Unlike actress Olivia Rodrigo, I did not get my driver’s license last week. Or ever. This means that my limited choices for transportation include walking, hitching a ride with my mom or taking public transit.
Because Boston is slowly but surely opening up, I now have the opportunity to interact with my (vaccinated) friends in person. Sure, the convenience factor is definitely tempting, but I’ve realized that asking my mom for a ride isn’t the most ideal way to get around anymore. I don’t like the thought of inconveniencing her (even if she insists it’s totally alright).
So, I’ve been taking buses and trains by myself more lately. And surprisingly, it’s been a lot of fun.
Don’t get me wrong: public transit can be daunting. You have to find the right stop, get on the right bus/train, make sure you’re going inbound and not outbound (or vice versa), and keep an eye out on the passing scenery so you hop off at the right station.
Regardless of its difficulties though, public transit has a way of making me feel like the main character of my own story. It seems like such a small thing, but being able to say that I got from A to B all by myself is incredibly liberating. I’m not sitting in the passenger street, wincing as my mom jerks us through two lanes and screeches as her GPS loses radar and takes us over a river.
Instead, I can daydream about my future as a writer or imagine myself miraculously falling in love with one of the passengers. I can watch as the underground tunnels whiz by, stare at my reflection in the window, and wonder if the stranger sitting next to me thinks I’m mysterious and wants to say hello.
In her piece entitled “Why People Pick Public Transit Over Driving,” Jaya Saxena writes that “You can just hop on a bus or a subway, read a book, and arrive at or near your destination. The passivity is thrilling. Whenever I can, I will always choose the option where I can zone out and be delivered to where I want to go.” Unlike being stuck in a car (with your mom, who has a tendency to get lost), riding the bus or train gives you the ability to unwind and do what you wish. You don’t have to be focused on making sure you don’t crash or take the wrong exit. On public transit — it’s just you, your thoughts, and the rumbling of the wheels below you.
Beyond the fact of time, public transit is also better for the environment. A study by the Mineta Transportation Institute found that the “majority of people thought public transit benefited their communities because it could ‘reduce traffic congestion, reduce commute costs, support a strong economy, reduce air pollution (or, in a few cases, greenhouse gas emissions), or lower commute costs.’” Despite their often hulking forms, buses and trains actually reduce traffic and environmental impact. Just think about it: every passenger on the MBTA equals one less car on the road. So the next time you pass by a packed bus in a busy street, send a silent “thanks” to everyone on there — because they’re the only thing preventing the road from being a complete standstill.
Public transit is also incredibly cost-efficient, especially if you purchase monthly/annual cards and pass on that Lamborghini you’ve been eyeing. According to the American Public Transportation Association, households “can save nearly $10,000 by taking public transportation and living with one less car.”
Giving yourself free time, saving the environment, and making your wallet a happy camper? It’s a win-win-win situation!
But… don’t run to your nearest T-station yet. Some people think this deal is too good to be true.
One major issue that is often brought up with public transportation is reliability. Those who work graveyard shifts might be out of luck when it comes to catching the last train of the day — especially when cities impose limited hours of operation. You also never know if there’s construction going on or if a train is randomly stopped three stations from yours.
While these situations are sometimes applicable, the truth is that “Americans living in areas with public transportation save some 850 million hours of travel time each year.” Yes, you heard that right. 850 million hours of travel. Per year. Given the low chance that the train might be down or there’ll be a 10-minute delay on the bus one evening, many will find that the hours they save by taking a chance on public transit will be worth every risk.
Some more opposition regarding public transit comes from its lack of accessibility. Say you don’t live in an MBTA-infested city like Boston. Many suburban areas suffer from this lack of accessibility since they were built “mainly with the car in mind.” These curvier roads and cul-de-sacs are difficult (and nearly impossible) for larger vehicles to maneuver through.
If we show our cities that we value public transit by opting for buses over cars, however, what’s to say that there won’t be an improvement for these systems? According to transportation connoisseur Aarian Marshall in her article for Wired, 33% of Americans from seven metro areas say that they took transit less/stopped using it entirely compared with two years ago. It’s no question that accessibility and reliability were two key catalysts in people’s slow transition towards favoring cars.
To that, however, I say that change is made when people persist. It fails completely when people abandon ship (or in this case, bus) at the first sign of hardship. If we love public transit but want it to become more convenient, we have to invest just as much time riding the train as our cities will into revising its routes and fares. If we truly want to improve the transit system–and move into a world where riding the train to work and the bus out to dinner is a norm–we have to continue using what we have so that our cities will see how important they are to us.
So the next time you’re headed to Newbury Street to grab lunch at Trident or a new shirt from H&M, why don’t you skip the long lines for parallel parking and take the train instead? You might not become the next Olivia Rodrigo with a driver’s license, but at least you’ll feel like a boss when you step out onto the platform with the wind blowing in your hair and the sun on your face.
Just remember to look both ways before crossing the road.