Personal is Political: On transportation

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people get around and what impact it has on their lives.
I grew up in a small Southern college town. We drove everywhere. There was a public bus but we never took it. Since leaving home I’ve mostly lived in big cities with public transportation–NYC and DC. The subway is amazing and almost everywhere was really accessible. It runs all night, hits all of the boroughs and is relatively affordable and fast.
When I moved to DC last year, I settled back into life in a smaller city. Still a relatively good public transportation system but it gets less places and closes at night. I started riding the bus, brought my car with me and used it much more than I had expected.
Then two months ago my car died. I then had to rely completely on public transportation, mainly the bus. When you take the bus everywhere, you have a lot of time to think. When you’re waiting for the bus to come, stuck in traffic on the bus, walking to and from the bus stops. I started to notice how much stress it added to my life. Often running late to things, not being able to get around quickly, dealing with unpredictable and often unreliable buses. Often spending a few hours of every day just getting from place to place.
And I live in a city with a good public transportation system. I don’t live far, I don’t really commute a significant distance. I also started to notice more and more who was riding the bus with me. With the exception of rush hour times downtown, the majority of bus riders are people of color–in my area, Latino and African American folks.

What emphasized all of this is that I recently started riding my bike to get around. I remembered what it’s like to be able to get around quickly and easily. No waiting for the bus, no running late because of traffic or late buses. I could go on about why biking is so great but I’ll leave that for another post.
What it has made me think about is how poverty is such a cycle. How things like the amount of time it takes you to get around can make it even harder for you to improve your situation. How commuting to work, being late, having to juggle many responsibilities and not having enough time in the day keeps these cycles going. How even just the stress of getting around can have an affect on your health. How privileged I am to live in a city with transportation, to have access to a car sometimes, to be physically able to bike around.

Join the Conversation

  • Rachel_in_WY

    What it has made me think about is how poverty is such a cycle. How things like the amount of time it takes you to get around can make it even harder for you to improve your situation. How commuting to work, being late, having to juggle many responsibilities and not having enough time in the day keeps these cycles going.
    This is so true. As an undergrad I managed a Starbucks, and one of the things I realized was that many potential employees did rely on the bus, so setting a rigid schedule kind of discriminated against them in favor of kids who had a car or could use their parents car. I had always had access to a car, and this was one of my early “a-ha” moments concerning my own privilege. So I started offering interviewees several time slots to choose from and scheduling shifts that started at 1:30 instead of 1:00, for example, for employees who rode a bus that arrived every hour at quarter after the hour. It was actually really easy to do, because after awhile you get used to the bus schedules and know who’s riding which bus. Otherwise, they have to show up 45 minutes early and wait around, or be 15 minutes late every day. But generally speaking, the job market expects you to conform to its schedule, and this is a kind of systemic disadvantage that usually goes unnoticed.

  • feministabroad

    I know so many people, too many people, who have lost jobs because their bus was late. I know people who were given a job opportunity, the only one, and couldnt take it because the bus didn’t run late enough. I also knew people that lost their jobs because they were tired of the stress that accompanied their bus routes. Taking the bus can be a really hard task. You try to save up to get a car and you get a job but have to take the bus but get fired because the bus has been late so many times, then you cant afford your car but if you had a car you could get a job. It can be so damn frustrating. I live in Akron, Ohio. I have been there before. The buses don’t run normally on Sunday and they usually dont run past 9 and their late. I used to live in Canton, Ohio which was even smaller. It’s hard when the city isnt big enough to have a big city public transportation system and is so small they cut routes all the time because enough people don’t go on them. But it only takes one route to be cancelled to ruin one person’s life by them not having a way to work. There’s no cabs here. Few, I should say. And forget about a social life. You wouldn’t want to ride a bike because of where you would have to ride it.
    My car broke down and when I get back to Ohio I have a feeling I will be having some of these problems cause I dont have any money. But I still feel priveleged because I don’t have to do this with children and I am not handicapped and I am not elderly and that makes it even harder to work with the buses here.

