Public Transportation for Dummies

light rail public transportation

The other day on the light rail I sat near a woman. Let’s call her Sally Jesse. Sally Jesse spun her head around every time we stopped, asked everyone around her what station we were at, and promptly swiveled around to stare at the roadmap. Then a full 3 stops before Sally Jesse made her exit, she went and hovered around the door to make sure she wouldn’t miss her stop. Unfortunately, the driver made a somewhat abrupt stop in which she almost fell over because she wasn’t very good at light rail surfing. First timer.

She isn’t alone. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) 30% of transit riders in 2007 reported that it was their first year riding. It’s a great option for commuters to consider and heres why.

Increase the lifespan of your car: Stop and go traffic is really hard on your vehicle. The constant acceleration and deceleration puts undue stress on your engine and wears down your brakes.

Saves gas: Let the government cover your gas money by hopping a ride with everyone else. You can also feel good about yourself for going green.

Say buh-bye to rush hour: Remember that scene in Mission Impossible 3 where Tom Cruise pretended he worked for the Department of Transportation and said that you could see the ripple of one car braking for miles? “Traffic has a memory,” he said. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to get away from the constant waves of brakes? I’m sure the people on MARTA chuckle to themselves as they pass the mess of humanity called Atlanta rush hour.

Save some money: Just looking at gas, public transportation was less expensive for my husband and I even if we carpooled. And it’s not just cheap professional students who are getting in on the savings from riding public transportation. The APTA report noted 10% of riders have a household income breaking 6 figures.

Give yourself some extra time: My husband has gone through his whole MCAT prep book solely during his commute this semester. Imagine what sort of books or newspaper reading can get done when you don’t have focus on the road.

Let’s say you are like Sally Jesse and are a little bit inexperienced at riding. Here are some things to get you started

Do some research online: Virtually every city has pricing, maps, and times listed on their website to give you and idea of what you need.

Call someone: Personally I’m a little bit lazy when it comes to researching routes. Many cities have 800 numbers to call and an operator can tell you exactly what, bus, metro, or light rail stops you need.

Be prepared for the walk: I see it all the time downtown. Suits with tennis shoes. It’s a funny sight, but functional. For a stop a couple of blocks away from school or work, I couldn’t imagine going any other way. Walking a couple of blocks can really be annoying in nice work shoes or heels for the ladies. Just be sure to keep an umbrella handy.

During your ride: Listen to your favorite podcast on your ipod, bring the book you’ve been meaning to get to, read the newspaper, or get your Sudoku fix out of the way. Personally, I mentally run through what I want to get done that day. You may find that your commute is somewhat relaxing. It sure beats coming home frusturated from the rush hour battle home.

If you live in an area with good public transportation, go ahead and run through the numbers. Try a test run even. Is commuting less stressful? What’s the timing like? Can you see yourself doing this everyday? Do you save money? If you have to commute, the switch to letting someone else do the driving may really work for you.

Image courtesy of Lance McCord

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13 Responses to Public Transportation for Dummies

  1. scfr says:

    Great post.

    It’s also a great way to get around when on vacation, if the city you are visiting has good public transit. It saves you the cost of a rental, and also saves you the stress of driving in unfamiliar surroundings.

    I used public transit on a recent trip to Washington DC, and it was a huge money and sanity saver.

  2. Teri says:

    Unfortunately public transportation is mostly cost prohibitive where I live. We rarely use it. (Yes, gas prices and all). I have looked into it many times.

    That being said, I was thinking the same thing as scfr. We pretty much always use public transportation when we travel. I am always amazed at cheap and efficient public transportation. NY, DC, Boston, Japan. Even San Francisco is not so bad (though on the other hand much more expensive and limited than say NY). The rest of California can learn from something from these other cities.

  3. Joan.of.the.Arch says:

    On my NPR affiliate radio station this morning a rep from the public transit system was trying to make the case that our buses are a good place to meet dates and mates. ~~Paint me skeptical.~~ Maybe once there is a better cross section of the population that would be the case, but not right now. We are not a bus and train using city for the most part.

