I thought maybe my brilliant plan had backfired at this point, but no, the ever punctual bus rode up just as I was getting anxious and the most congenial driver told me she’d get right to it.

Of course, I was right on time.

I knew with such positive experiences under my belt there was no reason not to give the Gold Rush another dig.

Struck gold again! This time, I was leaving an after-hours meeting at the government center and needed to get to Gateway Village to meet a friend for dinner. He was coming in from the University area and, while I could have just gone back to my office for my car, I decided to get a ride with him after the meal. I consulted my route map and, voila!, the Gold Rush red line would be running up Trade Street until 10 p.m. and it was barely 8:15. I only waited three minutes before the next bus and the utmost friendly driver to take me to the restaurant.

As we approached, I pulled the rope to indicate a stop but asked the driver if there would be another stop closer up. No there wasn’t, she said, but offered to drop me door to door anyway. No reason to walk in the cold, she told me!

Door to door service? Friendly drivers! Free rides?! Anyone who deigns to call public transportation social engineering for crazy socialists might want to give the Gold Rush a try sometime.

It’s fun. It’s free. It’s fair. It’s friendly. And it’s driving the city in exactly the direction it should be going.

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