Three weeks ago I parked my car and decided to challenge myself to use alternate transportation for at least a month. The rules aren't hard and fast but basically I didn't want to drive my car at all--I would use the bus, ride with the spouse if we were going in the same direction, car pool with others, etc. Here's what has happened in the past few weeks:
- Looking at a map of the area I live in, it looks like a majority of our area is a long way away from a bus stop. I guess I am lucky that I live relatively close to the bus line--I only need to walk about a third of a mile to get to the bus stop closest to my home.
- I'm getting exercise! As someone who sits in meeting/at my computer all day, taking time to exercise was something I had to force myself to do. Now I get a lot of walking in while I am taking myself from the bus to where ever I am going.
- The bus is cheap! Although monthly bus passes run about $30 here, one of my clients provides half price bus passes to all of his employees. When he heard about my challenge, he offered me the same deal so the total cost for almost all of my transportation needs for the month is a grand total of $15!
- The bus system here is OK--it goes almost everywhere I need to go. The only problem I see is the limited hours (fortunately I work during the day but those who work nights would be out of luck because the last bus runs around 9pm), the longer waits as the system runs on the hour/half hour depending on where I am going, and the limited area that is served (fortunately almost all of my work takes place in the city). I much prefer the bus/subway system of larger cities like New York, DC, Tokyo, etc. as these buses/trains/subways seem to run every few minutes.
- I need to pay more attention to time. With your own car, you can be a little late with no repercussions; if you are trying to catch a bus you need to be on time. There have been a couple of times when I didn't actually run to catch the bus but I did have to walk pretty fast.
- I've pretty much got past the stigma of riding a bus. The first week it felt like everyone was looking at me; this is my own insecurity and status consciousness which made me feel that everyone was looking at me and pitying me for having to ride the bus. I even had a couple of people I know stop and ask me if I needed a ride while I was waiting for the bus; I had to explain it was an experiment and I was fine riding the bus.
- Safety concerns to date include: crossing the street (so many people who are turning right at a corner look to their left to see if cars are coming but don't look to see if they are about to run over a pedestrian who is in the cross walk to their right). secluded locales (no problems here but I would be worried about young females alone who are walking to or waiting at outlying bus stops). and some of the creepy people on the bus (no problem here either however some of my fellow passengers are decidedly odd, though to date not dangerous).
- The spouse flatly refuses to ride the bus. Period. This is again where status-consciousness comes into play and the "what will people who know me think" mindset also comes up. I say screw what other people think about me (but it took me a couple of weeks to get to that point).
- I've taken car pooling to an art form. I go to a lot of meetings which are spread out over half of the state. Fortunately there usually seems to be other people from my area who are also going to these meetings so to date I have been able to get a ride with them.
- I can now recite the bus schedules and Amtrak schedules by heart. I haven't had to take Amtrak yet but their trains do run between the major cities in my region so this will be an option if I can't car pool.
- Most of the people on the bus are pretty normal--many look like regular people who are fed up with high gas prices. However it seems that the closer you get to the inner city, the odder (and smellier, and less socially adept) the people seem to become.
- It is actually relaxing to ride the bus. All of the time that I used to spend driving I can now use to review reports, write notes, plan my day, read the paper, etc--this part is definitely a bonus.
- You need to be prepared. I learned this by watching what other bus riders do/have. Funny that everyone on the bus had an umbrella with them even on sunny days. I didn't quite figure out why until I ended up drenched from a sudden downpour. Now I am an official "bus person"--I have my trusty umbrella, a fully charged cell phone (before if I forgot to charge my phone I would just charge it in the car), a laminated bus pass, and am looking for a backpack of some sort (the messenger bag/briefcase slung over my should that includes laptop, et al, is threatening to do in my rotator cuff).
- As I said, the spouse still uses a car every day. I think it would probably be necessary for us to have at least one car as shopping trips, out of town trips, and going places where the bus doesn't go still come up, however with no cars and their related expenses, it could actually be more cost efficient to use a rental car or taxi for these trips.
- Speaking of costs, I have seen a couple of families on the bus (a husband, wife and four little kids in one instance). I think if our kids were still small, that riding a bus may be #1 too expensive (instead of paying for one bus pass you would need to buy six which could possibly equal out to what you pay for a car) and #2 too much of a hassle (I saw the parents trying to heard the kids on and off the bus and figured that would have been the first and last such trip for our family if that would have been us).
Overall, I give riding the bus two big thumbs up. It is super cost efficient, super easy to use, and having the extra time in my day to read instead of drive definitely has decreased my stress level.