Friday, July 15, 2011

Toot-Toot, Beep-Beep – or How I Manage Transportation

I am a control freak, obviously. I mean, I can't even allow other people to pay for my dinner because I think it throws off our "power dynamics".  I have also never owned a car, and haven't been behind the wheel in over a year. I am very serious about using public transportation (and now, my new bike!). As you might imagine, reconciling these two parts of my moral fiber is no picnic.

Using public transportation in any big city is a smart move financially. Using a bicycle (when weather and time permit) is even smarter. The problem is that you have to relinquish a lot of control in order to do it. Buses and trains are crowded and do not usually run on time. No amount of alertness can save you from that errant car door that opens into the bike lane, or the bike thief who carries enough tools to break through all three of your locks.

An unexpected cloud burst or even a completely expected rainy day can disrupt your routine so badly that you feel as if you will never recover. For me, that frustration just burns in my chest until I feel like I'm going to explode all over the other people at my bus stop. At one point, I lived almost two miles from the nearest metro stop and had to stay home sick during thunderstorms.

So here are some tips to surviving as a control freak without a car, and for getting the most out of your transportation dollars.

  • Take. The. Bus. If you live in Washington, D.C. at least. The buses here are clean, not nearly as crowded as the metro during rush hour and infinitely cheaper. They are also far more likely to have working climate control. Traffic can be annoying, but slight alterations in your daily schedule can fix this.

  • Change your work schedule. Most work places are getting more and more flexible with what they will allow. Often, the difference between commuting at 8:30 am instead of 9:00 am can save you time, money, and dealing with crowds. The same goes for leaving at 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm instead of right at 5:30 pm.

  • Bike! Bikes are great – and most cities have a bikers association with perks like "guaranteed ride home" and tips for the best traffic routes and for avoiding accidents. You will be shocked at how much of the city opens up to you once you have a bike – what once took you one hour and two train changes, suddenly takes you 20 minutes from door to door. The kicker is that it's also great for your health!

  • Zipcar. There are lots of great things outside the city and it sucks to have to depend on someone who owns a car to take advantage of them. Zipcar is also great for big grocery store trips, because no one looks good carrying a 20-pack of toilet paper on the handlebars of their bike.

  • Get to know your neighbors/meet new people. I met my Partner on the metro at rush hour. If you can cling to a shred of your positive attitude and keep an open mind, who knows who you might meet!

Living anywhere in America without a car is difficult. It challenges our habits and comfort daily. However, using public transportation in combination with biking can save you money, improve your health, and help you wage your own righteous battle on oil dependency. Just try to remind yourself of that the next time you ruin a pair of suede shoes standing in the rain at a bus stop.

I've got no car and it's breakin' my heart, but I've got a driver and that's a start.....

Double E

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