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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Coolest and Greenest Gift for Kids this Holiday Season

Give a gift they will never forget.

This holiday season, give the kids on your list an eco-friendly gift that is appropriate for kids of all ages and that they will enjoy for years to come.

If you are expecting to read a post about toy dump trucks made of recycled plastic, organic cotton t-shirts that say “Save the Bees,” or kid-size gardening tools, you may be disappointed because you will not find them here.

Literally, the coolest and greenest gift you can give your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews is to act like global warming and climate change is real.

“Really, you have got to be kidding me. I do not want to think about global warming during the holiday season!” is a reasonable response to the above statement.

It could be that I am just a perverse person, but I believe the holiday season presents you and me with the perfect opportunity to consider our holiday traditions and habits and how we might change them to live more lightly on Earth. A habitable planet now and in the future is the best gift we can give the children we love.

My goal for this post is to interrupt your business-as-usual holiday preparations and mine before they get too far along so that we can decide what we want to do differently and then do it before the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Greening Your Holiday Season

Giving your holiday season a green makeover is one thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. Some of the ideas below are easy and some are hard. Feel free to come up with your own. There is no right answer.

One thing to keep in mind is that we humans excel at justifying our behavior so do not be surprised if you find yourself coming up with really good reasons why you cannot change and do things differently this year. If this happens, go grab a photo of the children in your life and try again.

Of course, I am not immune to justifying my actions either and as you will see, I do not always go for the eco-friendly option. I am constantly striving to live more lightly on Earth, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

Travel

This time of year, the USS Enterprise would come in handy (hopefully it is a zero-emissions spaceship). Imagine saying, “Beam me up Scotty,” and being magically transported across the country without the hassle of flying or its enormous carbon footprint.

Amtrak California Zephyr Traveling Along the Colorado River
Amtrak California Zephyr train traveling along the Colorado River – photo credit Amtrak.

Before you go online to book your flight, please seriously consider taking the train, riding on a bus, or carpooling. It could be a wonderful adventure and the start of a new holiday travel tradition. While not carbon-free methods of travel (unless the vehicle is electric), trains, buses, and carpools have significantly smaller carbon footprints than flying.

Even if you have already made a reservation to fly you could change your mind and choose a greener travel alternative.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are the quintessential symbol of the holiday season for me and about a hundred million other people. This year ask yourself if you can and want to green your Christmas tree tradition if you have one.

I have been a real Christmas tree enthusiast ever since I was a small child. But about five years ago, I began worrying about the environmental impact of real trees and wondering if an artificial tree would be better. After researching the issue, I concluded that the best choice as far as the environment is concerned is not having a Christmas tree at all.

My love for real Christmas trees overcame my inner environmentalist and I bought a real tree, but I also began a new holiday tradition, “A Tree for a Tree.” I asked readers to join me in planting a tree each year that we buy a real or artificial tree or put up an existing artificial tree. That year my spouse and I rescued a tiny cypress seedling from certain death on a street median and planted it in our yard (now it is about twelve feet tall).

Two years later, I upped the ante to “Buy One, Plant Two.” That year we planted two Big Sur coast redwood seedlings in our yard and last year we planted two small toyons.

Property developers and readers who follow climate change will recognize this tree planting as a mitigating action, which is when you do something to make up for doing something else.

Food and Drink

During the 6-week holiday season, you and I will have 126 meals (not including snacks) to try out environmentally friendly menu ideas and dining practices. No, I am not suggesting that you serve tofurky for Christmas dinner unless you want to try it.

Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish
Stir-fry vegetable dish – photo credit iStock/Mizina.

Feeding the people you love with healthful, nutritious food is an act of love. What better time than the holiday season to try out some new meatless or low meat recipes and include more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds into your menu planning? Eating a healthy diet does not preclude you from making Christmas cookies with your grandchildren.

This holiday season set your table with reusable dishes, glasses, cups, flatware, and serving pieces that you already own. Give yourself extra credit for using cloth tablecloths and napkins. Ask guests to bring extra tableware and reusable containers for leftovers. Use the time you spend washing dishes to catch up with family members and friends.

You can accomplish another green holiday action while shopping at the grocery market. Leave plastic bottles of water and anything that comes in an aluminum can on the store shelf or in the cooler. No amount of recycling can ever alleviate the environmental damage caused by single-use beverage containers.

Gifts

Living more lightly on Earth requires amassing less stuff. Yes, that includes gifts.

In 2013, my spouse and I made the decision to stop exchanging Christmas gifts with our family and friends. We have never regretted it. Now, each year, we look forward to a stress-free holiday season with time to enjoy it.

If you have ever contemplated opting out of Christmas consumerism, now is the time to do it. You might be surprised how readily your family members and friends accept your suggestion to stop exchanging gifts during the holidays (at least between adults).

For those of you not willing to give up exchanging gifts, please ship your gifts via ground transport. You may not realize it, but when you select 2-day shipping or overnight delivery, your package is probably hopping on an airplane significantly increasing the carbon footprint of your gift

Decorations

Decorating for the holidays is fun and brightens up the cold and dark winter months.

The challenge, at least for me, is to avoid obtaining new items because everything looks so festive and enticing in stores and online marketplaces.

Quilly's Antiques Shop - Dickens Village
Dickens Village Quilly’s Antiques Shop – photo credit Department 56.

Giving decorations to other people or donating them so you can acquire new items is decoration churning and does nothing to curtail the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and distributing new decorations like Christmas tree ornaments, inflatable snowmen, and Santa figurines.

Over the past couple of years, as part of my mission to live happily with less stuff, I have pared down my Christmas decoration collection to the items that I really, really like and can see myself enjoying indefinitely, but there is a hitch.

One of my favorite things is my Dickens Village collection of tiny Victorian-style buildings, trees, and figurines inspired by the books of Charles Dickens, like A Christmas Carol featuring Ebenezer Scrooge.

Recently, after I had donated my London’s Chocolatier Shop and chocolate street vendor figurine to make room for my friend’s Quilly’s Antique Shop, I finally had to acknowledge that I have been engaging in decoration churning for several years. Oops.

My green holiday change this year is to focus on healthy eating, which is also good for the planet, by eating more plants, less meat, and enjoying sweet treats in moderation.

Okay, now it is your turn to evaluate your own holiday traditions and habits and decide what, if anything, you want to change to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly.

Your children, my children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to keep Earth habitable now and in the future, so everyone can enjoy life and thrive.

Happy Holidays!

December 2019 Update: This year I happily decorated with the items I already own. Whew.

Featured Image at Top: Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Holmes Su

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