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Essay

Come along and ride The Bus of change

Advocating for greater public participation in environmentally-friendly day-to-day practices and habits

in Environmentalism

The two greatest dangers to all life and planet Earth—nuclear holocaust and ecological doom—are man-made. In a way this is a good thing.  If we created nuclear weapons or if global warming is human-induced we are capable of undoing these wrongs, or at least making attempts to do so. The recent and unfortunate passing of a milestone in carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere highlights the urgency for action.

Obviously there is a moral imperative for us to solve these grave problems. While currently the elimination of nuclear weapons ultimately lies beyond the control of the demos, opportunities to reverse or slow human-induced global warming are simpler, often just within reach. In fact such an opportunity is probably passing near your home this minute—TheBus.

In my mid-teens riding the bus to work seemed like a chore. I saw every ride as one ride closer to the day I got my drivers license and the supposed freedom and opportunities of courtship a teen would associate with it. 

Ten years later my perspective and understanding of commuting is completely different. With a growing knowledge of global warming thanks to the likes of James Hansen, Bill McKibben, and Naomi Klein, and the many miles and hours sacrificed to navigating some of the absolute worst traffic in the United States, I soon found myself disgusted by cars and the incredible stress driving puts on humans. Cars are machines of death, outdated nineteenth century inventions. If one does not die or kill another in a car accident, the mining of materials required to manufacture cars and the required burning of fossil fuels will eventually destroy the biosphere upon which one’s life depends. 

In the so-called developed world, for an individual or society as a whole to be more ecologically sustainable requires change—actually doing something different. And what better, simpler change is there to make in regards to the perils that face humanity than to alter our relationships with the death machines that blanket our planet with a deathly layer of carbon? Such a change begins with small first steps, like those taken when boarding the metro.

Despite having the privilege of access to a car, I recently decided to hop back on the bus and give it another try. By doing so I instantly discovered numerous benefits to riding the bus that were previously obscured by my limited teenage consciousness. These benefits will keep me riding the bus and I hope will attract new riders. 

The greatest positive of riding the bus is the reduction of fossil fuel dependence. For those who would usually commute via car, becoming a regular bus rider replaces one’s individual fossil fuel consumption with the reduced collective fuel consumption of our mass transit system. Think of TheBus as a large fleet of carpools and an intermediate step or transition to more environmentally sustainable transportation. Even TheBus itself has been making efforts to go green, integrating hybrid buses into its fleet. And for those who see green rather than think green, riding the bus puts money spent on gas back in one’s pocket. 

For those of us on Oahu, riding the bus has never been easier. Frequent routes, including express routes, to the Univeristy of Hawaii-Manoa, Ala Moana, and Downtown Honolulu make getting to class or work a breeze. If one owns a smart phone TheBus has an app! DaBus App is incredibly useful; one can find nearby bus stops and routes, view arrival times, and even track most buses with GPS so that one knows almost exactly when to be at one’s stop. For UH students, a bus pass is included in tuition fees. For Hawaii Pacific University students, bus passes are less than half the normal price. There are even employers around the island that offer similar reduced prices for bus passes, including Central Pacific Bank and J.Crew.

Riding the bus also reduces the liability, danger, stress, and restrictions of driving. Unlike a car driver, a bus rider has no fear of DUI and no responsibility if an accident occurs. Driving is an incredibly stressful experience. The worry of getting oneself to one’s destination on time, the constant vigilance required of a driver—looking both ways, checking mirrors, and being aware of bikers and pedestrians—and the pressure of following the laws of the road, all weigh heavily on a driver’s shoulders. Almost none of this stress exists when riding the bus, where one is free to access one’s phone or other devices without violating the law. A bus rider can sit back, relax, and view the beauty of Oahu without the worries of driving. 

And the more people ride the bus who would otherwise be driving, the fewer cars there are on the road. Riding the bus can only help the traffic problems that plague Oahu. 

But wait, there’s more! The air conditioning on the bus is always cold. Time spent on the bus can be used productively, reviewing notes, doing homework, preparing for work, sending emails, or my favorite: reading. Time can also be spent less productively playing games, listening to music, conversing or people watching—whatever strikes one’s fancy. The short distances between stops and destinations offer light walks and improved fitness when contrasted with the sedentary life of a driver. One can even meet new people and make friends on the bus!

On a more personal level I have found the transition from car to bus to have radically altered my understanding of movement.  Maybe this is attributable to the simple actions of walking on and off the bus, to and from destinations, putting feet to ground, rather than sitting in a car, closing the door on the world, and moving with the push of a pedal and turn of a wheel, that I feel a greater sense of freedom as a bus rider.  (This is quite ironic when I consider the freedom I associated with driving as a teen.)  Like driving, the bus turns humans into subjects; drivers and riders.  Yet at least for me, the many benefits of riding the bus and this newly found sense of freedom, makes being a rider feel closer to being a human.

Yet some still might have reasons not to ride the bus. Riding with children can be a logistical nightmare. The fears of having to share space with homeless people or the mentally ill, made famous by Weird Al Yankovich’s “Another One Rides the Bus,” might also keep one from riding the bus. If compassion and understanding for the homeless cannot help one overcome such fear, onboard cameras and the presence of bus drivers and other riders can hopefully help. Running errands at multiple locations, carrying large amounts of goods or bags, or having a short appointment may be made difficult or inefficient commuting by bus. But these are some of the small sacrifices we must make, especially for those without children, if we are to radically alter our relationships with the environment as necessary. For me these sacrifices are nothing when compared to the benefits I have experienced in my return to TheBus.   

For those of us who wish to be more moral beings and lead lives that are more environmentally friendly, yet cannot access an electric car, are afraid of the dangers of riding bicycles or motorbikes, or are otherwise skeptical of individualist forms of commuting, riding Frank Fasi’s Limo is an awesome alternative. If life and our planet are to continue, we must make simple changes and small sacrifices on a personal level. And in the case of riding TheBus, many will find that such an individual sacrifice might actually be a substantial and immediate benefit.

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