Public transportation worth a re-think
Public transportation has a reputation in much of North America as being for kids and poor people. This erroneous idea seems to be more common in small to medium-sized cities, where the public transportation networks are less developed than in really large cities. In very large urban centres, on the other hand, public transportation is sometimes the only practical and affordable means of transportation for (financially) average people. Obviously, if where you live determines whether it is even possible or, conversely, absolutely necessary, to use public transportation, then the decision has already been made. For those of you who have the option, but maybe haven’t considered it recently, here are some reasons why you should think again about taking public transportation.
Benefits of public transportation
- Money Taking public transportation is not “cheap”. I still have to swallow hard when I fork over almost $100 every month for a pass. (And, yes, I know, this would be considered a great deal in some places, but it’s still a lot of money.) But with gas, car maintenance, insurance, and parking fees on the other side of the equation, public transportation is the far cheaper alternative. The fact is that moving yourself around the city on a daily basis is expensive. In addition to these obvious costs, daily wear and tear on a vehicle means that you will have to replace your vehicle sooner than if you left it parked most of the day. In our family, me taking public transportation to work has allowed us to stay a one-car family, which allows us to double-up on a lot of these savings. Lastly, there is a federal tax credit in Canada for taking public transportation, so save your bus passes and receipts for tax time!
- Stress In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a lot of other drivers on the road. Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, some of them are really bad at driving. Given a choice of dealing with other people’s dangerous driving habits myself, or letting a professional driver deal with them while I reflect, read, or doze in the back of a bus is one of the easier decisions in life.
- Weather The worse the weather, the happier I am to let somebody take care of the driving. True, there are a handful of days every winter when the weather is so bad that the busses run late, and making connections can be a nightmare, but those days are relatively few overall. Remember that even though the busses may be running behind, there are still the same number of busses on the road, so as long as they’re all running half an hour late, things should even out after a while. In theory, anyway. Also, with the ever-increasing presence of technology, there are more and more ways to check the arrival time of the next bus online, minimizing the amount of time you need to spend waiting in the cold.
- Exercise Your car is undoubtedly closer to your home than the nearest bus stop, so even if it’s only a three minute walk to the bus stop, you’re still getting some exercise. I find that getting out into the air and getting the blood pumping is a good way to get myself ready for the day. When I was in grad school, I walked about three kilometres to the university, and it was often the best part of my day. Personally, I find that getting exercise in my daily routine is far more effective than trying to schedule dedicated exercise time.
- Efficiency This point depends a lot on where you live, but public transportation can actually be a much faster way to get around a crowded city. If your city has bus lanes and/or preferential traffic lights, busses can often whip past long lines of passenger vehicles, especially at rush hour. If you can take a train, you have absolute priority, so no amount of traffic is going to slow you down.
- Environment Twenty people in one large vehicle has to be better for the environment than twenty people in twenty smaller vehicles. Some people would have put this factor first on their list. I put it here because I have to be honest and say that this is not one of the major factors for me. It’s good that I’m lowering the average per capita pollution in my city rather than raising it, but that isn’t my primary motivation, and it would be hypocritical to pretend that it is. Regardless of the size of my halo, however, the effect is the same.
What’s old is new again – for me, anyway
After driving everywhere I could from the time I was old enough, I rediscovered public transportation when I was living in Germany. At first, I wasn’t pleased when I realized that I was going to have to take a twenty-minute train ride twice a day to get to and from work. My opinion changed when I saw what I called “the world’s longest parking lot” day after day beside the train. The sign said “Autobahn”, but all I saw was kilometre after kilometre of people sitting in their cars, trying not to get frustrated as the train flew by. In my other stops around the world, the public transportation networks weren’t nearly as well-developed or efficient, and that was a major letdown.
Since I returned home, I have taken the bus and/or train to work downtown every day. I have to admit that I have an ideal setup; I can walk from my home to the train, which takes me right to work, so I don’t have to make any connections. Where I live, trains run more frequently than busses, so I never have to wait more than ten minutes for the next one.
I realized this past winter how much public transportation has become a part of how I think. On a particularly cold and snowy day, my colleagues were discussing how treacherous and slow their journeys to work had been. It occurred to me as I told them about my commute that it honestly hadn’t even occurred to me that people might have trouble getting to work. I tried not to sound smug, but I was. I really, really was.