Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day one of 40 without my car

photoIn the great Catholic tradition of Lent I've decided to change some things for the next 40 days. As a child I would always give some food up, like candy, pop or pizza. But as I've grown older I've tried to make this a time of year where I do something rather than give up something. Last year my wife and I changed up our finances and retired all credit card usage in favor of a more accountable cash system. This year I'm getting a little crazier. I'm going to retire my car.

Well not completely. Basically I'm going to try to commute entirely using my bike or public transit. The bike part isn't foreign to me. I've been commuting to work on a bike for many years. The bus part is what's new. The bus has always interested me but I've only managed to utilize it on a couple rare occasions, like when my car broke. The trouble is I'm not a good bus rider. I don’t understand the culture or the etiquette.  I’m terrified of taking the wrong bus and ending up abandoned in Everett.  I can never figure out how much I need to put in the coin bin or where to swipe the flex pass, I mean ORCA card.  Do I pay when I get on or when I get off?  How long can I leave my car at the P&R?  Where does the free zone start and end?  The last time I rode the bus was about 10 years ago and I asked the bus driver if the bus was going to head towards 40th and he told me "Son, don’t get on a bus if you don't know where it's going". That pretty much sums up my experiences. After 12 years in Seattle I haven't ever bothered to figure out how to read the bus charts and in general Metro has always seemed like a huge hassle.  But honestly it’s all ignorance, I just have never taken the time to figure it out.

My ignorance of the public transit system is rooted deep inside of me because of my Midwest roots. Growing up in Columbus Ohio I didn't know anyone that rode the city bus daily, especially an adult. It was pretty much unheard of in the circles I kept.  Granted my childhood was insulated, I was lucky to get to go to the best schools and live in a really nice neighborhood where everyone had cars.  So my skewed perspective as a youth was that the bus was something you rode because you were so down on your luck that you couldn't afford a car.  Adult bike riding for the purpose of commuting was even more rare and frankly odd. The general assumption was that was for people that couldn’t afford the bus. The busses and the people that rode them always looked scary, the edges of society and to my juvenile uninformed brain, threatening.

Fast forward 20 years and to the West coast and things are just plain different and so am I . The busses are clean, run on time and are full of folks of all different walks of life. Nothing to me seems threatening about them. Many of my friends at work don’t own cars and rely entirely on public transit.  These are engineers, making good money and can clearly afford and often do have very nice cars.  Times have changed but I’m a dinosaur.  It’s time to update my experiences and that is exactly what I am going to do.  I'm on the bus right now and the crowd is no different than what you would see at the public library or a Mariners game. Well, there is one guy with a pentagram tattooed on his forehead talking to his Chihuahua like it’s a kid, no joke, but hey it's Seattle, he's probably a coworker of mine.

So over the next 40 days I plan to post about what I've learned and how it changes my day for better or worse. I’ll also be looking for technology to navigate the Metro system and I’ll measure how successful I am at leaving my car at home. Today is a success as I'm heading downtown for Jury duty, on the bus.

Tomorrow's post - my personal rules for the next 40 days


  1. iPhone Maps is awesome for bus routes - built in.

  2. The iPhone map app is acutally what inspired me to try this. There is another app called OneBusAway which is also indispensible.

  3. Good for you! With 25"+ on the ground here in Columbus,OH, it is amazing COTA is even running. Getting off Cherryfield Ave is a slip amd slide experience, walking or driving! Main drags are clear, however, another snow storm is predicted and the city will go into crazy mode again. COTA offers free rides when all else fails! Main problem is getting from bus stops to one's abode. Keep the faith and ride on!!