I Rode the Bus . . . And I Liked It

My New Year started with a bang: someone crashed into my car.

It was sitting there, parked on the street in front of my apartment, minding its own business, when, at some time in the night/early morning of Jan. 3 or so, some clown ran into it. No ice was involved in the making of this wreck, by the way. Alcohol, maybe.

Old Bessie (an Acura Legend) was the real-deal metal car, not some fiberglass mash-up. So whoever hit it damaged their vehicle, because little flecks of glass covered the hood of my car. But the hit knocked my car off its front-end axle. It was totaled. I don’t know who hit it because the offender took off never left a note or a message.

Because I didn’t have the type of insurance that covered the loss, I was carless for several weeks.

Being an independent type, I didn’t want to burden family or friends for a ride as I searched for another car. And why should I? The MAX bus rode right in front of my apartment several times a day, every day. I don’t do much traveling, as I do most of my work by internet and phone. So, whenever I needed to get downtown for a meeting, I rode the bus.

Now, to be honest, nothing yet beats the convenience of a car in terms of getting anywhere you need to go, when you need to get there. But operating a car is expensive – gas, maintenance, tags, insurance, and all.

But after a few weeks, I realized how much money I was saving by NOT using the car. I spent only $1.50 each way to get to where I was going. The DART was even cheaper, just a quarter to go up and down 20th Street. And don’t tell me only a few people ride the bus. It was full every day I got on it. And after it left Central Station, it was standing room only.

Using public transit also made me realize how lazy I was. Since neither the bus nor the DART put me at the front door of every place I needed to be, I had to walk. It was a little tough at first, but I got used to it. My legs certainly look better!

Then I thought about how much money I was wasting by jumping into my car just to go two blocks up the street to pick up my pizza, or pick up items from the CVS store and the corner market, or go to Starbucks to sip coffee while I worked on the internet. I could have been walking the whole time!

This is why Southerners are so obese, I think. People in northern cities with public transportation are used to walking for blocks to reach their destinations.

I have a car now, so I admit I don’t use the bus as much as I could. However, it’s wonderful knowing that option is available when I need it, and even when I don’t. But what about those who do need it because owning a car is cost-prohibitive? And how about folks with cars who could save some money by riding a convenient public transit system that suits their lifestyle?

It has always pained me to see transit get such little public support when it can be such a public benefit, especially as we face $4.00+ per gallon gas and the inevitable price hikes will ripple through the economy. Even a “good job” offers little protection to the income erosion that’s bound to eat into people’s pockets, especially in a very tough recession. Yes, transit has to be subsidized, just like highways and sewer systems and schools. And if more in the public end up paying for it, it has to benefit more of the public, not just “poor people.”

There’s no way this space can cover the pros and cons of the broad and sometimes controversial subject of public transit, especially in Birmingham, where our current system has not worked well for a long time. County Commissioner Sandra Faye Little recently held a community meeting on the topic during the day and 100 folks attended. The Greater Birmingham Ministries sent me information about another meeting next week.

The “Mass Meeting for Mass Transit” will be held 6 p.m. Monday, March 28, at St. Paul United Methodist Church. The meeting will feature updates on new federal funding strategies for transit (including flexible options that allow those funds to be used for operations), perspectives on transit from across the county, and the struggle to win funding from the new state legislature.

If you’re interested in transit and know others who are, please pass this along to them.

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