Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why I like to ride the bus

I took this picture during the summer of the now-defunct No. 10 route that went right by my apartment complex. Now I walk two blocks to catch the No. 4 to town. Bellingham has a wonderful bus system, but the city's budget woes caused it to be reduced by 14% last October, and Sunday bus service was eliminated completely. Our city passed a transportation tax this month that should allow some restoration of services next year (at least some routes on Sunday).

I have a car that gets used a few times a week, when grocery shopping or driving 75 miles to Snohomish to jump out of perfectly good airplanes in the summer, but mostly I like it to park it in the driveway while I ride the bus. As I've mentioned before, the WTA (Whatcom Transportation Authority) has routes from the Canadian border all the way down to Mt. Vernon, about 15 miles south of Bellingham, and a monthly pass allows unlimited rides for $25. As a Senior over 65, my pass costs me $13 monthly, or $35 for a quarterly pass. It's a deal I can't pass up. But there's another reason I like to ride the bus: the company.

When I climb into my car and drive to the gym, I am encapsulated in my own little world, and I'm responsible for parking my little capsule somewhere once I get to town. From 9:00am to 5:00pm, I need to feed a meter at 75 cents an hour, and some meters require me to feed it every single hour. (There are a few two- and three-hour meters but they are usually taken quickly.) Riding the bus also allows me to observe my fellow passengers.

The No. 4 picks me up on the way to Bellingham Technical College, so when I step on the bus, there are  already a dozen students of all ages scattered among the rest of us heading into town. Some have their noses in text- or workbooks, obviously getting ready for a test. Some young people are alone in their own iPod world with telltale earbuds hanging from under their caps. Sometimes I can hear the tinny sounds and am wondering what it must sound like inside their heads. Certainly these kids are going deaf quickly.

Yesterday was blustery with a fine misty rain hitting the bus' windshield. I watched a man with his daughter get on the bus with her little pink bicycle sporting training wheels. Our buses have a rack in front for bikes, and the little girl wanted to know why hers wasn't put there. Daddy explained that it's too small to fit. "Why?" she asked. I heard him give an explanation to her, and I remembered the age that has discovered that magic question, which she used at least half a dozen more times during the short ride to town. Dad was very patient with her.

An old lady (I mean older than me), white haired and bent, got on the bus and greeted the driver by name. She sat near him and as they obviously see each other often, they chatted amiably before she settled into her seat. The route goes by the Lighthouse Mission, and I see the same young man get on the bus most days with what looks to be everything he owns in a huge backpack. He doesn't ride very far, but I can see he doesn't want to lug that load when the bus can make it easier for him.

Everyone who rides regularly has a pass, but occasionally someone will insert a dollar bill into the slot and receive a transfer to another bus. After the first of next year, transfers will be eliminated, and everyone who rides anywhere will need to pay a dollar for each ride. Another cost cutting measure. The pass is a magnetic card that passes through a slot and beeps when successful. Sometimes a person will forget that it's a new month and the card makes another sound. If it's the first of the month and a regular rider, the driver will often allow the rider on anyway, with a promise that they will buy a new pass in town.

I've been watching for Sonya, who would ride the No. 10 bus with me several times a week, but with the new route and schedule, I haven't seen her yet. There are a few people who have become acquaintances, and we chat and sit together when we happen to ride at the same time. This is, to me, far superior to the other option of taking my car into town and parking it. I am a member of my community, and I feel my connections are stronger by taking the bus.


  1. and this is why i so wish we had a bus...i used to ride the train some in baltimore when we were there...

  2. Sounds nice DJan, something like visiting on a front porch with neighbors...I live in the country, no bus service here, but I have a front porch! :)

  3. So agree with you D-Jan. I like to ride the bus (have no choice anyway cos I don't have a car) but I also like the company. You do actually feel part of the world when you ride the bus. I like to see the same people and when they don't get on I miss them. Sometimes a regular doesn't get on for weeks and then the rest of us start asking 'where is she or he@. It's very friendly and I would miss it a lot if I didn't do it.
    Senior Citizens here in England ride bus for free. That benefit doesn't cover everywhere but it does cover a radius of apx. 30 miles.
    I know I owe you a picture of my bus. I have to pick a time when the bus riders won't be too suspicious of why I'm taking a photo.
    Blessings, Star

  4. Gee, I haven't taken the bus since 1989, when I switched jobs and got paid parking as a benefit. Have driven my car ever since.

    Can't say I miss taking the bus, because it was very slow and arduous getting to my destination. I prefer to drive!

  5. Oh I so agree. I love riding the bus. It provides opportunities to people-watch, chat, read or simply watch the sights go by. It can be very relaxing.. especially if nobody is on their cell phones. For some reason, they tend to speak more loudly on buses. ;)

  6. I think riding the bus would be really cool. But, if I did i'd probably run across somebody blogging about this little old bearded guy who goes up the steps real slowly and huff and puffs, trying to breathe.

  7. Unfortunately south florida doesn't lend itself to very many buses. Your bus rides sound ripe for scenery, friendships, and synchronicities!

  8. Around our neighborhood the bus would be very inconvenient. I don't have to drive very far and parking is easy. But going downtown is another matter, and we find we love using the light rail.

  9. Riding the bus would be great if I lived in an area like Bellingham, in fact I would definitely ride them. Here in our little town the bus routes are limited and don't come anywhere near our neighborhood.

  10. You mean you need more than just us blogging friends in your life? Real flesh and blood people? I'm kidding of course. That could be a blog post. Highlighting the value and difference between family, friends, aquaintances and virtual friends in our/your life.

  11. I've always complained about the lack of public transportation in the States, so it's wonderful to read about a place where it does exist and is USED and appreciated! :o)

    On the other hand here in Europe I'm frequently complaining about our (comparatively) "wonderful" system of public transportation... Here in Liège when I get on the university bus I feel like a sardine in a can, so no pleasure there! And in the neighbourhood I live in in Alicante the bus is so infrequent it's just more practical to take the car downtown... But I know I'd complain even louder if we didn't have such good public transportation.

    If more cities had a decent public transportation system (with a good frequency for busses, trams, metros) then more people would be willing to use it making it more cost effective and reducing car use and therefore pollution!

    (says an ipod listening, nose in a book frequent user, lol!)

  12. I would take a bus if we had one or I would prefer a train if we had one. I got nowhere to go and if I go in my car then I got to take oxygen. So I have no idea how I can go on a trip, or fly or do those kinds of things. Besides that, winter is on its way back here so we won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

  13. The nearest bus system is in town 14 miles has a little route..Nursing Home, Library, Grocery Store and apartments. There is no bus system out here in the boonies.
    I think it is marvelous that you take the bus and I think it would be an adventure..I right away think of all the blog fodder it would provide!! :)

  14. I so wish we had them here...but we are far too rural for them here.

  15. We have buses here, but they're only in the city (half of where I go is outside the city limits). Aside from that, 95% of the time I have the kids with me. There's no way I could lug them and all their stuff from one spot to another. By the way, we are quite firmly entrenched in the 'why' phase. Good for the patient dad; some days I give up and just say 'because I said so.'

    It's great that you have yet another connection to your community. Really, this is just one of many.


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