"Ride the bus to the game? Are you %@! crazy?"
That's the first response I got when I suggested taking LSU's new Tiger Transit system to the LSU-Mississippi State game.
Ride the bus? Whose idea was this anyway? Skip Bertman's? Chancellor Mark Emmert's? One motorhome front row lunatic even suggested it was my idea. Give me a break.
Regardless of whose idea it was, it seems to be working. The number of fans riding has increased each week, up to 1,300 for the ULL game on Baton Rouge's CTC buses and about 800 more on charter buses. Officials estimate that means almost 1,000 fewer cars on campus – exactly the goal Bertman set for the first year.
CTC is operating 45 buses and vans and expects to add more for the remaining games. When you lose 60 percent of your grass lots because of rain, as LSU did for the ULL game, Tiger Transit becomes even more critical.
After last season, Emmert made a commitment to reduce damage done to campus by fans on game day and even came up with a clever way to fund it – by adding $1 to the price of each football ticket sold. Sort of a user tax, if you will.
LSU added parking lots, protected landscaping and encouraged fans to take the bus by providing premium parking space. The changes were met with vocal opposition from some fans and skepticism by others.
To judge how well it's working, I decided to ride the bus for the Mississippi State game, fully expecting some inconvenience. Here's what I found:
10:25 a.m. -- Arriving at the Pastime, we're directed inside to buy tickets by CTC staff. Credit goes to the Pastime for providing tents for shade and signs marking Tiger Transit stops.
At the door, The Advocate sportswriter Sam King was visiting with fans, while inside a Pastime employee grumbled about selling bus tickets instead of food. But not everyone was ready for hot sausage po-boys and beer.
10:32 a.m. -- Back outside, we're joined by a steady stream of fans boarding the bus within minutes.
10:37 a.m. – On our way, it's amazing how relaxed people are when they're not behind the wheel inching through traffic. And the buses had cranked up the A/C to provide a welcome blast of cool air on a hot day.
11:00 a.m. -- We stepped off the bus in Lot C to Debbie Moore, CTC's General Manager, directing traffic.
With one elevator on the East Side out of order, we actually spent more time in line to get to the suites than we did on the bus, but still were in our seats before kick-off at 11:37 a.m.
3:15 p.m. – After the game, we visit friends along South Stadium Drive, and head to the buses, where CTC drivers hold signs showing their destination and LSU's Nancy Mann joins Moore to make sure buses are given priority in exiting campus. Give these people credit -- they're working hard to make it work.
3:30 p.m. – Our bus filled quickly, pulled out and in ten minutes we were back at the Pastime.
Every time I told someone I rode the bus, they said, "I'd do that but…." followed by some fear of inconvenience. So for those of you with doubts, here's what I learned:
Check www.LSUsports.net for Tiger Transit schedules, prices and locations. It didn't adjust when kick-off time changed, so be sure to click through to the CTC site for updated information.
The first shuttles leave five minutes after the second half kickoff, for those of you who have had enough fun.
After that, buses start leaving whenever they get a reasonable load. In other words, if it's a blowout or starts to rain and you want to leave, odds are others will, too.
The last buses don't leave until the Tiger Band has left the stadium, so if you like to stay and hear the band play, no problem.
The CTC staff is at the top of their game. They know this is probably your first exposure to our public transportation system and they want it to be a good one. After all, they have a tax proposal on the November ballot to help stabilize the financially struggling system, and they're hoping people realize the value of having a viable bus system.