You may have heard of Extreme Couponing — the reality show featuring savvy consumers who furiously clip the Pennysaver for 50 cents here, 20 cents there. I like the premise of the show, because it shows how the little savings that can add up (even you look crazy while doing it). But that’s what bus is for my budget. In the city, major savings come in the form of the bus.
I initially took it when I started adhering to a healthy budget – and I realized I could cut my daily fare in half just by taking the bus. After nearly two years as an avid bus patron, I cannot speak highly enough of the system. The NextBus app is crucial to my commute. I’ve already read so many books this year (the commute time adds up), and have grown to enjoy the natural light at a slower pace. It sure beats the rat race of the underground metro system.
The Bus: A Necessity for Some, Luxury for Others
But the bus system is more than just about aesthetics and leisure time — for many it is crucial to getting to work on time, or may be the only transportation available in one’s neighborhood. An entire segment of the DC population relies on the bus. Take Amanda Hess’ recent Atlantic article about bus ridership in LA:
…as “captive” commuters wait in excess of 90 minutes to get to work out of necessity, cities like L.A. are funneling serious resources toward getting people like Carr to step on board. But can a city actually successfully gentrify its bus system? Does it want to?
By Hess’ definition it’s probably safe to say I am the “unicorn” of my bus route — her description for being minority on a bus route. I like her probing questions, which cause me to ask about the larger purpose of the transit system and the population it serves. Hess poses this question:
What is the point of public transportation? Is it a social service to help those most in need? Or is it an environmental initiative to get drivers out of their cars? And can it ever be both?
The Bus: Better Than the Metro
Only time will tell how the bus can serve many purposes. But in the meantime, I still believe that buses are a solid alternative to the rail system – because they can successfully move more people per hour and require less infrastructure such as station, says Randall O’Toole in an interview with The Washington Times:
DDG: Why are we still stuck on rail technology? Isn’t there a better technology alternative to rail?
O’Toole: Yes, it is called buses. By sharing roads with other users, buses avoid the high infrastructure costs of rail. Because roads go almost everywhere, buses can too. Because buses can safely operate several times a minute, they can actually move far more people per hour than light rail, streetcars, or commuter rail.
The Bus: Seeing the City from a Different View
My recent revelation about the bus is one that is harder to explain. When I first moved to DC, I lived in a posh neighborhood in a room the size of a closet. I loved it. My building was surrounded by other beautiful, historic apartment buildings and luxury condos. The “main street” was filled with artisan coffee shops and upscale dining (needless to say, I didn’t patronize most of those businesses!). Couples, families and dog-walkers filled the sidewalks on the weekends.
But when I moved to a less, well, “snazzy” neighborhood, I realized that I had been missing out. My new bus route has shown me intersections, local businesses and people I wouldn’t normally run into.
Amy Sherman writes in her classic book on neighborhood reconciliation, Restorers of Hope: “Cut off from people with entirely different life situations, we fail to learn how God gifts and graces those in circumstances unfamiliar to most of us.” Self-insulation really means isolation from the wider world. The bus is one way to open up that world.
I Heart Public Transit
Last week I asked my Facebook friends: “what is your favorite form of transportation, and why?” I had fun asking friends who live in the suburbs, swear by DC’s Capital Bikeshare system, or get a few jabs for walking nearly everywhere. Here were some of their answers: