“Stand clear the doors are closing. The next stop is Wardlow Station.” I boarded the Metro Blue line and took a seat next to a window. The rising sun was peaking in and reflecting a golden glow off the seats. The train car was quiet, some people were sleeping while others were listening to music or reading on their phones. I sipped my hot coffee and put on my favorite podcast. Radiolab had a new episode. Mmmm my happy place.
For the past two months I have been commuting to work from Long Beach to LA via the Metro. Prior to this I was driving 70 miles a day, sitting in at least 3.5 hours of traffic a day, spending $280 in gas a month, and worst of all, emitting up to 112,000 lbs. of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere a year; not to mention I would be fuming with road rage and having to extinguish myself with tears of hopelessness. This was my life. I was tired, full of guilt, and hating people I didn’t even know.
Well enough was enough! I decided I needed to take action. How can I be an advocate for sustainable living while emitting this much Carbon Dioxide and negative energy? I’m not going to lie, for the longest time I put off public transportation because I always heard that it’s unreliable, people are strange, everything is dirty, etc., but I can honestly say that taking public transportation has been nothing but a positive experience for me. Don’t get me wrong, there have been days where the train breaks down or buses are delayed from surrounding traffic, but more often than not I am on time to work and full of energy because I squeezed in a 30-minute nap on the train. BAM!
After a few trials and errors, I got my route down. Here’s a quick breakdown of my daily commute:
I take the Blue Line headed towards Los Angeles, transfer onto the Red Line heading towards North Hollywood and then I catch the bus which drops me off in front of work. Roundtrip, my public transportation commute consists of 10 miles of driving, 4 hours of travel, $100 a month in fares, and reduces my individual CO2 car emissions to 1,589 lbs. In addition, I’m helping to boost the economy and provide “green jobs,” and reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
Sure, taking the metro adds 30 minutes to my commute but during that time I am free to do whatever I could possibly want! Sometimes I sleep, read, catch up on emails, listen to music or podcasts, take photos, meditate, or simply people watch.
There are so many different types of people who take the metro: old and young, businessmen or women, students, artists, musicians, bikers, homeless people, travelers, all from different walks of life. There are a few regular characters that I get to see from time to time; one of my favorite commuters is a man who wears a tattered shirt with faded math equations written across it. He often carries a bag with a ton of Rubric’s Cubes inside that he sometimes fiddles with, but never seems to solve. He travels with textbooks the size of an encyclopedia, flipping through pages as he stands in the middle of the train. I often wonder who he is, where he’s going, and what the heck he’s looking up in those books?! You may even be so lucky to witness a performance of some sort. On my way home one night, two young men put on a freestyle dance performance while we traveled from one station to the next. I can tell some of the other patrons were a little hesitant at first but by the end of it everyone was supportive, clapping, and even contributing money. I promise that people watching will always be entertaining on the metro.
When commuting in my car I never took notice that there is a whole community within the public transportation system. On my route I’ll see a lot of the same people and we’ll exchange a smile or a head nod. I even made a friend my first week when this kind gentleman made room for me to sit at the bus stop. Even though we don’t know each other’s names we sit next to each other everyday on the bus and talk about anything. He’s an older fellow that works down the street from me whose hobbies include photography and fishing. He likes to tell jokes and I like to laugh so it works out. I’ll see a lot of other people socializing too. On occasion someone will share their music on a speaker or their personal life through a loud conversation, whether you like it or not, but most of the times I get a quiet train full of people who are just tired from the day’s work and keep to themselves. If anyone ever gets hungry they can count on someone walking down the aisles of the trains selling candy, chips, water, etc. Or if you forgot headphones, a charger, gloves or even socks someone will be selling those things too. Public transportation has it all!
I’ve noticed that since I started taking the Metro, LA isn’t as intimidating. I use to cringe at the idea of having to go to LA for an event or for work. I would instantly imagine myself sitting in awful traffic, getting lost, and having to pay an arm and leg if I ever actually found parking. However, now I don’t have to worry about any of that! I went to a show at The Fonda recently and was able to take the Red Line to Hollywood/Vine, which is a three-minute walk from the venue. When I walked up the steps from the underground Metro station I was in the heart of Hollywood; I felt like I was finally apart of the city. I was up close and personal with the surrounding people, buildings, lights, sounds, and smells. I was able to be present instead of being stressed out over driving, while my girlfriend was sitting in traffic on the freeway I had time to scope out a place to eat, get a cup of coffee, and read for a bit. This gave me the chance to actually start understanding what people love about LA, or any bustling city for that matter.
However, public transportation can have its downfalls. There can be delays, it can get overcrowded, there are people you should probably keep a safe distance from, and sometimes a smell can linger, but I just see it as a part of the adventure!
One time the Red Line lost power so hundreds of people had to make their way through the dark station up to the street to be shuttled. I had fun imagining I was in an apocalyptic movie! Another time there was an accident on the Blue Line because someone tried to go through the railroad crossing but got stuck. Luckily no one was hurt, however it did leave a portion of the tracks out of service. So for a few days everyone had to get off on one stop, be shuttled to the next stop, and then get back on the train to continue. I thought it would be awful and take forever but I was pleasantly surprised how efficient Metro handled what could have easily been a disaster. It added an extra 20 minutes to my commute but that’s not as bad as some of the worse times I’ve sat in traffic. You never know what you’re going to get but these sorts of things are totally outweighed by the positive experiences I’ve had.
The most important lesson I’ve taken away from using public transportation is to remind myself to stay grounded and open to the rest of the world. Our lives are constantly intersecting with each other, yet it’s so easy to forget how my actions can affect the people around me and around them and so forth. However, when a physical barrier such as a car is taken away and I am a few inches away from a stranger, I am reminded that I am connected to so much more than just myself. Instantly my world is expanded and I am no longer isolated in my car only thinking about my life. I am now a part of every ones life and we are all apart of the same world.
“Now arriving to Willow Street Station,” my final destination. Ah home sweet home. I am proud to say that not only can I survive public transportation, but also I can enjoy it and be inspired by it. I’m inspired to continue to do my part in creating a more sustainable community and to continue to step outside of my comfort zone in all parts of my life. Taking public transportation has been the best decision I’ve made this year. I recommend everyone to try it at least once and see what kind of adventures the tracks will take you on. Perhaps switching to public transportation can be one of your New Years Resolutions!
Do you have any interesting public transportation stories? Please share in the comments below!
Learn what your current carbon footprint is and how to reduce it here: EPA Carbon Footprint Calculator
Read about some of the ways public transportation saves energy and helps our environment here: American Public Transportation Association