  • ElleStar

    I lived in Chicago for 7 years and I’ll admit it: I really liked the bus. It actually saved me time in non-rush hour traffic because I didn’t have to drive around looking for parking. Also, I never had to worry about driving in the snow or the rain. I could just sit back, read a novel, and not stress over the ride.
    However, to recognize my privilege, I lived near a major bus line that ran every 10 minutes and connected me to almost everything I needed in the city (whoot for Halsted #8). Plus, my life and job were flexible enough that I could avoid a lot of rush hour traffic, and if I couldn’t, then the subway was a quick way to get to work or home.
    I had the flexibility to give myself an hour to get across town. I didn’t have to schedule myself to the nth degree, and therefore, could just let the times on the bus be a place for me to de-stress.
    Now, I live in an area with limited public transportation and I find myself missing it. I don’t like driving and I feel like I’m polluting the environment because it’s the only way I can get to some of the places I need to be.
    I think that if buses were more reliable, ran more often, and ran in such a way that it was more convenient for people to take the bus than to drive, there would be less cars on the road and less pollution in the air. Biking is terrific, too, if the weather is good.


    I love, LOVE, LOVE public transportation, it makes me feel closer to human beings, as weird as it sounds.
    I wish that more cities would be more bike-friendly, though. I used to live in Columbia MO and that was ONE hell of a bike-friendly town, I liked it a lot. It’s also a great work out, it’s cheap, and it’s environmentally friendly.

  • Caro

    Your post reminded me of this post from the blog Greater Greater Washington (which I recommend for all DC-area residents interested in transportation reform and urban planning!), which discusses why transporation issues have a disparate impact on women, especially working mothers. While this pieces doesn’t specifically discuss how this affects low-income people, it’s hard not to draw the connection between the hardships that poor public transporation options and bad urban design place on working people (especially mothers) and the difficulty of getting out of poverty.

  • theresa

    I’m 24 and I just got my first car six months ago. Prior to getting a car I relied on public transportation, the bus mostly, Metrolink if I wanted to get to L.A. Now that I have a car it is easy to see just how inconvenient the bus is: having to leave at least an hour early to get to school for the 20 minute walk to the bus stop and the 15 minute ride to school (now it takes me 15 minutes), dealing with strange men trying to hit on me, late buses… I didn’t mind it really at the time because it was all I knew.

  • xenu01

    I’ve been taking public transportation since high school, and if I have any wishes, it would be the continuous plea to RUN LATER. One cannot get in and out of the PA suburbs via train after midnight, even on weekends. Bay area BART is no better, and it is even more expensive than SEPTA. The DC Metro was able to extend their hours; why can’t you?
    Especially in these times of both environmental and financial crises, it is ludicrous that we do not devote more of our tax money to public transportation, which so many of us rely on.

  • AgnesScottie

    I live in Atlanta and I haven’t owned a car in the five years I’ve been here. Which means I’ve seen a lot of MARTA. (Which is oh so cleverly, i.e. racistly, referred to as “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta) You kind of get the feeling that they don’t get improvements to it because rich white people don’t use it, except at rush hour. The bus system is extraordinarily frustrating, often unreliable, and stops running at midnight. The trains stop running through the main part of downtown at around 1, even on weekends. So, if you are working crazy shifts, you might have to wait hours for public transit to open again before you can get home. I’ve always had a lot of friends with cars, so I’ve been able to do stuff like get my groceries without having to take public transportation, but I feel like that is up there on things that make life difficult. Trying to juggle all your groceries and not being able to buy cheap bulk items because you can’t carry everything.
    Atlanta is also a very bicycling unfriendly city. The streets are very narrow, and very, very few roads have cycling lanes.
    I so wish Atlanta was one of those cities with really good public transportation. And it is a city that really really needs it. Our commutes are as bad as Los Angeles. But all the upper class workers live outside of the city in the suburbs and commute in, so no money is ever going to go to adding more lines or more buses to MARTA.

  • Renee

    I live in a very small town and decided some time ago not to own a car. As parents the unuhusband and I felt that it was our responsibility to leave as small of an environmental footprint as possible, but I find that as our children age we are not able to follow through with our commitment due to terrible bus service. It does not run regularly on weekends. I often want to scream that life does not stop on Sunday at 5pm and cab fare is actually getting ridiculously expensive. It turns out that even with gas and insurance because I have had to do the cab thing due to bad service that I will actually save money. Who would have thought that driving would be cheaper than relying on public transportation and cabs.

