Five Reasons Why I Love Public Transportation

by Xin Lu on 29 February 2008 25 comments

When I lived in Berkeley I loved taking public transportation, and since I was such a bus aficionado I did not learn to drive until I was 20. I knew several bus routes by heart and traveled all around the San Francisco Bay via busses or the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Right now I live in San Mateo where the public transit is not as prevalent, and I really miss the days when I got everywhere with a bus pass. Since I am feeling nostalgic today I am going to write down why I love public transportation, and I hope I can live in a place with a lot of public transit again.

1. You see different people everyday - Maybe I am just weird, but I find watching and listening to people on the bus to be rather interesting. Sometimes I even talked to the bus driver and other random people. I guess the travel experience is just not as lonely as driving because there are other people with you. Once in a while I would see a neighbor or friend, and it was always fun to chat in person.

2. Public transit helps the environment
- This is true for areas with high population density. If everyone in the Bay Area that rides the train or bus everyday drove instead then this place will probably have unbreathable air and the traffic would be even more horrendous than it already is now. When you ride the bus or train you are sharing resources with your community, and that cuts down on pollution.

3. You can use your travel time for leisure - On a bus or train you can read a book, play a game, or even chat with your friends on the computer if internet is available. When you drive you have to concentrate on driving. I read many books when I was a bus rider, and also got really familiar with the main routes of the cities around the Bay just by watching the bus routes. It is also pretty relaxing to just take a little nap.

4. Public transit makes you exercise more - I firmly believe that I gained quite a bit of weight over the last couple years because I drive everyday. In the days when I rode the bus I walked more than a mile each day to and from the bus stop or train station. Unless the bus stop is right in front of your house, you generally have to walk a little bit, and that bit of exercise could mean 10 to 15 pounds over the years.

5. Car ownership is generally more expensive - The amount of money needed to purchase a car can generally finance public transit fees for years. Many workplaces also give incentives for public transportation such as discounted passes or reimbursements. Many large companies here in the South Bay also have free bus and train passes under their EcoPass program. The savings are quite significant over months and years.

Of course, there are many inconveniences associated with public transportation. For example, a lot of busses are often late, and go on roundabout routes. There are also crazy bus drivers that do not stop when requested, and also scary passengers that you want to get away from. Sometimes a bus could be so crowded that you can barely breathe. However, most of the times my experiences have been pleasant. I still use public transit from time to time to go to San Francisco because parking is nearly impossible in that city. I also take the BART train to the airport because it costs about 1/10 the amount of hiring a taxi. So even if you cannot part with your car, taking public transit can save you money if you take it occasionally. What about you? Are you a fan or hater of public transit?

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Guest's picture
Susan

I too have come a fan of public transportation. Mostly, I decided to take the bus at least once a week because of the cost. I can ride the 42 miles to work for $1.25 each way. With the price of gas going up rapidly, I am definitely getting my money's worth - and I have lots of time to read!

Thanks for the post!

Guest's picture
Minimum Wage

Gangbangers, drug dealers, and assorted criminals can hop on our trains and ride to and from the scene of the crime(s) for free since there are no pesky turnstiles or fare collectors to deal with. (There ARE fare inspectors but they are encountered rarely.)

The center of the local drug trade is conveniently located in our downtown free transit zone.

Not just one, but TWO shopping malls in the free zone!

Convenient "Park and Ride" lots allow you free parking close to home while you ride the train to work and car prowlers steal valuables from your car.

Riders get a better sense of just how much human flotsam and jetsam there is out there.

Guest's picture
Roger in Miami Gardens

Wow, Minimum Wage, you seem so paranoid. I utilize public transportation everyday in -- what's considered to be -- one of the most dangerous regions in the nation: South Florida, and I've never felt threatened. I feel less secure leaving my car at the mall than at a park and ride. Frankly, I feel less safe driving...Period.

Mile for mile, public transportation is safer by far than driving. Okay, so every now and then, an unsavory character may sit next to you. So what? That's life. If they disturb you, just loudly tell them that you're not interested. If they don't back down, simply switch seats.

I'm so tired of people using silly situations as an excuse not to use transit. Thousands upon thousands of motorists AND pedestrians get mamed, crushed and DIE in accidents every year in this country, yet people still jump into their metal traps and bitch and moan when there's traffic or when gas prices skyrocket, but they'd never sit next to a smelly person on a bus? I don't get it. It's not logical. Then again, we're talking about a country where 72% of the population believes that some sun god is going to return to earth on a cloud...So, my bad.

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Guest

You totally live in Cleveland.

Guest's picture
ACWang

Quite frankly, compared to Europe, the public transportation in the US sucks big time. Seems like the government is more interested in building superhighways than develop a robust public transportation system.

