Getting Personal about Public Transportation

Getting Personal about Public Transportation

Posted on 02. Dec, 2011 by in Real-World Ideas

Public transportation is really an unsung eco hero. Some people complain that trains are dirty or buses run late. And sure, there are some strange folks who take the train once in a while. But there are also strange folks who get behind the wheel and drive behind you (or in front of you).

But no matter where you are in the world, local public transportation reduces carbon emissions for every person on board. It also reduces the number of personal vehicles on the road, thereby reducing traffic congestion. Over the course of a year, you can cut your own carbon emissions by nearly 5,000 pounds just by hopping on a bus rather than driving.

Other perks of public transport? Nap time. Catch up on your reading: sit back and crack open a book, the newspaper — even peruse your inbox. Make a dent in your work projects. Some folks use the ride to complete personal hygiene tasks while en route to their destination; they apply makeup, strategically change clothes or even clip fingernails. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard the telltale click of a fingernail clipper on a subway. But let’s get back to the benefits of public transportation.

Mass transit also allows you to get up close and personal with your neighbors. You sit or stand close together. You practically have permission to eavesdrop on conversations. You can unapologetically read over someone’s shoulder. Public transportation gets us to our destinations, but it also delivers an intimate experience that reminds us that we’re part of a larger community of people who work, run errands or meet friends for dinner. No matter who you are or where you come from, if it’s raining, everyone on the train is a little soggy. When the sun finally emerges after a cold, bleak week, everyone’s mood on the bus is buoyant.

I’ve depended on public transportation as a student, worker and traveler. I’ve ridden buses, commuter trains and subways in many cities. I didn’t have a car until I married one — that is to say I married my husband who had a car. Up until then, public transportation was my only method of getting to and from school or work, shopping, visiting the dentist or any number of other routine excursions of daily life. Like it or hate it, I needed mass transit to function. I didn’t choose it for its green attributes.

But those green attributes are compelling. For example, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the second largest public transportation system in the country, replaces roughly 400,000 vehicles each weekday. And my life depended on it during grad school. I took it to and from work and class, the airport, the salon, the dentist, the vet, grocery shopping, and occasionally a club. I committed my bus and train schedules to memory and could stitch intricate travel itineraries together in seconds to facilitate any errand. I don’t live in Chicago anymore, but the CTA still holds a special place in my heart, which is why I was delighted to discover that it has some impressive green initiatives in place for further reducing its ridership’s collective environmental impact.

Of course, public transportation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If you have the luxury of choice, opt for mass transit once a week for a work commute. Or on a weekend for a baseball game or the farmer’s market. And if you use public transportation out of necessity rather than choice, looks like your carbon footprint has lost some weight — about 5,000 pounds, I’d say.

What’s your favorite public transportation experience?

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