  • anne2you

    I have only taken public transportation when I was on vacation in NYC or San Francisco. However, I joined the Peace Corps and I am living in Ukraine. I rely on public transportation to get me around the country and even across town. Its just so nice how easy it is to get on a bus or train here. It felt like such a big accomplishment when I took a small bus (called marshrutka) from my host family’s house to the center of the city by myself. I really wish that the US had a more developed public transportation system. I always hated driving and vowed that I would move to NYC so I wouldn’t have to own a car. Ok, so Ukraine is a little different than NYC, but it makes me feel really good about myself when I get on a marshrutka and ask other passengers where a certain stop is in the local language. When I first started taking the buses long distances, I was very critical about it. I was going to take a bus from Kyiv to my local town and a teacher at my school said there is a bus every single day at 2:30. I grilled her on the reliability of that bus. “Are you SURE it is *always* there every day at 2:30?” “Is it ever late?” “Does it leave early?” Every day the buses come at the same exact time, give or take 5 minutes and they have been pretty reliable. I went from a place where everyone owned a car to a place where a car is a luxury. It has been a really good experience trying to learn all the bus and train schedules. It makes me feel more independent, which is kind of weird since I am relying on a bus or train to be there instead of just hopping in my own car.

  • AlexMc

    “even just the stress of getting around can have an affect on your health”
    you are so right. nothing puts me in a WORSE mood than a delayed commute on the metro. arg!
    not to mention the physical health detriment to being exposed to so many air-borne germs!
    not that i think the solution is that we all get in our cars and drive everywhere. maybe if people drove less and more buses and mass transit systems were in place we’d all make it to work on time.

  • Liza

    NYC’s monthly unlimited MetroCard is about to go up to $103 (from $81). That’s $1236 a year to ride the subway. My part-time job makes me ride the train almost every day, which makes the unlimited cards a better value for me at $81. At $103 it’s almost a week’s pay – I still have to figure out if it saves me any money to buy unlimited.
    Plus they are cutting a lot of service.
    I’m lucky enough to have parents that will probably help me with the cost, but a lot of people don’t. For a lot of people $81 is a strain on their wallets. An additional $22 per month (which is $264 a year). The subway is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

  • VT Idealist

    I lived for 5 years in Burlington, VT without a car. It’s difficult, but it can be done. Like many of the other posters, I had the advantages of being able bodied and not having young children.
    Even in ‘pedestrian friendly’ cities, public transportation can be trying. Buses run every half hour (and only every hour after 6pm and you could expect to wait at least another half an hour if you had to change lines. The busses stopped running at 9pm on weeknights and only 7 on Saturdays. Busses did not run on Sundays or holidays.
    On top of that, has anyone ever tried grocery shopping or going to the laundromat on a city bus? When the small shopping complex near my apartment closed, it left me without a nearby grocery store and laundromat. Not only is it time consuming to just get there, but you also have to figure out how you are going to carry everything and where you’ll put it on a crowded bus.
    I was only buying groceries for myself and my boyfriend. I cannot imagine trying to transport groceries for a family on the bus. Another thing that needed to be considered was the time it took to get from the store to home. The entire trip was often over an hour long. In the summer months, I would avoid buying milk or meat unless someone was giving me a ride.

  • everybodyever

    Thanks for posting this, Miriam. I think about transportation politics a lot, too — in part because I grew up in a sprawling southern city with terrible public transit (Nashville), in part because I hang out with bike activist kids, in part because I feel like an irresponsible asshole for keeping my old car in Brooklyn where I could easily do without it (the out-of-state insurance is negligible, and street parking is easy) and in part because I really, really love driving, bikes and the subway.
    I often think of mass transit’s role in determining cities’ cultural development, and every time I ride the G train I’m made aware of the influence of money in the MTA’s upkeep decisions as well as the patterns of urban migration and gentrification. And I have long had an ongoing, if seldom actively pursued, plan to set foot in every subway station in New York.
    When visiting Chicago I’ve been routinely baffled that the el stops running late at night. I hadn’t realized that the Metro in DC and BART do the same. That’s sort of incredible, and I wonder how much cheaper it is for them to shut down service entirely rather than run, say, a train an hour. Is New York’s subway the only all-night metro system, or does the T in Boston or something else run 24 hours, too?

  • Rachel_in_WY

    On top of that, has anyone ever tried grocery shopping or going to the laundromat on a city bus?
    I’ve often thought about the way city planning would change if public transportation was the default and driving cars was secondary. If people assumed you weren’t going to drive everywhere, then businesses like grocery stores would return to neighborhoods. I lived in the Fremont district in Seattle when I was really young, and you could tell the neighborhood had been laid out this way. There would be several blocks of residential streets, and then one block of businesses. There was a Safeway, bank, barber shop, and 7-11 about 4 blocks from us, and several families in our neighborhood didn’t have cars, but were easily able to accomplish their shopping. My mom often walked there with us, and then just stashed everything in the bottom of the stroller to carry it home. But the way we design cities now, with all the stores clustered together in ugly strip malls miles away from the residential areas, forces you to drive or juggle all your groceries on the bus.
    Ironically, I’ve started biking to the grocery store and library much more often since my daughter was born. Why? Because the bike trailer we found at the thrift store to carry her in has tons of space in the back for groceries or library books. Kinda funny.

  • ellenrose

    Quick gush here: I live in Chicago and, like ElleStar, I totally love the transportation here. I don’t own a car and I don’t need one. For me, the transit system is easy to navigate, relatively reliable, and takes all the stress of driving, parking, and navigating off my shoulders. I was really surprised to hear about Miriam’s experience where public transit added MORE stress to her life. This is really the opposite of my experience. Not to mention the hundreds of dollars I saving in car costs. My transit costs are about $130 per month, total. And my mobility is really pretty comprehensive.
    @everybody ever, above: Chicago has two El lines that run all night, the Red and Blue lines. And I’m under the impression that MOST Boston transportation is NOT 24-hour.
    Anyway, rest assured, there are plenty of people here in Chicago who think the public transit is too slow, too dirty, too full of scary (read: different from them, black) people. But I frankly think those people are just addicted to their cars and can’t see another way of living.
    Anyway, maybe my experience is the exception.
    I really appreciate that you’re thinking about the effect of crappy public transit on working people, Miriam. I went to school in Nashville and knew many people who had to quit their jobs when they made massive bus cuts this summer. Our ENTIRE culture — including the job search, employment, and scheduling of shifts – presumes car ownership, and that’s really pretty ridiculous. Car ownership is a massive expense, and freedom from that expense would help everyone’s income go further.
    We need to demand affordable, reliable transportation in our cities and towns. Chicago is struggling with capital funding for its transit and cuts could be around the corner. That’s totally unacceptable.

  • holmes

    The T in Boston does NOT run 24-hours. I was a bartender there for years and I swear the MBTA is being paid off by the taxi companies. Because it stops around 12:30am, which is right before the bars close at 2am. There is a night-owl bus service that is extremely limited (and not very safe that nobody uses) that runs until two, but that still leaves all the bar workers and after-hour drinkers to take taxis (or drive drunk) home.
    The T in Boston, in my opinion, is extremely inconvenient and unmanageable unless you live right in the city, which hardly anyone does.
    I am a huge advocate of 24-hour safe public transportation.
    The best thing about living here in NYC is the bus driver will let you off anywhere you ask him to after 10pm if they agree with you it’s safe – that way you can be dropped off closer to your home and in a safer area than you might be if this rule wasn’t in place..

  • mk

    You’re correct–ZERO Boston public transportation runs all night. The last subway trains leave at 12:30 (the orange line at least generally chills at Downtown Crossing until about 1).
    And word to VT Idealist–I love public transportation (and use it a ton, since right now nearly 3 hours of my workday is eaten by commuting as I get from one part-time job to another), but I hate dealing with shopping or laundry on the bus. I do it less now that I live with my partner, who has a car, but we both feel guilty about using it even as much as we do.

  • Jamie073

    I live in Sweden right now and the public transportation is great! I used to drive everywhere in Austin and I’m glad that I don’t have the opportunity here.
    The buses are almost always on time, well maintained, and have convenient routes. The bike lanes are wide, off the road, and often separate from walking lanes for pedestrians. Also, I believe children under a certain age ride the buses for free, which is a relief to parents.
    My town is too small to have a subway, but the ones in Stockholm are pretty good.
    Also, Swedes will almost always give up their seats to the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with young children. I’m afraid I don’t see enough of this in the US.
    The only complaints would be that the buses can be expensive and they don’t run late at night. Nothing seems to be open past 2 am here anyway, so I guess that’s not much of a problem. (I’m not too great at biking in the snow and ice, but that’s another story…)
    I’m worried that I’ll be disappointed with the public transportation when I come home, but I hope to maintain my new lifestyle. Even though cars and bikes seem to constantly be at war in Austin.

  • VT Idealist

    Speaking of public transportation, poverty, and the politics, something that I’ve noticed since I bought a car is the difference between commuter link busses and regular city busses. Both are part of the same city bus line (CCTA here in VT).
    Commuter link busses are meant to pick up commuters at local park and rides and bring them to the downtown business area. The riders tend to be middle or upper class. The commuter link busses are nicer than the regular city busses. They look nicer, have more comfortable seats, and tend to be cleaner. These busses are also quicker. There are no stops between the commuter lots and the business area.

  • mk

    It’s SO interesting to see the differences between various public transportation types in a single city. I’d love to see statistics on, say, how frequently Boston’s commuter trains are serviced or replaced versus the subway lines. Anyone know where to find things like that?

  • Marja

    I live west of DC. The buses run about 16 hours a day, 5 days a week. Not that long ago, the schedule was even more erratic. I have certainly missed things because the bus wasn’t running that day, when they were scheduled to; or just because the bus was running and drove right past my stop as I was waiting there.

  • margosita

    I’ve never driven, never had a driver’s license. When I was in high school and then in small college town I was generally standed in places, unless I had a friend or family member around to give me a lift. I’ve definitely felt disadvantaged, when I lived in places where the only public transit was my feet (or bike)- the suburbs and a small town. In both instances I had to find jobs within walking distance, which wasn’t so bad for part time things at 15 or in my tiny college town where everything was within walking distance… but if I hadn’t been able to be so flexible and not too dependent on a job, it would be a different story.
    Now I live in SF where not having a car is pretty normal. But taking the bus is time consuming. It takes me 40-45 minutes to get to work, and google maps says it’d be 12 min to drive. Even if it took another 12 to find parking, that’d still be less time than I spend waiting for, on and walking to/from the bus. But even though I feel like I have to deal with a lot of waiting and uncomfortable social interactions (mostly from men), I’m still a point where the benefits outweigh the costs. I’m a grad student living in one of the most expensive cities in the country and a fixed transportation budget of $45 a month is fabulous- no gas costs, no car insurance or upkeep or chance of blowing a tire and spending a few hundred dollars on towing and repairs. I’m only responsible for me, and if my cat has to wait an extra hour to be fed it’s not at all the same as having a child to pick up from daycare and being an hour behind my intended schedule. No chance of parking in a tow-away zone or having to pay for parking.
    Anyway, I sympathize. And totally get how a reliance on public transit really changes how you interact with the world. I don’t consider it a disadvantage for me, really (an annoyance at worst, some days). But it’s an issue I get that I think a lot of people really don’t.

  • lyndorr

    I was on exchange in Sweden and yeah, the buses are almost perfect. They’re expensive in Stockholm but where I was (Lund) it cost about $2 if you had money on a card. I usually biked though.

  • Kathleen6674

    Yikes! I remember when they first introduced unlimited monthly Metrocards and people were complaining about shelling out $63 for one.

  • lyndorr

    I live in a city with 100 000 that I think has a pretty good transport system. Buses come every 20 min on weekdays and it’s super cheap for students during the school year. But I ignore jobs north of downtown since I live on the south side. Even if it wouldn’t be so bad to get there once I got the job, I can’t imagine applying to places that are pretty far from each other unlike downtown and around the mall. Some main roads are bike friendly thankfully though so I can’t wait to get mine fixed.
    Not having a car here is fine except when I want to buy groceries. You can only carry so much for 20 minutes. However, the intercity transport to where I grew up is now more expensive and inadequate than for more cities so I barely go home. We need more trains.

  • Kathleen6674

    I lug my Trader Joe’s stuff home on public transportation. I’m pretty much limited to one shopping bag (because I might have to use my other arm to hold onto a pole) and what I can fit into my backpack. If I were older or physically disabled, or carting kids around, it would be much harder if not impossible. (I see mothers trying to keep track of kids while loaded down with strollers and packages and wonder how they do it. I would be terrified that my child might run off the train at the wrong stop or get lost).

  • Kathleen6674

    Philly’s SEPTA definitely does not run all night. If you’re in the city, some lines do run relatively late, but you’ll be waiting anywhere from 30-60 minutes on a street corner, quite possibly in an unsafe area, in the middle of the night. If you’re trying to get to/from the suburbs, there is no service at all.
    One of the many, many things I miss about NYC is the 24-hour MTA system.

  • Kathleen6674

    My brother lives in Nashville and can’t afford a car. He is limited to working at the grocery store down the street from his house because public transit is so spotty.

