A Weird, Tightly-Packed Community: Why I Love Public Transportation

by: Kara Crawford

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with public transportation. Sort of a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” dynamic. During my time living in Chicago, my life was completely dependent on my U-Pass and its magical unlimited CTA access. The summer I stayed in Chicago, 90% of my motivation for doing a summer independent study internship was so I could have a U-Pass.

However, public transportation isn’t without its flaws. It’s often not terribly comfortable, has crazy delays, can be overly-packed-full of people, gets really hot or really cold with little room for happy medium, and smells funny, among many other things.

In spite of it all, I love it. I even love it in my current place of residence, Bogota, Colombia, where the best description I can come up with to communicate the experience of public transportation, called busetas, is a metal death trap of clown-car-like proportions. So, before you write me off as a nut case, let me explain myself:

1. People-watching is the best.

It may be the social scientist in me, but people-watching is one of my favorite hobbies. I love to observe people and the way they interact and react to different situations and circumstances. I also love to step out of the role of distant observer and take an active participant role. Sometimes great conversations are sparked in the context of a shared miserable or bizarre experience on public transportation. Who, then, would want to miss out on public transportation by going in a car? Certainly not me.

2. The variety of people is fascinating.

I often see people from all walks of life.  Imagine a person in a business suit seated next to a homeless or displaced individual. Every imaginable age of person is present, from the tiniest baby wrapped in blankets and carried by its parents to the tiny old lady who needs help stepping up to the bus. This is not to say it’s necessarily the best or safest mode of transportation for people of those ages, but it’s still a beautiful experience to see such a variety of people in a common place.

3. No road rage necessary.

Ask my family or really anyone who has ever ridden with me in traffic – I’m the queen of road rage. I change from my usual pacific, low-key, happy-go-lucky self into Hulk-on-wheels whenever I have the (dis)pleasure of driving in traffic, because the fantasy world in my head tells me that if everyone learned to respect the others on the road and not solely be out for self-interest, the road would be a much happier place with fewer traffic jams.

 It drives me temporarily insane when there’s traffic, then, because it’s obviously because no one ever learned respect, right? Of course, I don’t totally avoid my traffic-related woes on public transportation, but at least I don’t have to drive in it.

4. There’s a real community built on public transportation.

With 60-75 adults packed into a smaller space than a US school bus, how could there not be? Call it solidarity in suffering, but when I practically have to link elbows with a stranger to keep from falling over whenever the driver stops too quickly, there’s a sort of unbreakable bond between us (pun intended).

When the driver’s acting like a jerk and not stopping long enough for the little old lady to get off the bus or stopping long after where the young woman with the infant had rang for a stop, we all yell at him for being an idiot and not respecting the passengers. We all look out for one another; we’re a community.

5. Time to think.

I often use public transportation time as my time of the day to retreat into my own world. In college, I used the time to catch up on homework I didn’t have time for the night before. These days, I use it to write IOW posts like this one, make grocery and to-do lists, make bracelets for friends, meditate, or plan out my weekend.

I’ve never been a big listener-to-music-on-the-bus person, and in real life I’m supremely extroverted, so having a daily hour-and-a-half to two hours of relative introvert time during which I can let my mind wander and not focus on other people is a healthy balancing practice.

6. See more of the city.

This is why I love buses, or at least trains that travel at ground level. You get to see so much of the city! Living in big cities but never taking time to stare out the window and enjoy its beauty and diversity, as well as its many attractions and places you might want to get off the bus and enjoy sometime, just doesn’t seem like it’s truly taking advantage of the possibilities of the city. I may be the only person on earth who feels this way about buses, but I really do love them.

7. Similarly, you get to know the city’s layout better.

While living in Chicago, it was by memorizing the order of the stops of the El that I was able to learn the order of the major streets, which always came in handy because it meant I didn’t get lost quite as frequently. In Bogota, the public transportation is complicated to say the least, but I’m a pretty quick study, so I was able to catch on quickly. Learning the workings of the public transportation system has helped me figure out how to better navigate the city.

8. Be a tree-hugger.

Using public transportation reduces your carbon footprint and contributes less to polluting the planet. Need I say more?

9. I’m a stubborn tightwad.

I’ll confess – this is probably the principle that lies at the very core of my love for public transportation. I hate having to pay for a taxi unless it is truly justified. I would rather have to catch two or even three buses for a long, complicated trip than have to take a taxi. Which is why it pains me that Bogota’s public transportation system effectively stops after midnight. Going out at night often necessitates catching a cab, which is certainly not my first choice of transportation, but sometimes a fact of life nonetheless.

 It’s not perfect, but it suits my desires and needs. I can’t say there aren’t days I despise having to put up with a commute to and from work of between half an hour and an hour-and-a-half, but I really do love my public transportation. On the whole, it’s an incredibly useful system and I simply can’t imagine life without it.

Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.

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One response to “A Weird, Tightly-Packed Community: Why I Love Public Transportation

  1. I love this article–it details many of the reasons I started my blog “Pretending to Know You,” in which I write flash fiction about people I see on the CTA. All those strangers are the perfect inspiration for stories. 🙂

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