Monday, June 11, 2012

Public Transit: More than Just a Green Option

Market Street train

Not many people know this about me: I do not have a driver’s license. In fact, not only do I not have a license, but I don’t even know how to drive. To be honest, if anyone were ever in an emergency and I was the only one around to drive to the hospital, it is possible that I might be able to get there but, to be safe, I would just call an ambulance to save everybody—especially me—the terrible stress of getting behind the wheel.

Because life without a car in this country can be a bit of a pain, my best alternative upon moving to the United States was to finesse my public transit skills, which includes being able to read the most complicated schedules for buses, trains and anything else that runs on a schedule; my reaction time to start running as fast as possible when the bus I want is almost to the bus stop while I am still a block away; and my enjoyment of small crowded spaces where you are in constant and unavoidable physical contact with other people.

Cable Car on top of Lombard St.
I personally love moving around using public transit. Not only is it super green, but I especially enjoy it because you get to learn more about people and more about the places you live in or visit.

When I lived in Minnesota, I was constantly riding on buses to get to and from school and work. Sometimes, I would even ride the light rail train for fun, just to look out the window. Minnesota is one of those places that was built for cars, so it’s no surprise that the majority of people drive everywhere—of course, there are some who make the effort of riding the bus or the train both to be green and to decongest the already overburden roads of the Twin Cities.

Bus and street car cross paths in SF
As a result of riding the bus everywhere in MN, I feel I got to see a side of the Twin Cities that a lot of people might not see on their way to and from their car every day. Putting the freezing cold temperatures during the brutal Minnesotan winters aside, I am glad I had the chance to experience the bus and the train as my main way of getting around the city!

Now I live in San Francisco, and riding public transit is not a big deal. In contrast with the Twin Cities, San Francisco was built for horses and carriages, so it’s easier to get around the city and to the adjacent neighborhoods. No need to jump on freeways for a “quick” 30-minute drive somewhere because you can ride the Muni trains, the Muni buses, the BART or the cable cars. In this city, you can get anywhere you want without a car; it’s just up to you to choose what to jump on!

Riders in Lisbon's Tram
In fact, when people think of San Francisco, they often think of the cable cars and the fun trains that run back and forth on Market Street. Some of these trains date as far back as 1914! Riding on these trains is like taking a fascinating trip back to the past.

Public transit not only comes in handy when moving around your city or town, but it’s also a wonderful way of getting around when traveling to new places! The reasons? The same I mentioned before, plus the added language crash-course; spontaneous cultural immersion; exploring random, but totally awesome train and bus stations; and seeing and experiencing the usually more exciting vehicles and modes of transport.

Tram in Lisbon
Over the years, Joe and I have been on more modes of public transit than you can imagine. As a result, we have been encountered several challenges that we happily overcame with a positive attitude, and the help of nice and friendly people around us.

One of the most fun (and challenging!) moments in our travel history was getting to a train station in southern China to catch a bus to the Vietnam border and realizing that the departures/arrival board was all in Chinese! Resourceful as we had to be, we started matching the characters on our bus tickets with those on the board until we figured out which bus to jump on.

Beautiful azulejos in Sao Bento Station, Porto

This was our first time traveling in South East Asia, and our stop in China was just another stop in our overland route from Hong Kong to Bangkok, all of which we did on public transit. I still remember one bus we took in Vietnam in which a man fell asleep on Joe’s shoulder for the entire way!

While traveling in Indonesia, our main mode of transport was boats. In order to get to our dream tropical islands, we had to take several boats, from a big ferry carrying hundreds of people, to small motorboats carrying more than they were meant to. By the end of a month, we had mastered the art of getting on and off boats!

Arrival/Departure in Nanning, China
Ferry on the Li River, China

In Porto and Lisbon in Portugal we discovered that their trams reminded us a lot of our beloved San Francisco. In fact both cities reminded us of SF, especially Lisbon. Unique to Porto, however, were the art-deco azulejos adorning the vestibule of the Sao Bento railway station. With 20,000 azulejos, the station is one of the most notable azulejo creations of its kind of the 20th century.

Buses in Kuala Lumpur

In Malaysia we were pleasantly surprised with how fancy the buses were—way better than any public bus we’ve ever been on in the US. In contrast, we were not so pleasantly surprised when we realized that the train that took us from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore didn’t have a proper bathroom but instead dumped the waste right on the tracks.

Train Station in Kuala Lumpur

Singapore showed us what the future looks like with its automated trains that run without a driver. While in Paris we crossed under the Seine River in their “vintage” metro, in Borneo we had to take “water taxis” to go across the river to eat traditional food, and in Bangkok we found a respite from the heat in their nicely air conditioned skytrain.

Sky train in Bangkok

All of this has led us to better enjoy the places we visit, and what they have to offer, because we do not isolate ourselves in private A/C vehicles. Instead, we rely on people’s help and advice (and a handy dandy map and a bit of background reading too!!!) to go around new places.

Metro in Paris

So yes, this is my very small photo tribute to mass transit and the experiences that come with it, especially to all those buses, trains, metros, ferries, small boats, etc., that have safely taken me and my other half to my final destinations over the past few years.

In two days we are getting on a plane once again. This time we are going to my best friend’s wedding in Maine. We decided to add a few days at each end of the trip to allow for some time to go camping in Acadia National Park. One great thing about Acadia is that it’s the most dog-friendly National Park in the country, which is why we are bringing Bomber with us! Wish us luck on the 5+ hour flight to Boston!

Boat in Togian Islands, Indonesia
This is my first time to the Northeast and I’m really excited to see it and to capture some images of the beauty everyone has been telling me about! I can’t wait to share those images with you!

Water Taxi in Borneo

The L in Chicago

The L in Chicago

Metro stop in Madrid
Water buses in Manado, Indonesia 
Art on Lisbon's trains

Cable car in Porto

1 comment:

  1. Paola this is BEAUTIFUL! I love every picture and how beautifully you put across the idea of Public Transit! I have a driver's license, but I failed my driver's test first before getting it. I don't drive, and don't know how to drive, and I COMPLETELY relate to your post <3 I LOVE IT!