  • MarissaAO

    In Toronto, people from all levels of society ride public transit, from big-shot politicians like Bob Rae, to panhandlers. I’ve heard that it’s quite unique in that respect.
    What makes the difference in Toronto is access to the subway. [Buses run all over the city, but they can be crowded, and they get stuck in traffic.]
    One history of the city that I read hypothesized that the reason Toronto avoided ghettoization (at that time, at least) was because the subway was relatively easy to access, so there were no isolated pockets of the city. Today, there are definitely areas that could be described as “ghettos” and they’re all beyond the end of the subway line.
    Also, getting a subway station is a huge financial boon for a commercial neighbourhood.

  • Kathleen6674

    In Philly, the suburban lines (middle class white people) are much, much nicer than the inner city lines (working class and poor people, most of them black).
    The suburban lines have much bigger seats, better lighting, and cleaner platforms and trains.

  • Kathleen6674

    NYC’s system was cool in that every type of person rode the subway. Rich, poor, and in between.
    I saw Steve Buscemi on the subway. My friend saw JFK Jr. I can’t see famous people riding mass transit anywhere else. There seems to be stigma to taking public transit just about everywhere but NYC and the SF/Berkeley area.

  • hoolissa

    ugh. i know what you mean.
    i went to high school in a small city with no public transportation and it really made my life impossible. i lived with my aunt who had two smaller children so she could never give me rides anywhere, and when i wanted to go out i had to get rides from friend’s parents who eventually started to resent me. ALSO, it wasn’t fair because while all the other students could go to volunteer camps and conferences that built their resumes for college i had to do any sort of resume-building within my high school, which was small and barely had any extracurriculars. so their resumes ended up looking MUCH better than mine. It always made me so mad because i would have loved to volunteer outside of my high school, but it was physically impossible for me…

  • mk

    Boston tries to use celebrity endorsements to boost MBTA ridership. I’ve heard recorded messages from Bruins, Celtics & Sox gushing about how much they love the T. But personally I don’t buy it–multi-million dollar athletes squishing onto the green line with the rest of us?

  • Choice Avenger

    I feel ya Miriam. I live right outside DC and use the metro bus to get from my practice after school to home. I’m in high school, but not yet driving and i live far enough away from school that my parents can’t drive me home everyday, so i am left with taking the bus. It takes me an hour getting home when it would be 20 minutes driving. It can add stress and i am sometimes late to other commitments I have in the evening. But I guess I’m very lucky that the buses fit my needs so far.

  • ephraim

    in some places, there’s also an economic penalty for taking public transit. my commute is literally twice as long and twice as expensive (in terms of train tickets vs. gas) on the commuter rail than driving. $20 and four hours a day vs. $10 and two hours a day. even when you account for insurance and maintenance, i’m sure the $50 i save a week by driving is still worth it.
    there’s no way more people are going to voluntarily chose public transit if they’re penalized so steeply for doing so, and people who have no choice but to use it will continue to be screwed. this is a major infrastructure problem.

  • Bebekah

    Not only does the culture presume car ownership in every household, but for every adult as well. I live and work just out of reach of the Phoenix public transportation system (which leaves much to be desired as well). My partner works pretty far away from home so he drops me off at work in the morning and picks me up in the evening. Although it’s not necessarily part of my job description, I have been asked to go on errands at work and can’t do it unless a coworker loans me their car.
    My boss once looked at me strangely for having to arrive early and leave late, and asked,”Why don’t you just get another car?” I don’t think it should have to be the norm that every person has their own vehicle- you know they ARE an expensive, polluting, major purchase! It’s too bad that it’s seen as the default transport by so many.

  • feministinmississippi

    amen. i was in atlanta for a summer internship and worried everyday about the commute. i’ve missed buses because i was just a few steps away from the bus stop, after which it was a 30-40 minute wait. commute itself took double the time. surprisingly, my colleagues were not proactive at all in offering rides. perhaps they had forgotten just how difficult MARTA is.

  • Astrid

    My husband and I only have one car, which he needs to get to and from work, so I am a bus commuter. I actually like taking the bus, especially since I currently work in downtown Seattle, where I would have to spend a fortune on parking if I drove. However, when looking for a new job I’ve found many list “must have reliable transportation” as a requirement, which more or less disqualifies bus riders like me, and others not privileged enough to own a car. I am surprised and disappointed to see this attitude even in a city that is supposedly so progressive.

  • Astrid

    I did the math, and buying a bus pass here (in Seattle) wouldn’t save me money even if I rode the bus twice a day, five days a week.

