Washington University School of Medicine, where I work, doesn’t have what I like to call “cheap parking.” If I recall, it’s something like $60 or $70 per month to park within a few blocks of the building I work in, and personally, I’d rather spend that kind of money on video games or beer.
However, as part of their sustainability initiative, Wash U pays for all students and employees to have a yearly St. Louis Metro pass. This means that, so long as I have the pass and present my University ID card, I can ride any bus or any MetroLink (the above-ground train system) for free.
Unfortunately, though, while the MetroLink has a reasonably decent reputation with regards to cleanliness and timeliness, the MetroBus system doesn’t. And furthermore, we don’t really live anywhere near a MetroLink stop where I could hop on, at least, not in any convenient manner. Therefore, I’m riding the bus. The “scary, dirty, slow,” bus.
To be fair, I’m only riding it in the evenings. Brooke is driving me to work in the mornings, then dropping Meg off at daycare and then finally going to work herself. Most mornings, this isn’t a problem, though there’s something of a “sweet spot” in timing that we try to avoid. If we leave the house by 7:40 am, or after 8:15 am, we can get me to work in 15 min or so. If we leave anytime inbetween, it’s closer to 30 min. Yay, St. Louis traffic.
But in the evenings, I’m riding the bus. Brooke picked me up for the first week or two, since I didn’t have my bus pass yet. This “worked,” but Meg wasn’t exactly happy having to sit in her car seat for nearly 45 min every afternoon. It’s made things much easier now that Brooke can just bring her straight home. My bus trips tend to take 20-30 min in the evenings, so it isn’t a huge deal. As long as I leave before 6:00 pm, there are buses running just about every 20 min to the stop(s) near my building.
The buses themselves are alright. They aren’t all that dirty, and while I haven’t exactly figured out the best time to go outside to wait at the stop, I can’t really say that they’re consistently late or anything. The bus stop where I get off the bus is on Kingshighway, so after I get off, I still have to walk a few blocks before I get home. Right now, it isn’t an issue, but once we get a foot of snow on the ground, I may think otherwise.
I do want to address the “scary” part of the city bus stereotype, though. Is the bus full of rich, white, Americans? Nope. Lots of African Americans, lots of Hispanics, lots of elderly people, lots of low-income people…and lots of other people inbetween. Heck, on the ride home last night around 5:30, white people out-numbered black people 2:1 on my bus. Was I a bit apprehensive the first time I rode the bus, looking down the aisle at the various “characters” that I’ve been told would terrorize me over the last decade? Yeah, I probably was, to some extent. Now, after a few weeks, it’s pretty easy and I don’t give it a second thought. And, to be fair, there are seemingly “well off” people riding the bus as well. Perhaps not as many, but they’re there. In total, it’s probably the most diverse place you’ll find in the greater metropolitan area. And they just want to get where they’re going each day without much fuss, just like anyone and everyone else.
I guess I think it’s important that I ride the bus, partially to show others that it really isn’t all that scary, and partially to “walk the walk” when I talk about sustainability. Mass transit, overall, is a good way to save money and help the environment. It takes cars off the road and reduces demand on gasoline. Because there are fewer cars on the road, that means fewer cars that go to scrap yards some day, fewer tires that go into the landfill, and fewer emissions that go into our air. Generally speaking, using mass transit is an ideal way that people can do their part to help the environment.
There are plenty of people around that think we should all use mass transit more often, but these same people wouldn’t be caught dead on a city bus. The city bus isn’t good enough for them. The city bus is dirty and dangerous and they will only use services like MetroLink, or like the Metro system in Washington, D.C. Rather than submit to riding the bus, instead, they will drive their car that 4 miles and park it, even though the amount of time spent doing so is equivalent to riding the bus.
I’m sure I’ve told people in the past that I’d use public transportation if I had it. And for many years, I didn’t consider the bus to be “public transportation.” To me, and to many others, I’d argue, “public transportation” equals “light rail,” while “riding the bus” equals “only for poor people and minorities.” Maybe it goes unsaid, but that’s the general impression I get from other people when the prospect of “riding the bus” comes up. However, the only reason light rail systems like MetroLink exist is because there were enough people riding buses for that distance that it made financial sense to build a rail system. Thus, the more people that ride buses within the city of St. Louis, and other communities, the more likely municipal officials will be to finance more light rail systems.
Therefore, I’m trying to “walk the walk” after “talking the talk” about mass transit. If I can do my part to ride the city bus, I’ll do it as long as I can. It saves me money and it saves my wife and kid time that they don’t have to be in the car to pick me up every day. Win/win.
But in the end, if the bus is good enough for the other people that ride it, the bus is good enough for me.