Sometimes I wonder how different our lives would be if mass transit was more available to more places in the U.S.
Certainly, subways and trains are popular in several major cities. New York has the subway; Chicago, the L; San Francisco, BART; and – to a lesser extent – Seattle with the Sounder. But we still have hoards of stressed-out people commuting (i.e. sitting in traffic) an hour or more each way, when they could be sitting on a train while reading a book, catching some Zs or prepping for a meeting.
On top of the sheer convenience, having fewer drivers on the road would mean fewer accidents on the road – and, by extension, fewer deaths. There would be fewer fatigued commuters falling asleep behind the wheel, getting distracted by their phone, or switching into auto-pilot and failing to notice a pedestrian.
When I was in Washington, D.C., last September, I noticed dozens of men and women in business suits and sneakers riding the metro. In a city as large – and expensive – as D.C., public transport was the norm. Seattle has the Sounder commuter train, but it makes only one trip to the city each morning and one return trip each evening. If you miss your one chance to hop on, or have to flex your schedule, that’s too bad for you, buckaroo.
I think the first step to encourage this change is changing perspectives. Buses are seen by many in the States as dirty. Sketchy people ride the bus. Women may not feel comfortable riding them alone. I’ve personally been heckled by a King County Metro bus driver simply for confirming what bus he was driving (he hadn’t changed the bus’s number on the electronic sign yet, and made a big production of doing so for my benefit). Here in Palmerston North, the buses are clean and the drivers are some of the friendliest, most helpful people I’vet met in New Zealand. I take four buses each work day and always feel safe on them (Well, there is that one driver who likes to start driving again when I have one foot inside the bus and one foot off. But I’ve just learned to take a running leap.).
Other perks to public transport is the amount of money you save in gasoline – and, for some, not owning a vehicle at all.
I don’t expect this to be easy. Driving is a much-ingrained rite of passage for Americans. Driving is independence! And I do admit, I miss driving. I haven’t done so since I left the States in December. But I wish people wish people would consider the alternative.