The following guest post was written by Alan, a bus rider and resident of East Lansing.
I actually enjoy riding the bus. I know not many people will say that, at least not many people in Michigan. If you lived in Chicago or DC or Europe, then you’d probably admit to your love of public transportation. You’d have amazing train and bus systems to point to as proof. But here in Michigan, we don’t have subways or streetcars. But what we do have can still be pretty good.
For around 10 years I rode the bus from my home in East Lansing to my work with Lansing Community College. We were a one-car family by choice, and the bus was really just too convenient not to use. I didn’t have to walk far to get to my bus stop, I only had to pay $35.00 for a monthly pass, and I didn’t have to pay for downtown parking. That expense adds up fast, especially combined with buying gas and regular maintenance, insurance, etc. of owning a second car. It was really an easy decision for my family.
Last fall we decided that we needed a second car. Family obligations, getting our kid to various practices, rehearsals, appointments and the like became too cumbersome. Ten years of riding public transportation and now we had a second car. Oddly enough, I missed a lot of things about riding the bus. I can’t tell you how many books I read over the years commuting to and from work each day. Now I have to try to find time to read.
I’m riding the bus again this week for the Smart Commute challenge. Each year Michigan communities are challenged to ‘smart commute’ instead of driving. This can be anything from riding your bike, taking the bus, walking, or even paddling. I can’t very easily take a kayak to work, so I ride the bus.
It’s been about 10 months since I last rode the bus, but it feels the same. The bus driver is friendly and helps a passenger in front of me use the fare box. The bus isn’t too crowded, just a diverse sampling of students, professionals and the elderly. It only takes me around 30 minutes and I arrive at the office. Easy as that. Not much more time than it would take to drive from East Lansing, fight the traffic, find a parking spot and walk to my building.
I think it’s interesting the kind of interactions you have on a bus. I remember a cool experience back when I rode it regularly. It was one of those express routes, so the same people rode it nearly everyday on our way to work, and we eventually got to know each other pretty well. One day one of our usual co-commuters was absent, and we learned through the grapevine that his mother had died. So the next day a sympathy card was passed around for us all to sign. I never knew who bought it or had to chip in any money. And it didn’t seem weird either, even though I never saw this person outside of this 8:15-8:50, Monday through Friday routine. I thought it was a very cool thing to do – someone to take the initiative to get a card and have the bus crowd sign it.
My bus driver got to know me during my days of more frequent ridership. Trying to get out the door early in the mornings, time can slip away so I found myself jogging to the bus stop more than a few times. When this happened a couple of days in a row – the driver would literally stop between bus stops and pick me up. At one point he said, “if you could just tell me where you live, I can just pick you up at your house” – kidding, of course, but pretty funny nonetheless.
When my daughter was younger, the bus was almost adventurous to her. We’d take it to downtown East Lansing for ice cream, to the bookstore, to MSU football games and more. It is so nice just to sort of “hop on and hop off” and not worry about traffic, parking, etc. Imagine how nice it would be to get to Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids without having to deal with parking!
Even though we own a second car now, and all the financial joys that go into owning it, I’ll still ride the bus from time to time. It’s just easier sometimes, and more importantly, I really do enjoy riding the bus.