[UPDATE: Port Authority Transit now offers annual, monthly, and weekly passes or cash debit on the ConnectCard, which you can refill online. It’s even more convenient than the paper passes were! Also, we no longer have zones; all trips are the same price.]
In my purse is a 2″x3″ piece of paper that is worth $90. It may not be the loveliest thing to look at–although this month’s is a nice shade of purple!–but this handy item has a beautiful effect on my daily life.
It is my Port Authority monthly bus pass. It lets me ride the bus, trolley, or incline anytime I like, anywhere I want to go within the city of Pittsburgh and many suburbs. All I have to do is flash that card. I can hop on and off vehicles all day, if I like. For just one dollar more, I can ride all the way out to the airport and other faraway parts of the metro area.
$90 a month, $990 a year if you pay up front to get one month free. It might sound like a lot. But when we tracked the actual fuel efficiency of our hybrid car, I calculated that taking public transit to work saves 37 gallons of gas each year–even for my little three-mile commute–and gas is $3.69 a gallon today, so that’s $136.53 a year; a parking lease in my office building’s garage costs $125 a month, so that’s $1,500 a year; driving to work would cost $1,636.53 a year even before considering the extra wear-and-tear on the car and the higher insurance premium on a car that’s used for commuting. I realize that a lot of people work in places where they don’t have to pay for parking . . . but a lot of people live a lot farther from work than I do, and a lot of cars get fewer miles per gallon than mine, and some commuters have to pay tolls. A friend recently told me that his mini-van commute was costing him $100 per week!
In addition to saving money, taking public transit has many advantages, listed in my article about commuting with my child. Now that he’s going to a school near our home, I walk him to school every morning and then walk from there to the bus stop, so there’s at least a mile of walking worked into my schedule every day, even if I don’t get any other exercise. I miss my traveling buddy, but now I get to read what I want to read on the bus!
My favorite thing about the bus pass is the effortlessness of using it. All I have to do is pull it out of my purse and show it to the driver. I can do that as many times as I want. If I’m going a short distance or just tired of waiting at a bus stop, so I decide to walk, but later I hear a bus approaching a stop just as I’m approaching it and decide to hop on there for the last two blocks, that isn’t stupidly expensive. (Paying cash fares, you have to pay the same amount regardless of the distance you ride, within a zone. I lead most of my life in Zone 1 and rarely visit the outlying Zone 2.) In the years when I was commuting with my child, although he was young enough to ride free, we took two buses each way (four buses a day), so the cash fare would have been $6.50 a day. I don’t always have $6.50 in cash, let alone two sets of $3.25 in exact change. Imagine the scramble for quarters! Imagine the hassle of digging out said quarters while holding a squirming toddler and three bags, wearing a slippery nylon jacket, and standing on the curb in a high wind! Bus pass, dude. I love my bus pass.
To me, it is well worth shelling out $990 all at once, plus the extra $24 “shipping & handling” that gets my monthly passes mailed to me so I don’t have to go downtown 12 times a year to get them. (Going downtown doesn’t cost me any money with my bus pass, but it takes an entire lunch break to get there and back, and that time is worth a lot more than $2 to me.) I charge it to my credit card, earning Costco discount, so if my finances are tight I have the option of taking a little extra time to pay in full. Once the money is spent, I don’t miss it, so I feel as if all my transit rides are free! Whee! I can go anywhere!
I know some people feel that sense of freedom when driving a car, but I never have. For me, taking charge of a two-ton killing machine is a source of instant and unrelenting stress. Having to keep my eyes on the road is a lot less fun than getting to look at the scenery or read a book. Large parking lots and, even more so, covered parking garages are my idea of Hell. I’d rather avoid the car as much as possible. Sure, there’s sometimes discomfort or stress associated with waiting for a bus in bad weather, waiting for a bus that’s running late when I need to get somewhere on time, or being smushed in a very crowded bus . . . but compared to the stress of scraping ice off the car, inching along in a traffic jam unable to find a legal place to ditch the car so I can walk to my destination, or being trapped in a big metal box trying to dodge other metal boxes that seem to be trying to smush mine . . . I’ll take the bus!
Bus pass. My beautiful purple bus pass. This little gadget that gives me unlimited rides around the city, with somebody else driving, at a low cost and incredible convenience, is also good for the environment because public transit conserves natural resources and reduces air pollution! It’s almost too good to be true. Please, Pennsylvania and United States governments, stop cutting funding for public transit.
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