Last week I got around on one of the nation’s best public bus systems.
And it was interesting to say the least.
I saw former students and ex-coworkers riding TheBus. I sat alongside folks heading to work, to the mall, to school, to the grocery store. Some knew the driver — one guy actually stood next to the driver and talked with him for the entire ride — and others, mostly tourists, had never been on the city bus before. There were professionals going to their offices in downtown, kids going to the beach, couples going home.
And then there was me.
The girl who got a ticket for not having a current safety check or registration and was too paranoid to drive until she got all of that squared away.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this mode of transportation and the culture that surrounds it. People catch the bus for a variety of reasons. Some believe in public transportation, some think it’s a greener way to get around. Some can’t afford cars, some aren’t old enough to drive. And there are others who prefer the convenience of not having to drive or look for parking.
I will say, getting around on the bus isn’t as difficult as it may seem to those who haven’t hopped on one lately. I mean, 75.5 million boardings every year must mean something.
But I couldn’t survive on TheBus alone. For one, I can’t take my dogs on it, so that makes going hiking and to the vet impossible. And I have to jet to appointments, meetings and interviews all the time, sometimes on very short-notice, and getting around on the bus would be challenging.
So I rushed to get the safety check and registration squared away — I also had to replace a tail light — just so I could use my car again.
But I don’t regret the week without my wheels. I learned a lot.
Here are some of those lessons:
• HEA is awesome. TheBus has a very helpful, real-time website that tells you exactly when each bus is stopping at whatever bus stop you’re at. Oahu Transit Services, which operates TheBus, launched this bus-located site several years ago. It tracks Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on each bus and updates every two minutes with a bus’ estimated arrival time at a particular stop. I lived by that!
• Bus passes aren’t prorated. It cost $60 for a monthly pass for an adult — it’s less for students, seniors and members of the military. I walked into 7-Eleven to inquire about a monthly pass, but it was already the middle of November. The cashier said I would still have to pay the entire $60 for the pass even though it was only good for two weeks. Good to know.
• Stand up to get noticed. I made the mistake of not standing up at the bus stop when the bus arrived. I was still sitting, putting away my Kindle, when I saw the bus approaching. I suppose because I wasn’t standing up, the bus driver just drove past without stopping. I had to wait for the next bus. Now I know better.
• There’s no Internet on TheBus. As far as I know, there’s no free Wifi onboard. Which is too bad, especially for foreign travelers. (I know how important free Wifi is when I’m traveling abroad.)
• Sit forward. If you’re prone to motion sickness, pick a seat that faces forward. The side-facing seats can make you feel sick. (I learned this from experience.)
• You still sit in traffic. Just because you’re using public transportation doesn’t mean you get anywhere faster. The bus stops more often than you would in your car, and you still sit in the same traffic. So you still have to plan out your trip factoring in those things. Mass transit rail will be different. But until then, this is it.
In all, I’m glad I did it, even if just for a week. It made me realize there are other ways to get around — and despite how much I love to actually drive my own car, it was nice ego sit back, relax and read my Kindle on the way to work.
I don’t think I’d ditch my car, but don’t be surprised if you see me on the bus again.
To learn more about Honolulu’s public bus system or to find routes and timetables, call (808) 848-5555 or visit www.thebus.org.