As your typical well-to-do professionals, my wife and I rely heavily on our cars to get us around our lovely town of Austin, Texas. Putting up with the stressful rush hour traffic, dumb drivers and high gas prices is the norm. Recently, however, I rode the bus downtown to take care of some business one day. It was such a pleasant experience and served as a reminder of how much I enjoy public transportation. It also got me thinking about my experiences with public transportation which I will share with you.
I suppose my appreciation of public transportation began in Dallas, Texas in my early teens when my buddy (who I will protect by not naming) and I took the bus downtown. We walked around a bit, ate at McDonald’s and some guy tried to sell us drugs. It doesn’t seem too terribly exciting looking back, but for a couple of young teens it was a heck of a lot better than going to the arcade (this was back in the early eighties). I recently spoke to my friend about our little adventure – he doesn’t remember the McDonald’s or the guy trying to peddle drugs. I think he’s confusing it with a trip we took downtown a few years later for that rite of passage known as purchasing fake IDs. Or, maybe I’m the one with the poor memory. In either case, the significance for me back then was that I could go to a local destination without having to rely on my parents to drive me. For the small cost of the bus fare, I could just go – no excuses. Today, I’m happy to see that the public transportation system in Dallas has grown to include light rail. On a recent visit to Dallas, I caught a story on the local news about how light rail ridership had increased so much due to rising gas prices that they had to modify the rail cars to handle more riders. This success proves wrong the early opponents who fought hard against light rail in Dallas.
During a trip to Europe in 1992, I found a sense of freedom and excitement traveling around the continent and within cities via train, bus and ferry. Not having a car to get you places forces you to operate at a slower pace. Operating at a slower pace is what vacations are all about, isn’t it? Well, for my wife and her family I suppose vacations aren’t necessarily about slowing down, but for me they are. If I’m lucky, I’ll lose track of time for a while. When I visit my sister in Montreal, Canada, I absolutely refuse to rent a car. Montreal drivers are pretty crazy, and I’d rather not deal with that stress. Montreal has a great public transit system — the metro (subway) and bus can get me anywhere I want to go.
About ten or so years ago when I moved to Austin, Texas, I had a job downtown. My employer did not pay for parking which, at that time, cost around $2 per day. On my help desk wages, those parking fees could really add up. The number 19 bus route went right in front of my apartment complex, so I decided to give it a shot. Though I had to sacrifice some sleep to make it to the bus stop early enough, I still found it to be a pleasant experience. I used my time on the bus to sleep, read, talk to people or just stare out the window and meditate — no dealing with a stressful commute. For $10 a month, I purchased a bus pass that allowed unlimited use on most routes. I saved money on gas and probably added one year of life to the clunker that I drove at the time. I was able to take the bus for several months until my company relocated across town which forced me to get behind the wheel again.
I really enjoyed taking the bus downtown for work. It was also during this time, however, that I was reminded of the fact that riding the bus has a stigma associated with it in many people’s eyes, especially (and unfortunately) from those in my same socio-economic class. Many people think I’m a odd, and they would be right in most cases — but not with regard to riding the bus. Is it because I live in the state of Texas with it’s love of trucks and urban sprawl? I don’t think so. Even my family members in Montreal don’t take advantage of the first-class public transportation available to them. I believe it’s partly related to our collective lifestyle these days — people are in a hurry and they want to get to where they are going quickly even if it means putting up with idiot drivers. I honestly think that people are afraid of downtime these days. They don’t want to be alone with themselves for an extended period of time. Sadly, I also believe that many look down upon those who use public transportation. Recently, I told someone that I rode the bus, and his first reply was “how did it smell?”. Of course, I understood what he was talking about — there are some smelly people on the bus, but so what. There are smelly individuals that I have to put up with at work as well. I suppose those with the means to provide their own transportation don’t really want to go back to the slower pace of public transportation. That mixed with a little snobbery for not wanting to associate with members of a lower socio-economic class explains why some are afraid of public transportation. Personally, I find that public transportation suits my introverted personality just fine. I’m always looking for an excuse to stop and think. I absolutely need my down time and riding the bus serves that purpose.
For those on the fence, there are some good reasons to forget about your car and use your city’s public transportation once in a while:
Save money on gas. Need I say more? If you haven’t realized that gas prices are skyrocketing you either already take the bus, or you never will. For everyone else, using public transportation even once in a while can save you money while reducing our reliance on foreign oil.
Help the environment. If living green is important to you, using public transportation more frequently can help you make a difference in reducing hydrocarbon emissions.
Reduce stress. You can relax because someone else is doing the driving. It’s going to take you longer to get to your destination, but that is the beauty of it. Slow down and relax a little. Riding the bus downtown on the weekend is like a mini vacation for me. You don’t have to worry about the difficulty of finding (and probably paying for) a parking space — you can focus instead on what sites you want to visit or what restaurants you want to try. I particularly enjoy the fact that my wife and I can have a few drinks together since neither one of us has to drive home. Riding the bus also forces you to exercise more as you will most likely have to do more walking. Also, most bus routes in Austin cater to cyclist by offering bike racks – very cool.
The future of public transportation in the Austin area is looking bright. Commuter rail operation will begin sometime this year and with the first line going from Leander (north of Austin) to downtown Austin. Future lines are planned plus a commuter rail line between Austin and San Antonio — all desperately needed. I was surprised to see the one-month bus pass is still only $10, however, according to Austin’s transit authority, Capital Metro, this may soon increase (along with the other fares) to $18 – still a bargain if you ask me.
To show my appreciation of Austin’s public transportation system, I’ve decided to offer Capital Metro some slogans they can use to get people to ride the bus. Here they are:
Get Drunk and Ride the Bus (Just Don’t Get So Drunk That You Annoy Your Fellow Passengers and/or Get Arrested for Public Intoxication)
Live Green and Save Green – Ride the Bus
Don’t Be a Putz, Ride the Bus
Aroma Therapy Starting at 50 cents (or Free if You’re a Student)
Riding the Bus is Good for the Soul
Sleep Through Your Morning Commute – Ride the Bus
Don’t Hassle with Downtown Parking – Ride the Bus
Get Your Daily Meditation – Ride the Bus
OK, so I’m not quite ready to begin my copywriting career.
RIDE THE BUS!