  • everybodyever

    On top of that, has anyone ever tried grocery shopping or going to the laundromat on a city bus?
    I recommend using a wheeled suitcase for laundry or groceries if taking the bus, although I have definitely done both many times without one. But often I find it easier to take my little wire pushcart — the kind elderly women often use — and walk (I don’t think NYCTA buses allow carts like that on board).
    I do this whenever I do large loads of laundry and often did it to go to the bigger, cheaper supermarkets a few miles away before I brought my old car up here to use.

  • everybodyever

    Thanks for the note, ellenrose. I wasn’t aware of that. I’m unfamiliar with most of Chicago’s geography but interested: What areas do the red and blue lines serve, and why do you think they’re the all-night ones? (My experiences of the city are mostly limited to the north side, where my best friend lives, and to what I have absorbed from Saul Bellow books.) I did suspect that the T shut down at night but couldn’t imagine what other American cities’ metros, if any, might have 24-hour service.
    While in Nashville, did you ever ride the Music City Star, the new commuter rail line? I haven’t had occasion to, since I moved away before it opened and since I never lived anywhere near where it served. My parents lived and still live in the Green Hills/Forest Hills area, and I lived a while on the east side, a ten-minute drive to work downtown. Luckily I seldom had to rely on Nashville’s awful buses, though. What part of town did you live in, and what were your experiences there with getting around?

  • niivala

    I used to live in Toronto where the TTC was amazing but now I live in Groningen, The Netherlands, which puts everywhere else I’ve ever been to shame. First: I can go almost anywhere in the country by train or bus. I can use the same strippenkaart (strip of tickets) on any bus in any city in the country.
    Bicycling: in a country known for being bike friendly, Groningen is the friendliest and bike use is growing. Guarded bike parking is free. Bike paths are kept separate from traffic and they go everywhere through the city more efficiently than cars. In the centre of the city, pedestrians, bikes, taxis and buses have priority and there are places where cars are not allowed. Parking is arranged at a few places near the centrum and at Park and Rides that have frequent bus service.
    There is car sharing for those who need a car now and then. People of all social status ride bikes. Street/public transit harassment of women is practically unheard of. Old people ride their scooters on the bike paths.
    The city is built on a scale that allows people to live, work and play (and get their groceries) without a lot of wasted commuting time. Beautiful!

  • Roni

    I would also like to add that in practice, public trans schedules are frequently wrong and that can lead to dangerous situations
    One particularly horrifying NYE, when I was 18, Friend A and I took a train from Haverhill, MA (where I left my car) to Boston, a 35-45 min. trip
    Friend A took off as planned, and I was supposed to meet up and go home with friends B&C. They never showed, due to problems with public transit. After waiting an hour, I decided to catch the 11:30 train back to Haverhill, another half hour wait at the freezing station. The train stopped halfway to Haverhill and the drivers informed me I HAD to exit the train, because it was the end of the line before they headed back to Boston. Only every OTHER train went out to Haverhill. The schedule I had picked up at the train station was wrong. I tried to buy another ticket and they wouldn’t let me. My only option was to exit the train and catch the next and pray they saw me and stopped.
    I waited around for half an hour in -8 degree weather, but no train came. I finally called my folks on a payphone because I was worried about frostbite and didn’t think I had the money for a cab or if there was even one around. I had never taken a cab before. It would take them 30-60 minutes to get there, they had been in bed already and were in NH. While I waiting on a unsheltered bench, no other people in sight, I heard the sounds of men laughing, yelling and breaking glass from the park and ride lot around the corner of the ticket building. All I could do was tuck myself into a shadowy corner and pray my folks came around the corner before the glass breakers. It seemed like I was there forever.
    Finally my parents got there, and my feet eventually regained feeling, but that night could have gone a lot worse. I relied on public transportation while in college in Pittsburgh, and I ran into a lot of scary, unsafe situations. Once I had go to court over a death threat. I don’t really feel comfortable having to rely on public transportation anymore.

  • everybodyever

    I always imagined Boston might be fairly bikeable due to its size.
    That situation with establishments closing later than the T does seem absurd, and I’d think that as a result there would be tons of drunk college kids on bicycles late at night. I’ve wondered if there’s any correlation between poor public transit late at night and local biking while intoxicated laws laws.

  • Shade

    I’m not sure requiring reliable transportation is so unreasonable a request from the company – did they specifically state that owning a car was required?
    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an employer to require that their employees have a way to consistently arrive on time. That’s part of having a job, isn’t it? Making sure you’ve got the ability to arrive on time and ready to work? If the company is requiring it, then they’ve obviously had problems with people consistently not arriving in a timely manner. Is the Seattle bus system constantly off schedule and late?
    Granted, I live in a small southeastern Idaho town where there isn’t any public transport to speak of and have never lived for an extended period of time in a city that had such facilities available, so I’m not familiar with the relative inadequacy of said transport, but I don’t think basic expectations of arriving on time makes an employer less progressive.

