Extreme Bus Rider


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:

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About Meg Biallas

Thoughts From A DC Intern Turned DCist. A twenty-something goes beyond traditional tourism to achieve Washingtonian authenticity.
This entry was posted in neighborhood, public transportation, transit, young professional and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Extreme Bus Rider

  1. No question that there’s something energizing about the hustle and bustle of the D. C. Metro system. I love it! It’s exciting to be in the middle of all that action. That said, there’s something more “real” about being transported by bus. I imagine it’s pretty easy to shut everything out when you’re zipping by on a train. Not so when you’re on a mode of transportation that constantly starts and stops–you actually have to (get to) see your fellow commuters a bit more closely, observe exactly where they come from and where they are headed, note what their daily struggles may be, and consider what their real lives are like which all can bring a little more humanity/reality to one’s daily commute.

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    • Meg Biallas says:

      Absolutely, Mom! I find, actually, that people tend to be a bit kinder on the bus, especially when people give up seats for the elderly and for women and children.

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  2. Tony Jaeger says:

    Glad you wrote about the convenience of bus riding. I definitely make great use of the bus system due to the distance from my house and the nearest Metro as well as the lack of Metro access from my job. One thing I take advantage of while riding the bus is the Weekly fare pass. It allows me unlimited rides for a week for $16, definitely pays for itself if you use it to go to work and back, but can be a source of great savings if you use it more than that.
    On occasion I do find the Metro ‘snob’ and I can definitely relate to them about the cons of riding the bus (smelly, late, breakdowns, getting lost, etc.) but I find that there are more pros than cons (Cheap, potentially faster than taking Metro, an occasional Express and Examiner at the front in the am, a chance to get to know the driver who drives the same route everyday or the occasional hot woman in a red dress, etc.) Plus the cons can be used to identify the trains system as well. I simply feel that the ‘snobs’ are not giving the bus a chance and should learn the basics (neighborhood and work routes) so that they can use it to their advantage.
    Thanks for writing the post and glad to have a fellow bus rider advocate for us Metro ‘commoners’

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    • Meg Biallas says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tony! I never considered the Weekly fare pass, but it sounds like it would be a pretty good deal for those who use the bus as frequently as you and I do. I’ll have to check it out.

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  3. Lisa F says:

    Buses rule, except when they get stuck in traffic. I firmly adhere to my bike-love: usually during rush hour I beat the bus AND the metro that I would otherwise take. For longer distances, though, buses certainly beat metro for scenery and personalities.

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    • Meg Biallas says:

      I admire your intensity with biking everywhere! (I’m not always inspired when there is extreme heat, or an uphill route) And the bus definitely offers the best view.

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  4. I have been commuting to work by bus and rail since 2000 and car free since 2004.

    My bus use is constrained by accessible stops and survivable weather. Having said that- my bus riding experience is much more positive than my rail experience. Buses (for me) are safer – in an emergency situation I am retrievable! The commute from work is a bus, 2 trains and a bus. The 2 trains can be replaced at a “cost” of an additional 20-30 minutes depending on traffic vs rail breakdowns. The last bus in the bus-train-bus is optional most days since the rail station is less than 2 miles away. When the weather is good its only a 20 minute trundle. Buses on that route are 30 minutes apart and on good weather days it makes a nice decompression from the stress of rail travel.

    Outside of my work commute EVERYTHING else I need – groceries, medical, shopping, and entertainment – is within 2 miles and is mostly “chairable” (the wheelie equivalent of bikable/walkable) including some rather nice bike trails. Deciding between trundling and bus entails considering weather and battery levels. If I need to conserve-I head for the bus. Most of the drivers I encounter are great at their jobs and most of the people I encounter on the bus are my neighbors.

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    • Meg Biallas says:

      Thanks for sharing that, HellOnWheelz. It sounds like you have quite a commute, but you have a lot of great tools available to get you around. Most bus drivers I have seen are very helpful/accommodating for people who need seating that is accessible.

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