Ditch Your Car for the Day and Take the Bus

Try it.

Taking the bus instead of driving your car is an eco-friendly inexpensive way to get around. It could actually be more convenient than a car, at least sometimes.

What went through your mind after reading the first sentence? “I already ride the bus to work.” or “Thanks for the reminder. I’ll look up bus schedules online right now.” or “Fine you take the bus but I do not want to.”

If it was the latter, I hear you. I am certain that I have had the same thought many, many times.

But the climate crisis has disrupted my thinking. I believe our society needs to change the way we live, significantly, even radically to live more lightly on Earth, now, not at some distant point in the future. To me, that means trying new things and doing things that are not in my comfort zone.

Sure taking the bus is not a revolutionary action but for me it is new and outside of my comfort zone (I’ll explain why later).

My spouse and I live in Cambria a small town (population 6,000) on the California Central Coast. San Luis Obispo (population 47,000) about 35 miles away is the biggest city in our county. We already walk a lot to get around and for pleasure. To minimize trips to San Luis Obispo in our gasoline-powered car we strive to combine errands, appointments, meetings, entertainment, and other activities.

We had not been on the bus in our county until a recent warm day in September. That day we took the bus to the “big city” to run errands. This post recounts our experience. I hope after reading it you will consider trying out the bus service where you live.

The brief overview below illustrates the significance of the transportation sector as it relates to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Transportation is the moving of people, animals, and stuff from point A to point B via cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, trains, ships, and other vehicles.

U.S. GHG Emissions by Sector in 2017 Pie Chart

As you can see from this chart transportation represented a whopping 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. Over half of these emissions came from passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans. Source – U.S. EPA.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2018, petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) accounted for 92% of the energy used for transportation in the United States of which 54% was gasoline.

U.S. GHG Emissions from Transportation 1990-2017
This timeline shows that there is a huge opportunity for improvement in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in the United States. Source – U.S. EPA.

A small percentage of vehicles have transitioned away from petroleum products to natural gas (a “less bad” fossil fuel) or to biofuels which are made from plants grown on agricultural land that could be used to grow food. Electricity represents only 1% of the energy used for transportation.

Bus Alternative Fuel Transition Chart 2008-2018 - APTA
Most buses in the U.S. run on diesel and natural gas, but hopefully more and more rapid transit agencies will switch to electric buses.

Our Day on the Bus

If I was a more adventurous sort of person, I might have decided to try the bus on the spur of the moment. But I am one of those people who usually plan ahead and I like to have some idea about what to expect in new situations.

Therefore, I did some advance research on the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority (RTA) website. I discovered bus service from and to Cambria is infrequent and that on the way to San Luis Obispo we would need to transfer to another bus in Morro Bay.

Deciphering the schedule was a bit challenging but I eventually figured it out. The legend on the route map indicated that there are timed stops where the bus always stops and untimed stops where the bus will stop if someone is waiting to get on or a passenger wants to get off. I learned about fares and that you can pay in cash on the bus (exact change only), use a smartphone app (my phone is too old), or buy passes online.

The RTA website had a handy video for first-time bus riders that showed how to plan your trip, pay on the bus, and to let the driver know you want to get off at an untimed stop which you do by pulling on the cord that runs along the top of the windows.

My spouse and I both work out of our home and have fairly flexible schedules. We decided to take the bus for a day trip to run errands in San Luis Obispo.

Waiting at Route 15 Bus Stop on Main Street in Cambria, CA

We opted for a mid-morning bus. The nearest timed bus stop is three-quarters of a mile from our house, but since I had done research ahead of time, I knew there was an untimed bus stop a quarter of a mile away. We arrived at that stop at 10:45 a.m. to wait for the bus.

Small San Luis Obispo RTA Bus

At 11:05, the small route 15S bus pulled up and we got on. There were seven people already on board. Photo – SLO RTA.

San Luis Obispo RTA Bus Pass

I fed $11.00 into the machine next to the driver and the machine spit out two paper passes that were printed on paper board with a readable strip. We would swipe these passes each time we boarded a bus that day.

We sat down in the front so I could talk to the bus driver and buckled up. I was surprised that the bus had seat belts. (I also knew that the front seats in a bus are designated for elderly or disabled people so I was prepared to move if needed.)

Our driver was a friendly man named Alan who seemed to know some of the passengers. When I asked him how long he had been driving the route 15 bus, he said 16 years. Before that, he had driven a tour bus at Hearst Castle. Alan joked that his son has told him that he is driving his life away. He said that he thought driving a bus was his calling.

The bus traveled along Highway 1. After the hilly terrain flattened out, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean for several miles.