  • Shade

    Oh, I absolutely *love* the transport in the Netherlands. I’m more familiar with Delft than Groningen, but the fact that you can get anywhere you need to go on a bike is wonderful. I also noticed that their bikes in general have much better construction than bikes I’ve found in the states, and are obviously meant as a major form of transport. I’m currently trying to find a way to get one without paying an arm and a leg in shipping costs.
    The problem with public transport in the US, though, is that we’re just so much bigger than the other countries. My boyfriend is Dutch, and scoffed at my explanations of why Idaho doesn’t really have public transport, but then he came here and realized just how much space there is between things (though this is mostly true for Midwest and West). My parents live ten miles outside of the town on a farm, with very few ‘neighbors’, so having a bus system that went out so far would really be impractical when you consider cost.

  • HeatherK

    Unfortunately, Boston isn’t particularly biker-friendly either. While I don’t have any experience biking through the city, Boston is notorious for having bad drivers who don’t exactly follow the law that bikes are allowed on the streets too. There are also no bike lanes and very narrow streets (Cambridge is slightly better though, they have bike lanes on some major streets). There’s at least 1 or 2 bike deaths a year because of this. However, like I said, I have no experience riding in the city and I do know a few people who would much rather bike than take the T.
    And I totally agree with you holmes that there must be some kind of deal with the MBTA and the taxi companies. The T no longer runs the night owl service and now there’s talks of raising the price while cutting even more late night and weekend service, which I feel is really dangerous. I live right outside the city so if I want to stay in town after 12:30, my only options are to go with my friends who drive (and risk them driving me home drunk) or take a $40-50 cab ride (there have also been incidents lately where women have been raped by men posing as cab drivers). I always feel like such a loser having to leave my friends so early and I can’t imagine what it would be like if I worked a late-night shift and couldn’t get home, especially since most people who do work these shifts live on the edges of the city like me and would have to pay the enormous cab fares everyday. The late night riders are also largely minorities who don’t always speak up, speak english, or can’t attend the meetings the T holds to “discuss” changes in services.
    I was in public transport heaven when I went to Switzerland a few months ago. Everything ran on time, was spotless, and ran almost 24 hours. I’m sure it has its flaws for those that live there, but it always amazes me how the US and cities here have never taken the example of European cities and their systems (I’ve also used the public transit in England, Paris, and Stockholm, which were all still much better than the T). Of course I don’t know anything about the financial aspects, but I’ve always imagined that it would be far more cost-effective in the long run to develop a more solid public transport system that people can trust and rely on than the crappy service we have now and the dependence on cars to get us everywhere.

  • JennyMac

    Have you ever been to Amsterdam? EVERYONE there has a bike (and apparently the older and more dilapidated the bike – with the essential milk crate on the front – the better). They have right of way, it’s so flat geographically and all the little children ride on their parents bikes, or from an early age cycle on their own (this is safe because of the dedicated cycle lanes). However, I wonder if there is a element of stratification particular to this form of transportation – that is, is it intersected by issues of race, class, gender and so on? As I said before, the older the bike, generally (I thought) the cooler the person astride it…Also it helps us to look beyond that Euro-American perspective of car as somehow aligned with privilege and public transport with disadvantage and help us to see the soi-disant ‘alternative’ forms of getting about – (again Amsterdam) tram and bike-cabs, rickshaws and the like……

  • Lea

    To all the people talking about some cities not being bike-friendly: with the exception of some major interstate highways, bikes legally have the right to use any roads that cars do. Any place with roads is “bike-friendly”. If the roads are narrow and people get stuck behind you, guess what? That’s their problem, not yours. Just don’t even worry about it. True, biking can be dangerous, but so is driving. I don’t think “danger” should be a factor that deters anyone from biking. Bikes are fast, cheap to buy, easy to store and repair, great for your health, and friendly for the environment. They handle ice and snow surprisingly well, too- I’ve biked to and from class in heavy snow a couple of times, fully expecting to wipeout repeatedly, but never did. In heavy traffic, biking will get you there more quickly than driving, because you can cut between cars waiting at stoplights and intersections. Bikes are awesome!