  4. Free From Broke says:

    I’m in NYC and public transportation is my best option. It’s not always great but still better than driving in and paying for parking. It also gives me time to read. In fact most of my reading is done on the bus or train. And I also get to take morning and afternoon naps (hour-plus commute).

  5. DeltaTango says:

    Don’t forget that you save yourself from doing the daily epic quest of finding a free parking lot.

  6. Minimum Wage says:

    Some transit systems have an online trip planner where you can enter origin and destination addresses (or even intersections and major buildings and other landmarks) and get up to three transit routes you can take (e.g. walk to this corner, take that bus, get off at this stop, walk three blocks west to your destination).

    Some employers provide transit passes as a tax-preferenced benefit the same way some employers provide paid parking, (This benefit, up to a certain amount, is an allowable business expense for the employer and tax-free for the employee.)

  7. Rebecca says:

    Volunteers from the transit advocacy group will demonstrate the new website to office workers in the downtown Peachtree Center Mall. The Internet tool shows people the easiest ways to get around Atlanta on transit, bicycle and foot.

    The downtown demonstration will give members of the media an opportunity to take pictures, sound or video of people trying out the Trip Planner. It will also be an opportunity for “Man on the Street

  8. Rebecca says:

    A-TRAIN – The new way to get around Atlanta.

    Citizens for Progressive Transit is bursting with pride as we launch the A-TRAIN Online Trip Planner to help Atlantans get around by transit, bicycle and on foot.

    Experience it yourself at http://trip.atltransit.com

    Citizens for Progressive Transit will demonstrate A-TRAIN, its new online tool to help Atlantans get out of traffic, on Wednesday, November 28, 2007.

  9. getforfree says:

    It would work ok for people with no kids and those who can allow to spend an hour or more for commute. It would take extra time for walking because you can’t walk 30 or more miles an hour, plus bus or train goes much slower than a car. I don’t have that much time. The less time I spend traveling the more time I can work. Even if one hour of work will pay more than I would spend on gas, it’s better to use a car. Plus you don’t have to worry about rain and cold. It might cost more to drive a car only if you have to pay for parking or if you have a payment every month, but thats a different story, I don’t see a reason to finance a fast-depriciating things anyways.

    Forgot your sweater? it’s ok, you will be inside of the car or inside of the building the whole time anyways.
    When you use car, you can arrive to work 5 minutes before you start and don’t waste any time, when you depend on public transportation, you might get there 30 minutes or more early, and time is money.
    You can also stop at the grocery store (or 2 or 3 different stores) on your way and buy the discount items you need, and if you are walking, you will have to shop in the nearest store which might not have the best price on the items you need, unless you want to carry 20 lbs or more food in your hands the whole time you are walking and waiting for the bus.

  10. Allison says:

    It would work ok for people with no kids and those who can allow to spend an hour or more for commute.

    I live in St. Louis and take the bus and train everywhere. I see many people with a child or two on Metrolink and the bus, including kids in strollers. Many of the “cool” streets that are full of restaurants and boutiques are served by light rail and/or bus, and transit near those often are packed with families. When my friend visited from Pittsburgh, we took her family to Turtle Park via the bus. The stop was a block from our condo, the baby was in the stroller cooing, and the three-year-old was excited to ride. We walked and took transit for much of their trip.

    It would take extra time for walking because you can’t walk 30 or more miles an hour, plus bus or train goes much slower than a car.

    There is a light rail station 1.5 blocks from my condo, but there are two more within 7 blocks. If it’s nice, I’ll walk to one further away. I don’t see walking a bit as a bad thing.

    In addition, my commute to Midtown St. Louis via light rail is only 7 minutes. Once I arrive at the station, I either walk three more blocks to work, wait for the work shuttle, or I take the bus, which usually comes within a minute or two of my arrival. My entire commute takes less than 12 minutes, MAX.

