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Friday, January 11, 2008

Car vs. Transit

When we first moved to our new home 2 years ago, we got rid of our car. This city has a rather good transit system. Plus the expenses of having car payments and expenses, coupled with having to pay rent again, made it impractical to keep the car.

So for the last two years, we have relied completely on public transit. That, however, may be coming to an end. We are currently borrowing, and will probably buy, a car. It's on older car, and a step down from what we had before, but we can pay for it outright, while the money for bus passes will pretty much cover the cost of insurance. It needs work, but it gets us from A to B.

There's a lot of reasons to use transit. It's less expensive than having a car, it keeps the traffic down, less pollution, etc., etc. But as time went on, it became increasingly frustrating to depend on transit. Part of it surrounds things like grocery shopping. I've found myself *not* buying things we needed because they were too soft and likely to get damaged on the way home (such as most breads, fruits) or too heavy to carry together with everything else (like potatoes, flour, canned goods), and so on. It's hard to carry a week's worth of groceries on the bus, even with all 4 of us carrying bags.

There's also the frustration of things like buses being late, or not showing up at all (that happens a lot more than I ever thought it would), standing at bus stops in inclement weather, missing connections, having a trip take an hour or more, when by car it would take 15 minutes.

We're already familiar with the pro's and con's of owning a car. Now that we have access to one again, I've found the biggest pro is the freedom having a car gives us. Just as an example, we meet with a group of people weekly at a public park. It takes us about an hour to get there by train and bus. Once we've figured out the route to get there, it takes about half an hour by car - and that included getting lost. Granted, we haven't had to do it in rush hour, but for the times we go there, we'd be missing rush hour, anyways.

Other possibilities open up. There's an annual winter event that we've been to for two years in a row now. It's held in an out of the way place, and the nearest bus stop is on the highway. We would then walk what we've since calculated out to be approximately 3 miles. It's a potluck event, so we're carrying food and drinks, as well. We'd then have to leave early, because after a while, one of the buses that go past there stops running completely, while the other goes by only once an hour. We just can't afford to miss it. Since there's 4 of us, few people have large enough vehicles that we could get rides with them, and the cost of a cab is prohibitive, to say the least. With a car, we can park right near the event, and actually be able to stay for the whole thing, if we wanted to.

There's another aspect of public transit, though, that is making the decision to buy a car again a lot easier. Today is an example of that.

Today was library day, and our usual branch is downtown. We could've gone to any library, since we now have a car, but I had a book on hold downtown. Plus, we had another place to go to and, with parking being an issue (as it is in the downtown core of every city we've lived in), the girls and I took the train. At one point, we were standing near the doors, since there was no where that all 3 of us could sit together. A man got on at one of the stops and happened to sit in a seat facing us. The seat across from him was occupied, but the gentleman there soon got up and stood beside us. He must've caught on to something we missed, because he'd moved just in time. Moments after he left, the other guy suddenly leaned forward and puked on the floor. He then straightened up and wiped the vomit off the front of his shirt with his hand. Had the guy that moved still been sitting there, he would've been "decorated."

correction: as I was recounting this to my husband, Youngest informed me that I did, indeed, miss something. The reason the one guy moved was because the other had already vomited at his feet - so he was probably already "decorated."

Later on, after we'd finished in the library, the girls and I waited at the bus stop to go home. It's almost a waste to take the bus from there, as it's only about a mile/mile and a half, to our home, but we were loaded down with books and starting to feel pretty tired from the walking around we'd already been doing, so the bus it was.

While we were waiting, a group of youths gathered nearby. One of the women began yelling at one of the men who was walking away - she was swearing a blue streak and was soon heading towards the man, ready to beat him up (from what she was shouting, he'd apparently had sex with her sister, though she was a lot cruder in her terms). She'd gone after the guy and the group of them were standing around in the middle of the street before one of her companions dragged her back to the sidewalk. They continued to stand in a group not far from us, loudly swearing, with the one young woman continuing her threats to the young man, who was apparently part of the group, since he kept coming back.

These sorts of incidents are just two of many. We are frequently accosted by aggressive panhandlers (both on and off the buses), have witnessed inappropriate behavior of various levels, but have actually been lucky. We haven't been robbed or assaulted, as many others have been. Well, there was that one murder my husband missed witnessing by about a minute, but so far, that's still exceptional.

In the end, our move to or from public transit is less about being environmentally responsible, or saving money, etc., but more about safety and protecting our children and ourselves.


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