Having lived in Germany and France for 4 years, I never had the need to purchase a car. Everything was so convenient, cheap and on-time. I just buy one monthly ticket and I can use the buses, trams, subways and trains.

I also lived in Illinois, and Georgia for 2 years, the public transpo downtown is ok. But unfortunately, I still need a car to go to most of the necessary places.

Guest's picture
Guest

When I lived in St. Louis, I worked just inside city limits and parking at my workplace was $30 a month, but then, about six months before I left, MetroLink passes were free. Both my home and work were within a few blocks of the MetroLink, and riding only took 15-20 minutes where driving took 10-15.

Guest's picture

I wish all of the United States had good transportation like they do in Europe. When we lived there for a few years I loved taking the bus and train all over the place. Every few blocks you would see some sort of bus or train stop.

Guest's picture
Mindmoo

I totally agree with all of the reasons you gave for using public transportation. Another advantage to using it is your company may reimburse you (like mine does) for your tickets. Or you can enroll in a program where they automatically deduct the cost of the ticket from your pre-tax dollars. But I liked reason #1 the best - people watching!

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Yeah, I really think that the US needs better public transit. When I lived in Honolulu, Hawaii the public transit was much more advanced because it is a tourist town and there were busses everywhere. In the Bay Area the public transit sort of thins out once you get past San Francisco. San Francisco has a lot of public transit but the MUNI bus is kinda of scary and they rip you off on those trolleys. They did an investigative report of how bad some MUNI drivers are and the videos were frightening. I really like AC Transit, which serves the Alameda and Contra Costa counties, but I don't live there anymore. :(:(

Guest's picture
Hannah

I recently moved from Berkeley, CA to Maine (yes, by choice) and aside from the food, which I really really miss, I miss mass transit the most. There is a very limited van service for getting around town, and almost no bus system unless you count Greyhound.

Guest's picture

Sob! I miss San Francisco's public transit system, too! Oh, to be able to get to work on a bus or streetcar in a reasonable amount of time and in a safe and halfway tolerable environment!

When you live in a city whose designers (read "developers") purposely build in sprawl, public transit becomes a great deal less functional. Inspired by free bus passes doled out by Our Beloved Employer, I tried taking the bus to work.

The twenty-minute trip took TWO HOURS AND TEN MINUTES from the bus stop near my house! The bus had no springs, and its route followed the path of a lightrail construction project the city is engaged in, so that using the two hours to do office work was flat out of the question. Passengers were banged, thumped, and tossed every inch of the way.

And because no one who can afford a junker and hasn't had her or his driver's license suspended for DUI will take the bus, the people-watching was less than ideal. We got to listen to a mentally ill gentleman try to convince one of his voices, at the top of his lungs, that the landlord was evicting the voice. We saw a wide array of prison tattoos. And we felt terrible for a man in a wheelchair who pooped his diapers, filling the interior of the bus with a rich toilet perfume until he got off.

After the two-hour trip, I was let off about a half-mile from my office--this particular bus does not go to the huge bus stop right in front of the university. Since I normally use the disabled parking, this was a bit of a hike with a computer in hand. Oh well.

On the way home, I was panhandled three times at the bus stop and hit up for a cigarette by another passenger. What the heck. At least the smoker was an interesting conversationalist.

A week after this adventure, a woman was abducted and raped from the bus stop near my house where I'd stood waiting 30 minutes.

Never again! I'll cheerfully pay $5 a gallon before I undertake another trip like that.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

hahhahaha...Funny about Money your comment made me laugh so hard I woke up my husband who was sleeping in the other room. "rich toilet perfume" hahahah.. I'm forwarding  your comment to my friends.

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Looby

I really like public transport for the most part, it has always worked for me, I've never owned my own vehicle. Here in Vancouver, I can take two extra adults or one extra adult and 4 children for free with my ticket on Sundays or holidays, it's great way for a cheap day out. Of course as you stated there are times when you are left standing in the rain waiting, or the person next to you starts cutting their toe nails (actually happened) and you wish you had a car, but mostly I love it. And no car will get me everywhere I need to go for $70 a month.

Guest's picture
Guest

I recently had to use the bus a lot here, and it's pretty good. Some lines are overcrowded, though, and could use extra buses. In the middle of the city, bus service is as almost good as San Fran's. The cost is high if you don't get a pass.

The commute to work takes a few minutes longer. Shopping is a little more work. I got more exercise, that's for sure.

The main thing I notice is that the bus is a little less stressful than driving. It's like an enforced break, so I'll read something. When you're driving, you have to pay attention. With the traffic so bad, you have to be alert for 30 minutes to an hour, typically. On the bus, you just zone out.

