My Car Convinced Me to Take the Bus

Deb McKinley
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, U of MN

The benefits of riding the bus are clear:

  • Reduced air emissions
  • Emit less carbon dioxide – a factor in global warming – by burning fewer gallons of gas
  • Reduce traffic congestion, have more time to read, remove yourself from the isolation box of your personal vehicle and interact more directly with the community.

How to make riding the bus fit into your lifestyle may be less clear. My commitment to being a bus commuter didn’t come easy. As someone with an environmental bent, I liked the idea of riding the bus. But, the challenge was figuring out the best routes, paying attention to schedules and having correct change. I only took buses in places like New York, Chicago and cities abroad. Places where driving would have been the greater challenge or expense. Becoming a regular bus rider was a journey in itself.

On BBOP Day (Bus, Bike or CarPool Day- May 17th) when everyone is encouraged to bus, bike or carpool, I usually chose to bike to work. It wasn’t until my aging Corolla had to spend a little time at the repair shop, that I was forced to find alternate transportation. Route planning seemed daunting. I had seen buses in my neighborhood. I looked up their routes on the Metro Transit Web site. Taking the bus to work took as long as it did for me to bike in. I read “A Prayer for Owen Meaney” on the bus that week. That was the first time in a long time that I finished a book that quickly.

I’ve discovered how to make the bus work for me. I can easily catch the bus to work because weekday mornings I’m a scheduled person. At the bus stop three blocks away I greet my fellow riders – a small moment of community building. On cold days, I walk stop-to-stop to keep warm until the bus catches up with me. On days where I need to run errands to multiple places, I park and ride. I drive to an area of free parking close to work along a bus route and bus in. With an all-you-can-ride bus pass, I hop on and off when I want. I take the bus downtown to meet friends.

When my sister and her two kids were visiting me from the suburbs of Ohio, we went on a bus adventure. I wanted to see where my neighborhood bus went after I left it in downtown Minneapolis. We enjoyed the exploring and I exposed my niece and nephew to their first city bus ride.

Every time I take the bus, I choose how I want to treat the ride. Some days I’m all to myself reading. Other days, the bus is part social commentary and part mixing pot. Some days I like to observe the world of riders. Depending on the route, the bus is a place where you get together with people you would not otherwise have anything in common with. People riding for convenience, environmental commitment and car-less-ness.

Take the bus. To commit to riding the bus you have to figure out a bussing scheme that works for you. Try it out in different ways. For some holidays and events, bus riding is free. Ride it as on outing. Test it out for a work commute. The more familiar you become with the bus system the more likely you are to hop on. Metro Transit is the 17th largest bus system in the nation. It operates 974 buses on 142 local, express and contract routes throughout the region. You should be able to find a route that fits you. Discount fares are available to seniors (65+), youth (6-12) and persons with disabilities. Children ages five and under ride free (limit 3) when accompanied by a paid fare. Many buses also offer bike racks on the front of the bus, where you can transport your bike to farther distances or use it when the weather turns bad on your way home from wherever you are.

People with disabilities

Many buses are equipped with lifts or ramps to serve people with disabilities. All accessible buses have a wheelchair symbol on their front and curbsides. This symbol also appears on the front of printed schedules for routes on which all buses are accessible. Routes that have some but not all lift- or ramp-equipped buses display a symbol next to each accessible trip in the printed schedule. By the end of 2003, all buses will be accessible. Metro Transit drivers are trained to recognize “bus identifier cards” that customers with vision or hearing impairment can use.

How to Ride the Bus:

  1. To get started, call 612-373-3333 (TTY 612-341-0140) to talk to a bus information representative. Tell us where you’re starting from and where you want to go. We’ll give you personalized trip information and mail you a schedule showing the exact times the bus runs and the route it takes.
  2. Next, look for the closest bus stop sign or ask a representative where to wait. Simply signal to the driver as the bus approaches. It’s always a good idea to get to your stop a few minutes early.
  3. Before getting on any bus, always look at the sign on the front of the bus. This sign tells you the route number (for example 5) and a letter (for example E) that tells you the final destination of the bus and matches letters found on schedules that also may be listed. A route may have more than one letter. The sign also flashes some of the major streets and destinations the bus serves.
  4. As you get on the bus, drop your money in the farebox next to the driver. Always tell the driver before you pay your fare if you qualify for a reduced fare for age or disability. Most buses require you to pay when you get on; however, on many express buses leaving downtown during p.m. rush hours, you pay as you leave. You can use dollar bills, coins or SuperSavers (bus passes), but the driver and farebox cannot make change.
  5. If you pay your fare in cash and you need to travel on more than one bus to reach your destination, ask the driver for a transfer when you pay. Your transfer is good for up to 2 1/2 hours, going in any direction. If you use a SuperSaver card, your transfer is built right in. No paper transfer is needed.
  6. You can save money off the cash fare by purchasing SuperSavers at Metro Transit Stores and at more than 175 retail outlets. 31-Day Passes are sold in increments that match each fare level and are valid for unlimited rides. You may purchase or begin using a 31-Day Pass at any time. Just remember that it expires 31 days after it is first used. Insert it into the card reader to the right of the farebox with the arrow facing you as you board the bus. You also can purchase Stored Value Cards that work just like cash. Simply insert your card into the card reader and the correct fare will be deducted.
  7. When you are ready to get off the bus, pull the cord above the window or push the vertical strip on the side of the window to signal the driver. You should signal the driver about a block before your desired stop.
  8. Once you become familiar with riding different bus routes, use BusLine, our 24-hour automated schedule information hotline, to get departure times for buses running today or any day. Just call 612-341-4BUS using a touch-tone phone and follow the instructions.
Sidebar: Bus History Note

On December 1, 1955, Ms. Rosa Parks took the bus into history when she refused to give up her seat for a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested for her defiance. Although her local court challenge of segregated riding policies failed, it brought light to the situation and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. “For a little more than a year, we stayed off those busses. We did not return to using public transportation until the Supreme Court said there shouldn’t be racial segregation,” Ms. Parks said.

* Great Epizootic horse influenza epidemic in eastern states kills thousands of horses (the motive power for most street railways)
* 1936 bus manufacturers began to assume control of or influence street railways, leading to rapid replacement of streetcars with buses
* Minneapolis–first downtown transit mall (Nicollet Mall)

Source: American Public Transportation Association (APTA) or 800-231-2222

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