For years, Carla Saulter enjoyed having a car. But as her Seattle commutes got longer, she grew uneasy with how her personal habit was affecting the environment. Now car-free, Saulter believes she and her family are better off walking or taking the bus.
When I was in third grade, I started riding the Metro bus alone. At first, I was allowed to ride to school only, but eventually my parents extended my privileges to include my favorite childhood haunts: Grandma’s apartment, Pike Place Market, and in the summer Seattle Center. Back then the bus symbolized independence. It gave me a power rare among my eight-year-old peers: the ability to get around the city without the assistance of an adult.
By the time I turned sixteen, a new power beckoned—a form of transportation that was available on demand and did not require an umbrella or an extra pair of gloves. Like most young Americans, I believed the auto industry’s propaganda: that a car was required for my transition to adulthood. For the next ten years—except for a short time in college when I found myself unable to afford a personal vehicle—I left the bus behind.
But then I accepted a job at a software company based fifteen miles outside the city. During my commutes, I became more aware of the negative impact of car culture: pollution, sprawl, isolation, and fatalities. I began to question my right to subject the earth and my beloved city to the impact of my choices. So, I returned to my roots and began riding the bus to work. Eventually, I was using my car so rarely that I decided to try living without one. I sold my lovely silver coupe in March 2003 and have used the bus as my primary form of transportation ever since.
Riding the bus isn’t always fun. I don’t like riding on rainy days, when the floor is slippery and the windows so fogged up you can’t see your stop. I don’t like standing when the bus is crowded. I don’t like drivers who ride the brakes. I don’t like practical hairstyles or sensible shoes. Despite these occasional inconveniences, I will never go back to driving, because this, I believe:
I believe in sitting next to my neighbors, in saying, “How you doing today?” and “Nice weather, isn’t it?” I believe in feeling the sun on my skin, in breathing fresh air and moving my body. I believe in eavesdropping. I believe in novels you can’t put down. I believe in businesspeople and teenage lovers, middle-aged gossips and giggling toddlers. I believe in watching and listening. I believe in naps. I believe in the camaraderie that develops among riders late at night, when the smooth-voiced driver plays jazz loud enough for everyone to enjoy.
I believe in clean air, in keeping cities dense and vibrant, and in protecting our remaining farmland and forests. I believe in the beauty of Puget Sound and the majesty of Mount Rainier. I believe that human life is sacred, that the world’s resources should be shared, and that every choice matters.
I believe that change is possible—if all of us ride.
Freelance writer Carla Saulter, aka Bus Chick, blogs about transit riding on her website, buschick.com. She serves on Seattle’s Transit Master Plan Advisory Board. Ms. Saulter and her husband and two children still enjoy life without a personal vehicle.
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