Cars kind of suck. Aside from the autonomy they offer, they’re expensive and dangerous, but unless you’re the ten percent of the U.S. population, they are a necessity. I’ve never liked driving, had to suck it up as a nineteen-year-old to even get my license because there wasn’t really another option to get me from point A to point B.

I wish I had found public transportation earlier.

For the first sixteen years of my life, public transit was an afterthought. Cars were the only way to get around in my mind; although my hometown did offer a free bus system called the AppalCart, I never used it. 

The New York City subway was likely the earliest public transit system to enter my consciousness, and it always seemed more mystical than part of someone’s everyday routine. To this day, I’ve never been to New York City, and in a way, that perception still lingers. 

When I moved to the Philippines, I dipped my toes into the waters of Jeepneys and buses, but even there, I never stepped foot on a light rail platform. 

Here is where ridership becomes more clear. In 2016 I went to Korea and spent a week hopping trains and buses to go everywhere. A week later, I went to Thailand and followed a similar strategy, although we used taxis once or twice.

Was it there, where trains that perfectly lined up with gates and buses that barreled their way through streets, that I was hooked?

After returning to the U.S., I spent seven months in Northern Virginia, just outside of WMATA’s reach. I got a job at a Cracker Barrel, the first place that would hire me while I waited in limbo to go to college. I had to rely on my parents to get me to and from work. Somehow that didn’t radicalize me into realizing the stupidity of car dependency.

Neither did the Rapid, Grand Rapids’ ironically named bus system, which was very much not rapid. I spent four months taking hour-long bus rides to work for $9.50 an hour, what I thought was a fortune. I rushed back to Virginia to get a driver’s license. 

I think I enjoyed driving at some point. I still do miss my first car, a 2003 Honda Accord graciously gifted to me by my brother, adorned with countless bumper stickers that did not match my personality at all but that I never removed.

Seven years into driving, however, I am over it. If I didn’t have to drive for the rest of my life, I don’t think I’d miss it.

In the years since starting driving, I’ve never been involved in a major wreck (only a few very minor clippings), but I’ve become increasingly aware of the dangers of cars. Whether it was because of driving on Michigan highways during snowstorms with cars tailing me at 80 mph or whether it’s the countless cars accidents I’ve passed that I could have been involved in if only I left minutes earlier, being behind the wheel (or even in the passenger’s seat) is something that stresses me out.

But what if you didn’t have to drive? 

A reliable public transportation system was at the top of my list when it came to looking for a new city. In the U.S., that list is short, and it’s unfortunate. Despite the fears of safety on public transit systems, some studies show taking it is safer than driving.

Being able to go to a bus stop or a metro stop and knowing it will get you where you want when you want shouldn’t be a luxury afforded to residents in a few U.S. cities. 

The problem with most public transit, however, is that it is not frequent enough to make it preferable over driving. I only took the Rapid my first semester in Grand Rapids. Waiting thirty minutes for a bus that got me to a place forty-seven minutes away was not sustainable. Instead of pouring in money to improve the system, the Rapid has actually cut back.

As my disdain for driving grew, my YouTube recommendation for channels like Wendover Productions did also. I realized there were reliable forms of transportation that did not require driving, but that most places don’t care to invest in what it would take to get there.

I wrote much of this on an Amtrak to and from Philadelphia. It’s one of the few Amtrak lines where taking the train is significantly faster than driving or flying. Between sentences, I came across “proposed lines” of what a vast high-speed rail line in the U.S. could look like and died a little inside (though I suspect these proposals were more dreams from ordinary people than actual proposals). 

I’m lucky enough to live in a region where I have what I want from transit, but I doubt the dream will expand much from where I am.

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