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In Transit: When Taking a Bus Is Your Only Option on the Cape

Jennette Barnes
Simeon Spasov of Bulgaria and Florea Stefan of Romania have been taking the bus to get around Cape Cod since they arrived on J1 student visas to work for the summer.

Public transit can have many benefits. It’s affordable to ride and cuts down on pollution and traffic. But how practical is it in a less populated area, like Cape Cod? In Part 1 of a two-part story, CAI’s Jennette Barnes takes us on a bus trip, heading east from Hyannis to Orleans.

“Broad Reach at Liberty Commons!”

Driver Andrew Ianniello announces the stop as he applies the brake and opens the door.

A woman making her way off the bus turns to me — the one holding the microphone — and says, “Mention how really great the bus drivers are — what a good job they do every day.”

“You are the best,” the driver tells her. “I’ll give you that five bucks later."

They share a laugh, and he adds, “Have a good shift, hon."

Getting off the bus there is nurses' aide Karen DeSimone. She’s been riding for a decade, after her driver’s license lapsed when she had cancer.

Jennette Barnes
It can take 90 minutes for nurses' aide Karen DeSimone to commute from Hyannis to Chatham.

She says the bus works well overall. But congested roads on a summer afternoon can make her commute from Hyannis to Chatham take 90 minutes — way longer than the drive time of someone who just hops in a car.

“It takes at least twice as long,” she says. “Yes, because this route, as you've seen — we come from Hyannis and we stop in at the hospital; we stop in at the Stop & Shop in Yarmouth…”

She goes on.

All those stops mean she can’t always rely on the 1:30 to get to a shift that starts at 3. So in the summer, she boards the bus at 12:30 — a full two-and-a-half hours before work.

But let’s back up, to where this ride started, at the main bus terminal in Hyannis.

Stepping Aboard

The bus arrives late from its last run, and we start boarding the 12:30 at 12:51.

Riders wait on a covered walkway. There’s a man in line raising his voice for reasons that will soon be evident. And there are two younger men, talking quietly and wearing backpacks. They’re students here on J1 visas for the summer.

Florea Stefan of Romania says he’s already late for work, but the bus is usually more on time.

“It's better than in Europe in some ways,” he says. “How can I say it? It's a little faster. I mean, in Romania, you wait mostly 20 minutes more for a bus to come in. It's full, full, full. People stay bashed at the door.”

As we step onto the empty bus, it’s clear no one will be bashed against these doors.

But there will be a moment when it seems like things could come to blows in the back seat.

It happens just as student David Montes is saying he works seven days a week here to pay for a master’s program in mechanical engineering in Colombia.

“I'm starting at Saint Thomas University,” he says. “It's in Bogotá D.C.”

Jennette Barnes
David Montes is on Cape Cod for the summer on a J1 student visa, working to pay for his master's program in mechanical engineering in Bogota, Colombia.

Bogotá carries the same suffix as Washington D.C., only it stands for Distrito Capital.

“It's the capital,” he says as the driver suddenly interrupts, shouting “Hey!” loud enough to be heard in the back.

Ianniello stops the bus, gets up, and takes a step down the aisle.

“What’s going on?” he says.

Two men are sitting in the seats that span the bus’ back wall. One wants the other to move over, and they’re arguing.

“OK. No talking,” Ianniello says. “We’re a half-hour late already. I don’t want to have to stop — like my mother: ‘Don’t make me stop the car.’”

Actually they will make him stop the car. About 15 minutes later, loud-voice guy from the station gets ejected for foul language. He walks off holding what looks like a bottle in a paper bag, which he must have been concealing before.

But the story of buses on Cape Cod isn’t about incidents like that.

It’s about riders like Patricia Nelson Morris, who comes from Jamaica to work on the Cape for the season.

Getting to Work

“I live in Hyannis, but I used to live in Chatham where I used to work,” she says. “But my workplace was sold, so I got to come to Hyannis.”

Jennette Barnes
Patricia Nelson Morris comes from Jamaica to work on Cape Cod for the season. She lives in Hyannis and commutes to Chatham to do housekeeping.

She does housekeeping in Chatham and has a second job in fast food. She depends on the bus, along with some taxis and her own two feet.

For some people, though, the traditional bus routes just don’t fit.

Laurel Rose of Hyannis takes a taxi to work at a nursing home, even though it costs more.

“I'm on West Main, and I work on Route 28, so I have to use a taxi to go,” she says. “So I only ride the bus when I'm on my day off.”

Local bus service is run by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. The Transit Authority has made an effort to solve the problem of limited routes with a dial-a-ride service called DART, which pools riders in small vehicles to reach off-route destinations.

Reservations, though, are required.

Transit Authority Administrator Tom Cahir said service is evolving with the new SmartDART app, which allows rides on-demand in certain areas.

“There are still a few pockets on the Cape that are a little bit more challenging, up on 6A in certain areas,” he said. “But the DART and the SmartDART has really changed that perception that you can't get to where you need to go efficiently. You can.”

Of course, most of the regular buses only run once an hour. So if something unexpected happens — like the bus clips a car going down a narrow street — riders may still get to their destination late.

More on that — and some new bus-tracking technology — in part 2 of our story.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.