On public transportation

There is something inherently populist and democratic about public transportation, and it isn’t that I want to get up on my soap box and scream about this being the only sustainable means of transportation, but that may be true. The car with one person in it is not only extremely isolating and egotistical, it is a waste of resources, and I would not be suprised to see a day when that mode of transportation is gone. When I am in large cities I make sure I know where the subway goes, how the buses can get me to and fro, when the trains leave. I don’t mind letting someone else drive, I don’t care if I have to sit next to a complete stranger. The fact is I am also a complete stranger to whomever my seat companion is. Why should the world be just for me? Yes, subways can be noisy, smelly, slow, and inconvenient. Often they are packed in the mornings with hundreds of thousands of people going to work. They all know that even if they had a car, there would be nowhere to either drive it or park it if they all decided to abandon the subway. The reality of the situation dictates that they must use public transportation because taking their own car is impractical. The big benefit of public transportation is its sustainability over the long haul—subways and trains are a long term investment that can pay out over decades, whereas highways are less sustainable and more expensive. One of the personal benefits of public transportation is the connection it creates among its users. One tends to feel a little more sympathetic towards all of humanity if one sees and experiences lots of humanity every day. Locked up in your car with your cell phone and your café latte, you tend to see yourself as unrelated to the rest of the people and have no real sense of empathy for others. You drive like a brute as if you were the only one on the road. When you have to share a subway car or a public bus you have to learn to share and take turns, let the slower ones have their chance to move, give the mothers with babies a chance to sit down, let that tired factory worker sleep. Humility, empathy, kindness, sharing, these are not simple qualities or experiences, but they are a commentary on what kind of people we are or have become. You can have bad experiences on public transportation, no doubt, you might have to stand, someone might get sick, some kids might make a raucous, things happen, but at least you are in the middle of humanity having a real experience, not locked up in your air-conditioned car complaining about how rotten the traffic is and how much parking costs. Today I took a much needed nap on the bus, and nobody bothered me one little bit. Now that is sustainable transportation.