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Miche1987

I absolutely agree with the reasons you gave! I love taking the bus everywhere, especially since my company gives me a monthly pass for free. :)

Comparatively speaking, however, public transit in Cincinnati is likely among the worst (or so I've heard anyway, and I don't doubt it)...it's more the routing and schedules than anything. I used to be able to catch a bus right in front of my house and transfer to the express bus downtown...now, I have to walk about 3 miles with no sidewalk to get to the bus. But then again, as you mentioned that provides a lot of exercise, and I'd probably be a lot fatter than I already am if not for that. ;)

Guest's picture
The Bum

I like the everyday pleasantries and interaction with the drivers and other passengers. Of course there are occasionally unpleasant people about, but on the whole, people are surprisingly nice to one another on public transportation. It certainly leaves you feeling less alienated from people than speeding along isolated in a plastic and metal box.

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Cindy M

I tell myself when my 1999 Suzuki Esteem quits running for good, that's it for me and cars, at least regarding buying another new one. I deliberately bought my house close to a bus stop and live within walking distance of most of what I need. Where I live isn't anywhere near as scenic as San Francisco but I plan to give it a go at least. I keep telling myself that on one of my days off, I'm gonna hop on the one closest to me and take it all the way to wherever it goes. Would be nice to be able to be a passenger for a change. Anyway, I'm prepared and have one of those "old-lady" wheeled carriers I picked up years ago at a garage sale. My family laughs at me for even thinking this way but I love the idea of paying off my one outstanding bill (the mortgage and truly being debt free from here on out.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

I live in Syracuse NY- and our public transportation requires a bit of planning ahead.

For instance- I need to schedule my morning around when I can get the bus versus thinking I can grab one whenever the mood strikes. Getting home at night means leaving exactly on time- or planning when the next bus is coming. Its worth the effort to me to not have the second car payment, upkeep costs, etc.

The only hardship per se is when I might have the random sick day and need to leave. This is when my savings from not having a car payment gets spent on a quick cabride home. Regardless- its way cheaper to pay for a random cab once in a blue moon than for all the other costs a second car would mean.

Then there's the wonderful downtime I get between work and home. I use it to do some hand sewing and embroidery-- some of which I have sold at craft fairs.

Guest's picture
JIm

The Green Bay, Wisconsin area has the worst bus service! The city leaders created a bus system that sends every bus downtown to a bus terminal.

A ride from a suburb to another suburb that is right next to each other is routed downtown making an 1 1/2 hour ride one way. If the buses overlapped the ride would be 15 minutes.

So we have 15 busses overlapping streets in downtown running 1/3 full that serve 50% of the metro area. I even tried writing the Bus Authority. They took it under advisement (ignore the crackpot).

I would love to use public transportation but cannot afford 3 hours out of my day to get to and from work.

Guest's picture
Roger in Miami Gardens

JIm, why not move an area where public transportation is more plentiful?

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Alice

While I love the freedom that my car gives me to come and go as I please on my own schedule, I really enjoyed having public transportation while I had it. I love having someone else behind the wheel while my mind relaxes. I love to people watch. I love to stare out the windows. It just gives you more down time before and after work to be on your own and pursue your interests. Read a book, sketch, let your mind idle about as you pass cities, daydream... Do whatever you want during the travel time and you won't be so harried after all the traffic once you get to work.

Guest's picture
Roger in Miami Gardens

Alice, are you sure about that? Cars do not give you freedom to go and come as you please because I'm sure you have traffic where you live. The ultimate freedom to me is walking or bicycling. Cars only give us the freedom to pollute. That so-called "freedom" that everyone refers to is an advertising gimmick that the auto industry has been using for decades to cojole people into buying cars. I don't want you to get the impression that I'm picking on you, but we -- as a society -- need to change our way of thinking. We need to let go off the outdated notions that were forced on us by corporate America and packaged as being a "necessity". Owning a car is not a necessity for -- at least -- 75% of Americans. If we most of us were to sit down and TRULY assess how we live and where we choose to work, we would be surprised how most of the things we deem as "necessities" would be laughable.

Guest's picture
PTFan

Another thing I really like about public transportation is not having to park a car. Living in SF, parking can be a real nightmare. I work near Pier 39 (a main tourist attraction) and all-day parking ranges from $20 to $35 depending on which lot you pick. Street parking is even more troublesome. I often say that I take MUNI (city bus system) just to let the drivers do the parking.

Guest's picture

Hi Xin, I like riding the bus. I'm an outgoing person, and I see each bus ride as a chance to have some fun and meet some interesting people. I almost always get a neat story, a joke, or an interesting and useful way of looking at life. I feel that I have grown as a person my riding public transportation.

Guest's picture
Rahul

Very interesting post. I have a nice car, but I still love using public transport! The reason is, it is impossible to find parking in Chicago and even if I do find parking, it costs up to $50! I'm not a bus fan, but I LOVE riding the Metra and CTA trains. When travelling within the US, I try to take the Amtrak - it's so cheap and quick.