We arrived in Morro Bay a few minutes beyond the scheduled time of 11:33 a.m. The full-size 12S bus was waiting for us so we walked off one bus and directly onto the other bus. We swiped our passes, found seats, and sat down (no seat belts on this bus). There were ten or so other passengers when we got on the bus.

At 12:08 p.m., we arrived just two minutes late at the outdoor San Luis Obispo transit center near City Hall. The county buses pull up in one section and the San Luis Obispo city buses line up across the intersection.

Hot Fudge Sundae from McConnells in San Luis Obispo, CA

Now we were in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo so it was easy to walk around completing our various errands. We treated ourselves to ice cream at McConnell’s (to be truthful I had a hot fudge sundae).

My understanding of the schedule meant that we needed to take the 12N at 2:33 p.m. in order to make our connection in Morro Bay with the 15N at 3:00 p.m. so we arrived at the Transit Center with about 15 minutes to spare.

San Luis Obispo County RTA Bus with Bike on Bike Rack
This photo of one of the full-size RTA buses shows a bike on the bike rack. Photo – SLO RTA.

We sat on one of the benches observing buses coming and going. I watched one man ride up on a bike and then hoist it onto the bike rack at the front of the bus. It is low to the ground but I doubt I could lift a bike up that far.

When the 12N arrived, we got on, swiped our passes, and found seats in the middle of the bus. This bus did not leave right on time because apparently, we were waiting for another bus to arrive. When it did, some passengers got off that bus and walked over to board our bus. We headed out at 2:36 p.m. with about 20 passengers.

The 15N bus with Ernesto at the wheel was waiting for us when we arrived in Morro Bay at 3:02 p.m. (2 minutes late). We swiped our passes for the last time and sat down among the handful of passengers already on board.

As we approached the untimed stop across from the one where we had started our journey, I saw three people waiting to get on. Ernesto let us off at 3:41 p.m. and we walked back to our house arriving at 3:50 p.m.

Whew, we had successfully taken the bus from Cambria to San Luis Obispo and back. Next time, perhaps we will try getting around San Luis Obispo on the city bus.

Bus Benefits and Drawbacks

Riding the bus that day was a good experience all around.

The buses were clean and comfortable. When I asked the bus drivers questions, they answered politely with varying levels of enthusiasm. The passengers ranged in age from college students to seniors and we did not encounter any obnoxious or unruly behavior.

Our trip was relaxing and hassle-free. With the bus driver handling the driving, we were free to sit back enjoying the scenery and talking with each other. In San Luis Obispo, we did not need to navigate a parking garage or search for street parking. We saved the cost of parking, avoided wear and tear on our car, and did not have to pay for gas.

We usually walk around downtown San Luis Obispo even when we drive our car there but the bus required extra walking between our house and the bus stops. I think this a good thing.

For us, the limited schedule is a major drawback. We could take the bus to San Luis Obispo to attend an evening meeting, which we do almost weekly, but we would have no way of getting back home. I doubt that expanding bus service to our small town is even on the county’s radar screen but I suppose I could try to find out.

Now that you have read this post you might be wondering why I even wrote it since it seems that we will not be ditching our car in favor of the bus for most trips to San Luis Obispo.

I wrote it because living more lightly on the planet requires changing how we live our daily lives. If we don’t try new things, how will we ever change? How will we figure out what needs to be done to make riding the bus a workable solution for more people?

Perhaps there is a wonderful bus service where you live. You won’t know unless you try it.

Featured Image at Top: This photo shows 69 volunteers, 69 bicycles, 60 cars, and one bus gathered in Canberra, Australia to recreate a world-renowned photograph taken more than 20 years ago to demonstrate the advantages of bus and bicycle travel in congested cities. Photo credit – Australia Cycling Promotion Fund.

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10 Easy and Green Exercise New Year’s Resolutions

No gym membership required.

Making exercise an integral part of your daily life is a New Year’s resolution that is good for you and the planet.

I doubt anyone would disagree that moving about and being active is good for your health and wellbeing. Yet, as soon as you mention the word exercise, some people (like me) begin thinking up excuses for why we cannot join a gym, sign up for a yoga class, or get up an hour earlier each workday to run before work.

If you love going to the gym, look forward to yoga class, and find running at dawn exhilarating, you have my respect and best wishes. In that case, consider reading Green Twist on 10 Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions or New Year’s Resolution for 2017 – Hit the Reset Button.

However, if you cringed at the word exercise and are one of those people who enjoy the challenge of choosing a New Year’s resolution and keeping it, this might be just the post for you.

Making a resolution to walk or bike to and from school or work is an excellent carbon-free way to get exercise, even if you do it just part of the time. Nevertheless, you may not be able to or willing to make that kind of a commitment this year. Fortunately, other easy options are available that will help you get more exercise.

