I’ve never owned a car, and I don’t plan on owning one in the near future. It was never a conscious choice to forgo a personal mode of transportation. However, years of sharing rides with friends and family and taking the bus during university left me reliant on a broader way of getting places. Sure, sometimes I do hate being carless, as there are times when it’d be much more convenient to have a car. But I feel this way of life has its own rewards which shouldn’t be overlooked when compared to the ones that come with owning a car.
I know friends and family members who don’t really understand public transport. I know they don’t because they’re afraid of it. These fears mainly stem from the chance of getting on the wrong route and ending up lost; the media portraying violence onboard, time constraints, and the stigma of unsanitary conditions on the subway, metro, bus, or train.
That’s just one part of it. The other parts, I’d like to shed light on in hopes of encouraging people to consider leaving their car behind and exploring another avenue of transport. First, let’s start with debunking the four fears I mentioned.
I’ll Get Lost
There’s a saying that you can’t find yourself until you get lost. There’s also another saying that the adventure doesn’t begin until something goes wrong. I don’t know if either of those sayings is comforting, but getting lost is not the worst thing that can happen to you. In fact, it gives you the opportunity to put your brain to work and solve a problem. Getting on the wrong bus does happen. I’ve been commuting via public transport for five years now, and I still haven’t figured it out, even with a smart phone and Google Maps now in the palm of my hand. (I am very directionally-challenged, though, so you’re looking at a living worst case scenario. If I can still get to a place on time, so can you!)
Even if you do get lost, you will find your way eventually. Have you ever known anyone to get stranded somewhere and just lie down and die? Most of you will say no. If you are lost, there are a number of things you can do to reorient yourself. If you have a smart phone, I highly recommend Google Maps. It’s saved me many times. If you don’t, ask the driver for help, call the service line, or ask someone at a bus stop.
If you have time and where you arrive is not too shady, I recommend exploring your unexpected destination. Because of my “sense” of direction, I’ve ended up going places and meeting people I wouldn’t have otherwise. Just recently (haha), I walked too far up Wilshire for an interview but had time to spare. I walked into an oriental antique shop situated in the back of a building and had a nice, 20-minute conversation with a kind old lady managing the place for her longtime boss and friend. Adventure, I tell you!
I Could Be Attacked
In my five years of taking public transport in Texas, California, New York, France, the UK, and Thailand, I have never seen the kind of violence the media often sensationalizes to keep you paranoid and suspecting every unstable-looking person you come across on the street. You must remember that these are exceptions to a much safer majority. Most people have no terrible ulterior motive. They, like you, are just looking to get to their destination.
Not to say I haven’t shared rides with crazies. I have, but the worst situation I’ve been in is having two people refuse to pay their $1.00 bus fare and holding the rest of the passengers up. Some barbs were thrown between them, the bus driver, and a frustrated father of a young baby girl, but that was about it. If a drunkard tries to make his or her way aboard, the bus driver will close the door and not let them in, simple as that. On the other side of the fence, I’ve also met interesting people while waiting for the bus. One man shared his story with me as we sat on the bench, telling me how he used to study models in magazines when he was 11 as a method of learning. He even drew part of my face beautifully and signed it before we parted ways. Pretty neat and sentimental, don’t you think?
Of course, you must be aware of your surroundings, and this holds true regardless of if you take public transport or a car. People are attacked in their cars because they stay in the parking lot fixing their hair with their doors unlocked. So, just be smart and you’ll be fine.
It’s A Time Suck
Sure, the downside of public transport is that in between where you board and where you want to get off, you have to visit every other stop so your fellow passengers may get going with their day. Sometimes the bus arrives late. Sometimes there’s terrible traffic and you’re on the bus twice as long. Time is money, darn it all, and you’d be at that museum already if you had just driven a car, right? Well, no one said you had to just sit there and watch your productivity go down the drain. Use the time you have as free time to do other things while you wait. Read a book, work on a puzzle, play a video game, call your mom, people watch, chat with a stranger, meditate, or listen to music. Those are just a few things I thought of right away. In America, we live in a society that is always go-go-go. We are stuck to phone screens, computer screens, and TV screens. Every once in a while, we’ll look up and remember there’s a sky above our heads.
Taking public transport slows you down, and a lot of the time, it’s in a good way. When you’re not the one at the wheel, you’re the one at the window. Make use of that free time.
It’s So Unsanitary
I’m sure we’ve all been in the scenario where you slide into the passenger seat and your friend sheepishly asks you not to judge the Starbucks cups, tissues, old magazines, dirty laundry, and what was once Pringles inhabiting the interior. I bet you don’t mind that because it’s a free ride and hey, you can’t judge because you can be sloppy sometimes too. Of course, not everyone is like that. Your friend probably doesn’t smell like they haven’t showered since the last millennium, either. Neither do most people on the bus. I have yet to contract a terrible disease from riding public transport (not holding my breath for it to happen, either). I really don’t know what else to say on this subject because it’s as simple as that.
Still Not Convinced?
If after all my counterpoints your hand is still hovering over your car door handle, let me ask that you consider a middle ground. Ridesharing is quickly becoming a popular alternative. Apps like Lyft allow you to request a ride from nearby drivers in the area who have been properly screened and approved for your convenience. You’ll pay about 70% of a cab fare to the same destination and make an interesting friend on the way as well.
Along with ridesharing, there is carpooling. Every day I watch people driving in their five-passenger cars and see only one person in there: the driver. Split gas and money (and consequently save some!) by riding with your friends or coworkers.
Lastly, if you live in a bike-friendly city, try commuting by bike. Cities like Santa Monica, California and Portland, Oregon have bike lanes and plenty of places to park your human-powered vehicle. I’ve biked in Santa Monica for several months and been perfectly fine. That was also my first time riding a bike on the streets, and believe me, I was afraid of getting doored or run over initially. Have a handy dandy helmet, reflector lights for the dark, look both ways, don’t bike like a crazy person, and your chances of getting into trouble become very low. You’ll also get in your recommended half hour of daily exercise. That’s awesome!
Public transport can be a very cheap, safe, convenient, and life-enhancing alternative to the daily drive. It comes with its cons as anything else does, but more people should consider using it when they can. It can help out not only your wallet, but also your community and environment. Give it a try. You may get an adventure.