    On the rare occasions I drive, it takes me at least 20 minutes, considering the traffic lights, the “brake” wave that someone mentioned, and the traffic (the parkway near my place is filling with more vehicles because the state is closing a major highway for three years and redoing it). Once I arrive at work, I have to find a place to park and then walk to the building. After work, I would have to pay $4.

    Plus you don’t have to worry about rain and cold.

    You do have to worry about rain and cold, since you have to perform maintenance on your heating and cooling systems, as well as your wipers. That costs money. I’d rather just wear tennis shoes, pants under my dress, and carry an umbrella.

    It might cost more to drive a car only if you have to pay for parking or if you have a payment every month, but thats a different story, I don’t see a reason to finance a fast-depriciating things anyways.

    My car has been paid off for four years, and I still take transit. The monthly fee for a garage at work is about $58 (the $4 I mentioned earlier is the visitor’s per-day fee). A monthly Metro pass (good for rail and bus) is $60. I don’t pay for gas. I don’t pay for parking. I don’t spend much in vehicle maintenance. In fact, I’m selling my car come spring.

    When you use car, you can arrive to work 5 minutes before you start and don’t waste any time, when you depend on public transportation, you might get there 30 minutes or more early

    My work begins at 8:30 a.m. I am in my chair by 8:25 each day, sometimes even earlier. Either way, you have to plan. You read the train schedule and the bus schedule, calculate how long the commute will take and how long you need to walk to a station or stop. You have to do the same thing driving. In fact, I often arrive before the drivers, because they always get stuck in traffic or don’t check the news/traffic site for road closures.

    You can also stop at the grocery store (or 2 or 3 different stores) on your way and buy the discount items you need, and if you are walking, you will have to shop in the nearest store which might not have the best price on the items you need, unless you want to carry 20 lbs or more food in your hands the whole time you are walking and waiting for the bus.

    Wow. Again, the key is planning. Just like you might run three errands in a car, I can run three errands via bus or rail. I bring my reusable Trader Joe’s bags to a grocery store, target, walmart and best buy in one trip. I can ride the rail there or take a bus, which makes a loop of the major shopping points in a certain area. Sometimes I spend an extra five minutes reviewing a bus schedule to determine which one is best for my time allotted. I still get in, out, and home before many folks in cars.

    As for lugging things home, carring a few bags builds strength and encourages me not to buy stuff I don’t need. Make a list and stick to it. Or get one of those wheeled carts the little old ladies use, which I LOVE! :)

    It just takes planning, that’s all. Many folks who say that transit is not viable often haven’t used it themselves or don’t want to put in the few minutes it takes to learn the system. My boyfriend and I moved last year to a condo specifically near transit options, and we’ve been using transit heavily since April. Because of it, we’ve explored more areas of the city, have eaten in memorable restaurants, enjoyed viewing the city’s great architecture during commutes, and have read oodles of books and listened to oodles of albums. Life is what you make it. Transit is similar.

  11. Megan Jonas says:

    I am considering selling my car. I live in Phoenix. I would definatley need the umbrella, or should I call it a sun-brella.

    I am scared to be a pedistrian. I feel it will be dangerous. I bought my car 10 years ago. I have not been a bus rider since 1999.

    I get irritated at red lights, I wonder how much of my time I waste waiting for it to turn green.

    Certain people I tell that I want to go back to the bus life say that it would be broke mentality, that I would be regressing. It is like peer pressure.

    My inspiration is being able to read and write (think) instead of haveing to be focused on not dying (driving). It is not relaxing to drive, to be constantly aware that you are speeding down a slide of concrete in a ton of metal.

  12. samantha says:

    How do I get out of Tuolumne with public transportation?

  13. arriggifs says:

    Definately will not go to Vilamoura anymore, 6 Hour rounds of Golf and 4.5 Euros for a beer , we will stay clear of the Vilamoura golf courses this year, and the so called free shuttle bus turns up if you are lucky.

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