Florida Public Transit is having a contest—share your story about riding the bus and win a television. It seemed like a good time to let you know how my commute experience has been going.
How I Got Religion about the Bus
I had expensive travel plans for the first half of 2010–my sister was having a destination wedding in Colorado in April and I had a professional conference two weeks after that. At the beginning of January, I started adding up the numbers in my budget—I had a car payment, full coverage with a good insurance company, and less than 14 miles to the gallon.
Unless I wanted to stop paying down my debt and put off contributing to my 401(k), I needed to change something. Now that I lived on a bus route, the car was my least essential fixed expense.
I had to think about what mattered to me. I had a shiny SUV with big tires and cold AC. I had the ability to jump in the car and run a single errand here or there anytime, to have my own cocoon of personal space on my ride to and from work. I had a digital compass in my rear-view mirror. I loved that compass.
But I wasn’t going to be able to have spending money on my sister’s wedding trip, or give her a present. I wasn’t going to be able to make it to an important industry conference and meet my online colleagues in person.
Family, travel, staying current in my field—I could have those things or I could have a nice car. So I sold the car. I decided that at the beginning of February. The vehicle was on Craigslist, I sold it, and bought a PSTA bus pass by the end of the following week.
I officiated at my sister’s wedding and tried snowboarding, too.
You Don’t have to Be a Birdwatcher, but Why Wouldn’t You Be?
Now’s the part where I elaborate on how my commuting experience has changed me. Let’s just compare my previous daily drive to my current bus route.
- I used to press snooze and then squeeze in last-minute items before work (emails, blog posts, dishes) until I made myself late. Then I worked late and ate drive-through food on the way home. Now, I have a window of opportunity to catch the bus, so I make it work. And I leave at the same time every night. The department doesn’t fall apart, and I have time for a run in the evening.
- I used to think about how late I was all the way to work. Now I read books. Last week I saw an adult eagle and two juvenile eagles flying loops together as I walked from the bus stop to my office building. Eagles!
- I used to waste time and gas by running errands inefficiently. Now I run errands on the one day of the week that I have the household car. Sometimes it’s a pain. Mostly it just isn’t.
All of the reasons I used to have for “needing” my own car were just self-indulgent. My friends in cities like Chicago and New York get along without them, at least for a while, while they are starting out in their careers. People in less developed countries get by sharing vehicles, using bikes, or commuting. I like the feeling of knowing I no longer have that false dependence on a vehicle. I feel like I have a more balanced, realistic idea of what is a need versus a luxury.
Previously, on this Blog
I want everyone to take the bus. Of course, it helps the environment, but the adjustment to my previous habits has also done me good. Plus, the more people that ride, the more resources PSTA will have to improve the experience.
But I have also shared some of my frustrations adjusting to the commute on my blog and on Twitter. I posted examples that I thought were off-putting to discretionary riders, and recommendations on gear for commuters. I’m not shy, and I like to improve things. So I chronicle.
And PSTA has been responsive. Bob Lasher in Marketing posted relevant stats and other information on my blog. I registered two comments online using their form and got responses within hours. They’ve since launched a Twitter account and a LinkedIn group. I’m not sure what it will take to make bus commutes more mainstream in the Tampa Bay Area, but I do think PSTA is going to try and find out.