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Public transit – a complex relationship.

Many of us know a person, a needy, kinda demanding person, who is always looking for a ride to wherever you are going or might not be going but they need to get to. The opposite of that person is the one who joyfully chooses to take public transit. 

An interesting thing I’ve experienced: I take the bus to meet friends. The reaction is to offer me a ride [in the car]. Or insist I need a ride [in the car]. To me, it feels like showing up at an event dressed in my favourite outfit and being offered other clothes to wear.

My love of public transit was born before I was able to drive. At the age of 13, I could travel far and wide, away from the suburban tedium, on the bus or commuter train without a driver’s license. I was hooked. Next, living in a large urban centre, cars were impractical but it was easy to around by subway, surface route and the occasional cab. 

Public transit is recognized as a step towards saving the environment1 with a lower carbon footprint than one or two person occupied automobile. A few other benefits of public transit:

  • less expensive, especially than owning and operating a car. Even if you own a car and leave it at home, it’s cheaper. The commuter train carries me 75 km for about $10, much less than gas, never mind other car related expenses, like parking, insurance and maintenance.
  • can do other things while travelling. When not driving, I enjoy the scenery, catch up on email and text, read, and prepare for upcoming meetings. It’s also easier to drink coffee, eat, and get up in the middle of the journey to go to the bathroom. 
  • more social. On transit, you might meet people you know and have a chat. Or you might meet new people 😉
  • more responsible. If you are not driving, drinking/indulging/being over tired and driving are not a thing. 
  • better cultural experience. I take public transit if I can when travelling, to experience more of the local way of life than is possible in an Uber or taxi. 

There are some drawbacks: 

  • Public transit is on their time. If you are driving yourself, you can leave one minute later and arrive one minute later. If you miss the bus by a minute, your could end up arriving 15 minutes or an hour later. More time is required to take transit than the transit time. 
  • Public transit is at fixed times. You may want to arrive on at 8 pm, but the bus gets you there at their 7:30 or 8:30. It’s not up to you. 
  • You have to carry all the stuff you take with you. A car is like an enormous purse or backpack. Taking the bus, you are stuck with a regular sized purse or backpack. If it contains heavy stuff, it defies laws of science and gets progressively more heavy, the longer you carry it.
  • You inevitably end up walking more when taking transit. (I consider this another benefit of taking public transit, but appreciate not everyone would.) Only very few people have a bus stop at the end of their driveway. And the destination is unlikely to be steps from nearest the transit stop. 

There are pros and cons, but overall, I take public transit if I can. When people offer me a ride after I’ve chosen to take transit, it concerns me. I believe they do it to be polite, or out of concern for me but it seems like a misinterpretation of where I’m coming from. 

First, I’m concerned that they think I’m ‘that person’, the passive aggressive, needy one expecting a ride home by taking transit to meet them. 

Polite people generally offer something they have, or to help, to someone with a need. To offer a ride in your car, to someone who hasn’t brought their car, suggests the person taking the bus needs help, pegging public transit as an inferior option. To me it suggests I’ve made the wrong choice in my preference for the bus and am needy of charity, information or protection because I’ve taken the bus. 

People express concern for my safety taking public transit. This is misplaced, although the thought is appreciated. I think I’m safer on the bus than driving myself. Certainly at lower risk of getting into a traffic accident, sustaining injury, lawsuits and property damage. Public transit is public, so the risk of harassment and other crimes are lowered by the people around you (bus driver, other passengers). There is a bit more risk walking from the bus stop to home, but people have been assaulted in their driveways when getting out of their cars. As a lifelong rider of public vehicles, in many different neighbourhoods, times and countries, I’m vigilant of my surroundings, more so than someone insulated in their car. 

I appreciate the generosity of people who offer me a ride. I would love them to find my joy in public transit, as a preferred choice for freedom – freedom from damage to the planet and responsibilities of driving a car. It works for me.


1 For example: https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/Resources/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/greenhouse_brochure.pdf ; https://legacy.equiterre.org/sites/fichiers/fmm_transportation_recs.pdf . As with most situations, it’s not simple, and depends on the transit system and car driven, but on average the statement is true.

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