Some of you know, some of you don’t, my first step toward a greener existence was not by choice. I was forced. In September of last year I learned I would not be able to drive for a year due to a medical condition. I was quickly stir-crazy trapped in my house with no way to get anywhere without first calling someone and inconveniencing them or waiting on their availability. I hate this. I had always been wildly independent and very much used to do what I want when I felt like it. No longer being able to drive was like having my wings clipped. I needed to be able to get from point A to point B not just for fun but for necessity, things like going to the doctor or the grocery had suddenly become a monumental undertaking. I whined, I cried, I mostly just stayed home.
When the weather was nice it was not as big an issue as when the weather was not. As long as it was relatively warm and the skies were clear, Louie (our dog) and I could walk almost anywhere we needed to go. The nice thing about where we live is it is rural enough to give you a little land and some privacy, but located centrally enough to put us with-in walking distance of everything essential, like the grocery, the library and the hardware store. I consoled myself with the fact that: not only was I saving fossil fuel by not tooling around in my gargantuan truck, but Louie and I were getting much needed exercise walking to all our errands. This was fine for several months. If I needed to go to a doctor appointment or there was some errand Fred could not run on his way home then my dad or mother-in-law would take me with them.
Then the snow came. This past winter was one of the worst I can remember. We had record snowfall amounts trapping us in the house without electricity (which in this house means without heat another green thing we hope to rectify by next winter) and limiting my transportation options from walking to exclusively bumming rides from family and friends. I was miserable. I decided to get a bus pass. Now for someone like me who had never even liked to ride the school bus this really sounded like a nightmare. City buses can be daunting things. They have terrible reputations of being filthy and filled with mentally unstable and dangerous people. I really, really debated even getting on the bus at all. Eventually though I had to claim back at least a small portion of my independence and I determined I would learn to ride the bus.
And that is just it. If you have never been in a position to depend upon public transportation it can be an extremely daunting task. It really is like learning a whole new skill. If you need to get, say, to the other side of town, you must coordinate the bus schedules to make the proper transfer or you will be left standing at the transit mall for possibly an hour plus while waiting on the next bus to arrive. Also, all of the bus schedules say you must have exact fare (although I have found this to be untrue and most bus drivers are friendly and will make change), and the fairs are different depending upon how far you are traveling on the bus, additionally you may also purchase a bus pass at the transit mall for ten dollars which gives you eleven dollars worth of riding time. A simple thing that no one told me, until I had ridden the bus for several weeks, was that if you need to get from one bus to another you may as the driver of the first bus for a transfer, this only adds ten cents to your original fair and saves you from paying an entire second fair on the next bus. These little nuances and tricks are things that are not clearly spelled out on the website or in the schedule, at least not that I could decipher. These are things I have picked up from other riders and from friendly bus drivers.
I did not choose to ride the bus willingly and had I not been forced by my situation it probably never would have even crossed my mind to ride a bus instead of drive myself. But if everyone took public transportation just one day we could each possibly cut our carbon emissions by twenty pounds per day per person (Capital Metro Website). Twenty pounds is a LOT. Now this is probably only true if you have lots of errands to run in lots of different places, and providing that the bus runs where you need to go. Even though the buses do create emissions and do use carbon fuels the thing is that it is only one vehicle versus the fifteen or twenty vehicles in uses if each person on the bus drove separately. So, really public transportation has not only given me back a measure of my freedom it has also helped push me towards a greener lifestyle.
Which brings me to my issue and my real problem that spurned today’s blog topic. How do we change the stigma attached to riding the bus? People (myself included) make assumptions about the kinds of people that ride the bus and rely on public transportation. We assume, foremost, that no one does it by choice. If you ride the bus you must be either too poor to afford a car, too crazy or impair to operate a car (I now fall into this category), or shiftless and without purpose which leaves you with unlimited time to wait on a bus. People who ride buses and wait for buses along the road are treated to deliberate splashing, hurled insults, pity, offers of rides from extremely creepy predators and generally abused or completely ignored and treated like they have suddenly developed the super power of invisibility. Why? Why are we as a society determined to look down our noses at people who are, in reality, taking a small part in saving our environment, whether willingly or not?
You know, if everyone who drives a car would take just one trip a month on the bus instead, think of all the fossil fuel we would save, and how far we would go to removing the stigma of riding the bus as something shameful or pitiable. Last night I spent the night at a friend’s house and instead of having her make and additional trip the opposite direction of her work this morning I told her not to worry about it. I would catch the bus home. Now to get from her house to my house I would need to walk about a mile and a half to the bus stop (no problem, pretty day) and then make a transfer from one bus to the next in town (not my favorite thing to do but I did not have any big plans for the day).
I left her house about 9:00AM and headed down the hill. Now here is what I do not understand. Why is it that a woman on foot, conservatively dressed, somehow becomes a target for every weirdo pervert in a vehicle? I got honked at, whistled at, and three separate men stopped to ask if I needed a ride. Do not get me wrong, I am all for people being good Samaritans. I will try to stop and help someone in a time of need, but I am also pretty sure that none of these men wanted to help me. Especially since one of them stopped after I was already seated at the bus stop and clearly in no distress.
This is the stigma that I am talking about. Now these were not lecherous looking men in beat up old vehicles with the license plates blacked out offering candy from seedy vans. These were men in nice pick-up trucks and normal sedans. What makes it ok to approach a woman waiting on the bus and offer her a ride? If I were sitting in my car beside the road, maybe it would be acceptable to offer help, but these same men would not approach me in parking lot of the grocery while I was loading my car and ask if I needed a ride. So why is it ok at the bus? I think this is why so many of us hesitate to take public transportation, like it somehow reflects on my morality or scruples because I ride the bus. I am not a hooker I am a housewife on her way home to do laundry. Yes, life put me in a position where I am dependent upon the bus to get from one place to another but, now that I realize it is not the equivalent of having bamboo slivers rammed under my toenails, I plan to continue utilizing the bus even after I am to drive again. I like being able to sit and read a book while someone else worries about the traffic and the other angry drivers and road conditions. Will I never drive my truck again? No. Will I consciously drive it less? Absolutely.
What I am asking for from myself and from everyone reading this blog is; please, have a little more consideration for the people utilizing public transportation. Instead of pitying them or looking down our noses at them, take a moment to admire them for their contribution to a greener planet, whether unwittingly or not. Women riding the bus have every much an entitlement to your respect as your mother does. Either by choice or by circumstance we are riding that bus to get from one place to another, not to meet men or to be propositioned. Think about it, how would you feel if you knew when you sent your daughter out to wait on the school bus she ran the risk, almost certainly, of having to fend off unwanted advances? If you would not offer a ride to the grandma working on her knitting, or the man reading a book, or the handicapped person talking to themselves, then do not offer it to anyone.
Respect. That is what it is ultimately all about. Respect for the planet, respect for each other and respect for basic human life. If we all just took a moment to think about it and have a little more respect, this world would be a greener, cleaner, safer place to live.
Thanks for read and thanks for thinking,