The Car-Free Chronicles – How a Four-Hour Shift Becomes an Eight Hour Day
This is the fourth in a series about my experiences being car-free for a year. I see it as health-related in the sense that our automobile culture is hard on the planet and exposes us to pollutants, and our reliance on driving affects where and how we live, how we move, what we eat, what information and services we have access to, and many other aspects of our lives. However, individual posts may or may not focus on health implications, and some will be fairly specific to the environment of Nashville, TN. I hope this is useful to people considering their use of cars and others with the potential to affect how cities organize themselves around transportation.Yesterday, I worked the four-hour Saturday shift at my library, something we each do a few times per year. The work shuttle I typically walk ~30 minutes to does not run on weekends, so I have to rely on less work-specific methods to commute. This time, I took the city bus (Nashville MTA) for the whole commute so I could document the times for each leg of the trip so I could share it here as a clear illustration of what riding the bus actually takes.
I hope seeing some of this actual data helps people who never take the bus understand that your support for improvements and proper funding is needed (and appreciated) – and not just for the proposed multimillion dollar BRT East-West Connector to move people with money and no intent of giving up their cars between hot spots for meetings, bars, and restaurants. We need improvements all across the system to move the people who are serving those drinks, washing those dishes, and watching the kids while the moneyed go to happy hour – from the whole city, throughout the whole city. Now.
Before I share the numbers: whenever I share specifics of my commute like this, I inevitably hear the well-meaning suggestion, “get a bicycle.” It’s a great idea – for my specific commute, in certain circumstances, if I can afford and ride a bike and don’t get hit by a car in a city that doesn’t handle bikes vs. cars and roads well. I live three miles from work, why not ride a bike? Why not just walk the whole way?
It’s a fine idea. But what it doesn’t do is capture the actual experience of riding public transit, and it doesn’t account for the many people who can’t simply ride a bike or walk the whole way. It doesn’t take care of people with babies, with multiple children, with disabilities, with other physical limitations, whose route to walk or bike would not be safe or is too long, who can’t get to work really sweaty in 109 degree heat, or any other number of factors that mean people really need to get on a bus instead of a bike. There are plenty of reasons why less than 1% of Americans commute by bike, and it’s *not* solely because they’re simply not aware of bikes. Thus, public transportation must be available and improved, because bikes are just not going to work for everybody, or even most people.
So, here’s what it looked like on the way to work, three miles from my house, with the extra-special limited weekend route schedules:
|10:50 am||Leave the house to walk to the bus stop.|
|10:57 am||Arrive at the bus stop on Nolensville Rd. Wish for a shady bus stop instead of a bench, or, say, a route times sign.|
|11:24 am||Picked up by the Route 12 bus. It was supposed to be there at 11:12 am. The bus is pretty much full, with only ~5 seats open.|
|11:43 am||Get off the bus downtown. According to the schedule, plan to wait until 12:15 pm for the next bus.|
|11:51 am||My next bus, Route 7, pulls in. It’s the 11:15 bus running late. Because we’re “so close” to the next time, they don’t just go – this bus becomes the 12:15 pm bus, so we just sit on it until then.|
|12:19 pm||12:15 pm bus pulls out of downtown.|
|12:33 pm||Get off the bus at Vanderbilt. Just enough time to snag lunch before my 1:00 pm shift starts.|
And on the way home:
|~5:05 pm||Leave work from my four-hour, 1-5 pm shift.|
|~5:10 pm||Get to the bus stop for Route 7 to downtown. Sit and wait for more than an hour.|
|6:12 pm||Get on the bus to downtown. It was supposed to be there sometime ~5:55 pm and get downtown at 6:12 pm to catch the next bus out at 6:15 pm (yeah, those turnaround times are great for people with mobility limitations…)|
|6:28 pm||Get off the bus downtown. Ask a supervisor if the time or bay has changed, because the electronic sign over the usual spot says nothing. Because buses are only running once per hour, the late pickup of the previous bus means I have to wait until 7:15 to catch the next bus home.|
|7:18 pm||The 7:15 pm bus actually pulls out of the bay downtown.|
|7:30 pm||Get off the bus and start walking to my house.|
|7:39 pm||Arrived home.|
And that is how a four-hour shift becomes an eight hour day.
And yes, there was a marathon going on yesterday that altered some routes for a few hours and probably caused delays. But the event was one that happens every year, the route has been planned for ages, and the downtown bus hub through which all travelers must go is nearby to many other major events in a city – other marathons, NFL games, NHL games, huge country music events, holiday celebrations, and more. Making public transportation actually work during those many, many times during the year when “something is going on” is part of the responsibility of the city, and is something that seriously affects the daily lives of people who depend on the buses to get them where they need to go. If buses ran more often on the weekends, event-related delays could be more readily absorbed and minimized. It’s not a shock that people need to get places on time, unless you have so much privilege that you never do.
And you know, I complain about this, and I think it’s important to talk about so people understand better where their city is failing to provide crucial services. But I don’t forget for a minute that I have tremendous privileges that mitigate the shortcomings of Nashville’s public transportation. In no way does my aggravation rival that of the diabetic homeless man at the downtown station who would sleep on the street last night because the delayed buses meant he couldn’t get to the shelter before lock-out. Dude offered me half his rotisserie chicken, but Nashville can’t offer him a bus ride on time to sleep in a bed.