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Taking Public Transit Instead of Driving A Personal Experience

By Steve Atlas

Car Free Journey – March 2010

By Steve on Mar 10, 2010 in Steve's CARFREE JOURNEY

Do you find yourself thinking, “It’s great to talk about driving less or even being car-free? However, that could not work for me. I need my car.”

I have to confess that, for too long, this has been true for me. Even though we live 10-minutes walk from a bus that operates nearly 24 hours every day, it seemed much easier to get in the car and wherever I wanted or needed to go. I told myself that, very soon, I would take the bus downtown and do some sightseeing.

Then, I became 65 and eligible for Medicare. (I still cannot believe it.) Suddenly, the cost of a monthly transit pass dropped from $64 to $16.50. A day pass for people 65 and older is just $1.20-instead of the normal $3.60. Since I am officially “retired” (even though I do my writing and other freelance work from home), I began thinking of how I could use the bus to save time and money.

On Monday, March 1, I decided to take the bus to a nearby shopping mall-one where I always have had trouble finding a parking space. Taking the bus eliminated this problem. However, I have a confession to make.

I never got to the mall (except for a sub at Subway later). When I got off, I discovered a small shopping center that I had never noticed before. (I focused on finding parking at the mall and shopping there to have time for “distractions.”) Within that courtyard were a used bookstore and a CD store. I had so much fun exploring those two stores that I did not even consider shopping at the mall.

Yet, if I had not gotten out of my car and taken the 20-minute bus ride, I would never have discovered these two great places. Could that also be true for you? Take time to use your local bus or other public transit. Keep your eyes peeled for something new. You may discover stores, parks, or other unexpected delights.

The next day, I took an express bus to Penn Station-home to Amtrak and commuter trains. My reason was a strange one. I wanted to get some money from an ATM located there. Before, I had never considered that possible because of traffic and the high cost of parking.

Now, for just 40 cents, (the extra charge for an express bus)-instead of several dollars, I had a pleasant trip to the station, got my money, and took the bus back home. Perhaps, you know of places you would like to go, but do not because of traffic or the high cost of parking. Public transit offers a convenient and affordable alternative.

Soon, I plan to visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The cost of parking is $16-$19 for a day, and close to that for just a few hours parking. (If you are fortunate, you can find an on-street meter for $1 per hour up to a maximum 4 hours, or walk 15-20 minutes for a are neighborhood parking space that actually can be free-if you can find a free space.

Again, the bus—or our local subway or light rail—offers an alternative that costs nothing except the all-day ($1.20-$3.60) pass or a monthly pass ($16.50-$64 for unlimited travel for an entire calendar month). I sure would prefer to pay nothing to go sightseeing, instead of $4 (if I found an on-street space)-$19 for parking. Wouldn’t you?

Having three days during the week where I left my car in our driveway, and walked and took public transportation paid off in another way. That week, I only had to fill my car with gasoline once, instead of the usual two times—a savings of close to $30.

This made me realize even more than before that the more you drive, the more expensive it is to operate your automobile. You have to buy more gas, and maintenance costs more.

On the other hand, after you buy a transit pass, each ride becomes less expensive every time you take your local bus. Even though I have only taken the bus three days (so far) this month, each day costs me just $5.50. If I use my pass for a 4th day, the cost goes down to $4 for each day.

I told people on a Car Free Cities Yahoo group that taking transit makes sense, except when you grocery shop. However, a group member reminded me that most people who do not drive buy a small shopping cart that they can take on a bus. Another option is to contact Peapod or another service that will deliver groceries to your home.

As spring approaches, consider ways that you can drive less. You might discover that you enjoy less stress, save money, and can do errands or sightseeing that you never thought possible because of traffic or the high cost of parking.

Let me know ways that you have discovered to drive less. What works for you? Do you have any tips for others who want to cut their dependency on driving everywhere? 

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