My family, friends, and colleagues know that I am a pretty dedicated transit user. When you come from New York City, riding transit is just something you do. I’ve never seen any reason to behave differently just because I live in car-oriented Southern California. In fact, one of the reasons I live in Long Beach is because I could ride from here to my (then) job in downtown Los Angeles via the Metro Blue Line. Now that I work in Long Beach, I usually get to my office by taking the Long Beach Transit bus down Cherry Avenue. If I need to go to downtown LA, it’s back to the Blue Line.
Here are some of the many reasons why I try to leave my car at home as often as I can.
I avoid producing emissions and I reduce my carbon footprint.
I’m not clogging up a street or freeway or on-ramp with yet another car.
I’m buying a little less $4-a-gallon gas.
I don’t care about traffic reports! I cannot tell you how many years this benefit alone has added to my life.
My company pays for my monthly transit pass. (OK, so I own my company, but lots of employers do this.)
While walking to and from transit stops, I get exercise and fresh air. I see my community face-to-face and I appreciate its beauty (especially on Ocean Boulevard). I can stop and smell the flowers (and I do!).
I don’t have to pay for parking. I don’t have to worry about parking or the risk of damage to my car.
After business meetings, I often get back to my office by “bumming a ride” with colleagues, potential clients or people I’d like to get to know better. Carpooling like this has turned out to be a great networking tool!
While riding transit, I have time to read, talk on the phone, catch up on e-mail, play games, or even sleep. Most of those activities are, shall we say, inadvisable while driving.
OK, I don’t take transit everywhere, no matter what. There are places I have to drive to, and days when I decide to drive because I can’t spare the extra time transit would take. But my default mode, especially for work days, is, “How can I get there without a car?”
When I worked at SCAG, I learned that in Southern California, a scant two percent of commute trips are taken by transit. Indeed, at SCAG transit was sometimes spoken of as a “social safety net” for those who were too poor to afford a car or unable to obtain a driver’s license.
To be sure, many living situations in our region do demand a car – it’s not realistic for us all to behave as if we lived in Manhattan. But we’re beginning to reach some limits here. We’ve “sprawled” out to the far reaches of the Inland Empire and created nightmare commutes. We’ve been unable to achieve health-based air quality standards, thanks in part to the emissions coming from our traffic. We’re slowly waking up to the fact that it’s time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – a large portion of which come from cars. Perhaps transit is one answer – if only we began to think of it as something other than a last resort.
I know public transit has its drawbacks. It does take more travel time (though in my experience the Blue Line from Willow Station to downtown LA is just about as quick as a rush-hour drive, and sometimes faster). A monthly transit pass isn’t always cheaper than parking (but I bet it’s cheaper when you factor in the gas you use). You do have to share the space with other people, and sometimes they are loud and, once in a great while, smelly. You have to wait for transit to show up, and sometimes it runs late, and sometimes it breaks down.
Personally, I don’t let these problems divert me from all the benefits I experience. What’s more, it turns out that Long Beach has a great bus system. It runs on time, the buses are clean and well lighted, the stops are clearly announced, the fare is low, and a good (and growing) number of the buses are innovative low-emission gasoline hybrids. I’m not asking you to ride the bus (or the train, or to walk or ride your bike). I’m asking you to ask yourself why you don’t, or can’t, do any of those things. And if you can, even sometimes, I hope you will.