Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm on a bus.

I’ve covered quite a few Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) meetings as of late, and it occurred to me while I was sitting in one the other night that there’s no reason I can’t start taking public transportation to and from work.

I believe in it for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that I’m Charlie Lavia’s daughter and I like to save money. Thanks to the handy calculator on the DART website, I quickly realized I could save upwards of $800 in fuel costs in a year if I jettisoned my car for the bus. That amount easily could purchase a year’s worth of textbooks for one of my kids. Winning.

I don't have small children whose schedules might necessitate that I leave work during the day. I'm no longer helping to care for a sick parent. Logistically, there's no need to have my car downtown. Plus, I'll be having my knee replaced soon; some mornings, walking from my parking ramp to my building is more painful than I like to admit, and DART basically pulls up in front of my office.

Then there’s also the whole carbon-footprint thing. Although taking my 1998 Malibu out of commission isn’t likely to save the planet, no one will miss it. Besides, I worry frequently that my brakes are going to stop working or parts of the car simply are going to begin falling off, so from a peace-of-mind standpoint, leaving the car where it can’t hurt anything is also a plus.

So I pulled up DART’s website and began checking my options. It’s a little tricky, so I needed some help. As luck would have it, the Doyenne of DART happens to sit two aisles from me at the office.

Jen Deutmeyer not only is a bus champion, but she produced a video last year that was the grand-prize winner in DART’s Why I Ride the Bus contest. She scored an iTouch and a cult following. She also really knows her DART. Jen hooked me up with the best routes – there really are a ton of options – and I promised myself I’d just do it.

That was yesterday. Today, I rode the bus.

(Those of you familiar with the Saturday Night Life comedian Andy Samberg also might know his parody song I’m on a Boat. In my head, I’ve changed it to I’m on a Bus, and it’s on a mental loop as I write this. And it’s making me laugh. Anyway…)

I rose a little earlier than normal this morning to make sure I was at the bus stop on time. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised, though, that of the two routes I can most easily take, I made it to the park-and-ride in time to take the latter of the two.

While I was waiting, I made small talk with another rider – one whom I nearly startled off the bench initially because from the back, he looks like my friend Brent and I greeted him with a loud, “Hey! You ride this bus, too?” Once he recovered his composure, he graciously explained just where the downtown stops were, as they’re not all listed on DART’s map of the route.

Soon, the bus arrived and I climbed on. I showed my company security badge and the driver nodded and pushed a button. Seriously, that’s all that transpired, and the trip was free. (I am not a suck-up, but here’s a shout-out to my employer for a great perk!)

I chose one of the front seats because I tend to fall victim to motion sickness from time to time, and sitting in the back of a vehicle often makes me feel worse. I looked around, smiled stupidly and started munching on the crackers I had brought in case my empty stomach didn’t take well to a lot of starts and stops.

And boy, were there a lot of starts and stops. If you’ve let yourself be deterred from riding the bus because you don't think it will stop close enough to your house, you needn’t worry. Between 86th and Aurora and downtown, we stopped approximately 8,032 times.

(I’m exaggerating, obviously. But suffice it to say these folks don’t want you to have to walk a block farther than you want to, which is something to be appreciated. And also, if you choose an express route, it will include far fewer stops.)

But here’s the thing: Even with all the stops, the commute took exactly as long as it does when I drive my car. DART gets people on and off the vehicles pretty quickly, and besides – the best part! – when we pulled into downtown, the bus dropped me off at the corner of my building. No need for hunting in the ramp for a parking space, walking down the stairs or taking a slow elevator to ground level, and then hoofing it a few more blocks to my office. I was giddy.

(Plus, I have to tell you: I’m a prissy girl, and the bus passed muster. It was clean, the seats were comfortable, and the aisles were wide. I could have used a drink holder, but, hey, I muddled through.)

I walked into the office and I bragged. Then I texted my husband, who – knowing full well that I’m directionally impaired – assumed I’d end up at the zoo. After that, I stuck a post-it on my computer to remind myself to ride the bus home.

There are some days I won’t ride the bus; once or twice a week, I cover meetings or events after work and will have to drive directly to them. But barring anything unusual, I think it’s safe to say that even after one day, I’m a convert.

Like many people, I don’t allow myself a lot of downtime, and riding the bus will force me to take some – 40 minutes’ worth a day, to be exact, and that’s huge. It will be my iPod-listening and blog-reading time, and chances are I may arrive home just a little more relaxed than is typically the case.

Also, I’m not likely, in my lifetime, to do anything huge to make a difference, environmentally speaking. It’s probably safe to say I won’t purchase a hybrid or install solar panels anytime soon. But this small decision I’m making is something, and if more people choose the same option, we could actually make a dent in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions right here at home.

No matter how you look at it, it’s all good. I’m on a bus. And I like it.


  1. I had a co-worker who would often ride the bus to work. She'd walk with me to the Principal ramp, only to remember she had taken the bus that day. Sticky note is a good idea. :)