While I had still a job, I started taking the MBTA to work instead of driving. I had to make the change, but once I did, I realized that there’s a benefit to taking the bus (or train) that isn’t often mentioned. Riding mass transit is much less stressful than driving.
When people talk about public transportation, they usually mention the environmental benefits. Whether or not you as an individual choose to drive or ride the T really doesn’t change the amount of pollution much. Only if the masses of people make use of the system will there be less pollution. In some cases, when a bus or train is mostly empty, there might actually be more pollution from the old, poorly maintained bus than if those few riders were driving efficient cars instead.
Another benefit of mass transit that people acknowledge is that you can get work done during your commute. There are some things you can do while commuting, especially if you’re on a commuter train which is usually roomier than a bus or subway car. But working on the T often limits the kind of work you can do. And settling down to work can take longer when you’re in a public space that’s not really designed to help you get things done. Mass transit often takes longer than driving, so you may actually be more efficient by driving to work and getting to the office sooner, where you have better tools to help you do everything you need to do.
Neither of these were all that important to me. I valued speed and the ability to drive when and where I wanted above any green concerns or extra work time. Then I was forced to start using public transportation when I lost my license. What I found once I switched was that life was much more pleasant when I didn’t have to battle 65 mile per hour bumper-to-bumper traffic for an hour every day. Car pooling might save some gas, but it was even more stressful, since I lost what little control I did have over my safety.
My 10 mile commute via the bus took about twice as long as it had when I was driving, but I could spend the time reading, listening to music, napping, or doing some other leisure activity. I may have spent more time on the trip, but it was almost all extra relaxation time. I avoided the stress of fighting traffic on the way to work, so I arrived in a better frame of mind. By the time I finished the trip home, I had already wound down from my job and was ready to enjoy the evening.
I was commuting to the suburbs, but the same benefits would flow from a city commute. I’d avoid stop-and-go traffic, idiots talking on their cell phone, expensive or non-existent parking, and all the other problems. I get to see these benefits when I take the T into the city for fun. Taking mass transit makes it easy for me to enjoy living in relatively quiet Arlington while still having access to all that Boston provides.
Of course, for this to work there has to be mass transit that is easily accessible and goes where you need to go. Public transit is always underfunded, and in the current budget crisis, it is feeling the pinch even more. The pressure is on to cut service to save money. That’s what they always try, and it’s short sighted. It hasn’t worked yet, and it never will. Instead, why not try something different? If we improve service enough, adding easier access and service at more times, more people will want to use mass transit. Expand the local systems, and make connections between cities using efficient high-speed rail. I’d love to be able to take a comfortable train trip on my vacation, rather than fighting through airports or driving for hours and hours. It’ll take time and money, but this is something that the government can do that will create jobs, benefit people, and yes, maybe even improve the environment. And I’ll get to take more naps.