For years, I lived in Washington DC, a city with a fabulous public transportation system. I rode my bike or walked, rode the bus and used metro rail. When I met my husband, he did own an old car, but used it so infrequently that he kept it parked out at his mother's place. Even after we got married, and our daughter was born, we enjoyed more car-free days than not. In fact, many was the time when I'd start walking to where I thought I'd last left the car, only to find I'd forgotten where that was. I'd sheepishly make the call, "Do you remember where we last parked?"
When we moved to coastal Southern California, I knew using public transportation would be a challange. Our first couple of years, we lived in a subdivision a couple of miles back from the beach. Car-free days were opportunities for restorative days at home, or a short walks to the neighborhood park or pool. If we really needed to, we could walk to grocery stores, coffee shops, the post office, etc. and we did a few times, but it was neither pleasant or safe walking along busy four lane roadways and traversing vast parking lots. Drivers didn't seem to even see us, and after a couple of close calls, we decided to move closer to the beach and a more walkable downtown area.
In addtion to moving a short walk to the library, farmer's market, beach, restaurants, and other amenities, we could also walk to a small transit station, with light rail and busses. I had high hopes for this. Three times a week, my daughter trained at a karate dojo 12 miles north of us. The dojo was located right across the street from a light rail stop. Naturally, I thought we'd start using the train. I couldn't believe it when I looked up the cost of travel. A 12 mile journey, with only one stop between our start and destination would cost each of us $10 roundtrip! Even forgoing the car just one trip a week would add $100 a month to our travel budget. We did take the bus a few times, but we needed to build a lot of extra travel time into our day because they ran so infrequently and didn't seem to adhere to the schedule. Southern California is the only place I've lived where although the mass transit infrastructure was there, I wasn't able to take advantage of it.
Here in Austin, I'm just getting to know the mass transit system and I have to say, despite the word on the street (which seems to be "Our Mass Transit sucks!"), we find ourselves leaving our car in the driveway more and more often.
Austin's busses are cheap! I can ride all day for $2! My 11 year old rides all day for $1. They also seem to have a pretty new, well maintained fleet. And so far, we've never not made it to our destination on time.
On Tuesdays we don't drive at all. We walk two blocks down to the bus and take it to her mid-morning class. If we drove, I'd pay at least $3 for parking downtown on the street or in a garage. Later on that day, we hop on a different bus, which takes us all the way to the other side of the city. This particular trip I'd been dreading. It's for a twice weekly class that lets out at rush hour. When we went down to observe the class, I sat in grid lock almost all the way home, trying to think of ways we could make the trip fun and worth our while. My two year old fussed in his car seat and my daughter tried earnestly to convince me that the class was important enough to her that we just deal with the traffic. I watched the sea of brake lights in front of me and practiced slow measured breaths.
Taking the bus didn't immediately occur to me. The class is far enough away, that I assumed the trip via bus would be epic, requiring multiple transfers! I thought we might just combine trips that day - change our library day, perhaps combine it with a grocery errand, take a picnic dinner and stop at a park those evenings...but increasingly, I felt like we should just forgo this class and try and find something closer to home that my daughter would enjoy. I knew she'd be disappointed, so I hopped on Cap Metro's website and plugged in our departure and destination. Amazingly there is a bus (singular! no transfers!) that picks us up two blocks from our home and drops us off at the dojo's front door!
The ride home does take a while. Busses sit in the same traffic I'd be driving home in, but during that time, I get to talk to my kids, or we can read together or just look out the window or (horrors) talk to strangers.
Yes, I let my kids talk to strangers, but we'll save that post for another day.