For me, and perhaps for you, the key to moving around and being more active is to make it part of my normal day, not something extra to do.

10 Easy and Environmentally Friendly Exercise New Year’s Resolutions

The ten thought starters below are intended to assist you with determining an easy and green exercise New Year’s resolution.

Ten-Minute Tidy Up

Spending ten minutes each day picking up stuff and putting it where it belongs has two benefits. It gets you moving and it is a painless way to tidy up your home. If there is not much to pick up, consider wiping off the kitchen counter or even cleaning a toilet. Once you get in the habit of doing this, you might be surprised at how clean and tidy you can make your home in just ten minutes a day.

This is a good activity to involve kids in, too. When our kids were young, we did a daily ten-minute toy pick up. This not only kept our house more organized it helped our kids learn to be responsible for their toys. Even toddlers can help if you give them a hand.

Walk and Talk

If you normally sit while talking on the phone, consider walking around while doing it (if you can do it safely).

Bring Your Own Lunch

Consider the multiple advantages of bringing your own lunch to work (in reusable containers). You will know what is in your food, you will not waste time driving to a restaurant and waiting for your food to arrive at your car window or table, and you will likely save tens of thousands of dollars during your working life.

Women Walking in a ParkYou will now have time for walking to run an errand, to a park, or around the office or grounds where you work. Better yet, walk to a park or another outdoor space soaking up some vitamin D along the way and then eat your lunch. Help your coworkers get on the move by asking them to join you.

Meet for a Walk

Instead of meeting a friend for coffee at a coffee shop, mix it up and meet for a walk. Bring coffee with you in a reusable travel mug to sip while you chat and walk.

Run Errands on Foot

Chances are that there is at least one place you frequent that is within easy walking distance of your home or place of work like a restaurant, pharmacy, grocery store, post office, or library. Select one place to begin walking to or make a commitment to walk to run an errand at least once a week.

Park in the North Forty

Full Parking LotThe term north forty often refers to a remote patch of land on a farm or ranch but I think it translates well to parking. An easy way you can add more walking to your day is to park in the far corner of a parking lot or parking garage or down the street from your destination.

Take a Commercial Break

There are usually at least three or four commercial breaks during an hour-long television show and a 3-hour football game has even more. These are built-in opportunities to get up and walk around for a few minutes. When you are watching ad-free media, make a point of either pausing in the middle or getting up and walking around between shows or movies.

Hold a Walking Meeting

How many hours have you spent sitting in conference rooms for short meetings with only a few people? Why not hold a walking meeting instead (if you can do it safely). Mobile devices make it easy to look up things and take notes while you are on the move.

Set a Timer

Finger with Red Ribbon Tied Around ItI got this idea from one of my sons. He is a programmer and a gamemaster who spends a fair amount of time in front of multiple screens so he sets a timer on his smartphone to remind him periodically to get up and walk around. Many experts say that getting up and stepping away is not only good for your body but stimulates your brain as well.

The timer method will work for just about any sedentary job that allows you to leave your work area briefly as well as when you are sitting at home reading a book or watching a movie.

Walk with Your Kids

If you have the time and ability to walk your kids to and from school, that is terrific. If you do not, then make a point of walking with your kids at other times to get them in the habit of walking as a means of getting about and for pleasure. You can walk to a store to get supplies for an art project at school or take a hike during the weekend.

When our kids were young, we frequently took short walks before or after dinner. It took about ten minutes to walk around our block and if we were feeling ambitious, we would take a double-block walk. On the weekends, we hiked in the hills near our neighborhood.

My 2019 New Year’s Resolution

Initially, I was thinking about choosing my son’s “set a timer” idea for my 2019 New Year’s resolution, but I have already adopted it. While writing this morning, my smartphone has already dinged quietly 6 times and I have gotten up and walked around, gone up and down the stairs, and unloaded the dishwasher.

Last year I toyed with the idea of a resolution involving sugar but I ended up opting to digitize our financial records, which I did do. Sugar is still on my mind so I decided to write at least one post about the environmental impact of sugar for my 2019 New Year’s resolution. To keep myself on track I established a few milestones.

  • By January 31 – watch the documentary Sugar Coated again (for inspiration).
  • By April 30 – complete enough research to have adequate material for at least one post.
  • By June 30 – write and publish at least one post.

Footsteps Leading to the Word GoalNow, I hope you are ready to pick one of the above easy and green exercise ideas for your New Year’s resolution or come up with your own. Your best chance for success is to choose something you actually want to do and to be specific so that you will know when you have completed your resolution.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image at Top: Two Potatoes Sitting on a Red Couch – Photo Credit iStock/CHRISsadowski

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