Dreaming of the bus
Just about every day, I get in my car and drive almost 40 miles to work.
And just about every day, I have the same conversation with myself: Isn’t there a better way to do this? Why aren’t there buses, or trains? Why doesn’t someone start a van service? I can’t be the only person who works in Schenectady and lives way up north.
I’ve done all kinds of transportation in the years I’ve been working. I’ve walked and biked, I’ve taken buses and trains, driven any number of cars, had a motor scooter and carpooled. Once I rode an elephant, but that wasn’t exactly commuting. My son keeps promising to make me a helicopter or a rocket, to cut my commuting time, but he hasn’t come through.
I like public transportation. I don’t understand the arguments I hear all the time: “Americans will never give up their love affair with their cars!” Or: “Americans will never put up with the hassles of mass transit.”
Why not? I loved the hassles of mass transit, when I could use it.
After college, I lived in Seattle for four years. I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t need one. For 50 cents, I could ride the bus anywhere in the city, and for 75 cents I could get way out of the city. There was a city bus I could take to the Cascades to go hiking, for 75 cents! For $5, I could take an hourlong ferry ride to Bremerton and back, and while I didn’t actually want or need to go to Bremerton, it was the most beautiful ferry ride I’ve ever taken, through the Puget Sound. And most of the passengers were commuters, taking the daily ride, with their coffees and newspapers, from Bremerton to Seattle and back.
OK, that was a long time ago. So I checked prices, to see if maybe now it costs five times that to take the Puget Sound ferry. No. Prices are up, but only to $6.70, round trip. (The buses are up more significantly — to $1.75 off-peak and $2 for peak travel hours. Still worth it, I think.)
The ferry is so cheap because it’s part of Washington state’s highway system, subsidized the same way roads are. And why shouldn’t ferries and buses and trains be subsidized? That’s how you encourage people to use mass transit.
That’s why CDTA buses here are inexpensive too. My problem with CDTA buses is that there aren’t enough of them, and that none of them go where I need them to.
I know I live in the boonies, and I don’t expect bus service there. But I wouldn’t mind driving halfway, to Saratoga Springs, to take a bus the rest of the way to work. It would save gas, cut down on pollution, give me time to read. The problem is, after a 40-minute ride, the closest the bus would get me is a 40-minute walk to work, or a 45-minute wait for a transfer to a closer stop. Not worth it.
I’ve been on a Capital Region carpool list for nine months, and I’ve only gotten one hit so far. It wasn’t a terribly convenient offer — two people who work near me, but at much earlier hours, and I’d have to add around 12 miles to my round-trip commute to meet them. I’m still thinking.
Of course, there are those who would say it’s my own fault for not choosing to live in a more urban area. And it’s true that if I lived close to work I’d be able to walk or bike everywhere. But where would I keep the oxen? And it’s my understanding that most apartments don’t come with chicken coops, gardens or woods. Does everyone have to live in a city?
In Europe, people can live in small villages or in the country, and take high-speed trains to the cities to work. That means they can have jobs and still keep gardens or vineyards or orchards. Or chickens.
So I run through all the possibilities, every day, while I’m driving to work. Would it be better if I lived in Schenectady? Or in Bremerton or rural France? Would it be cheaper to just quit my job and raise more chickens? Will my son ever build me that rocket? He claims he’s invented a motor that uses no fuel at all, but I can’t understand his schematics. “Trust me, Mom,” he said. “It’ll work.”
And whatever happened to the idea that the Internet would mean more people could work from home? Weren’t most of us supposed to be telecommuting by now? I guess we’re still standing on the side of the information superhighway, waiting for the bus.
The kids are back in school now, and I’m thankful they still have a bus to ride. After I feed them breakfast, pack their lunch boxes and push them out the door to get picked up, I get in my car and drive to work.
And I wonder why there isn’t a bus for me too.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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