Riding the Bus

During my first quarter of planning school, my professor returned to the class research papers we had been working on, and apologized for the sloppy written notes, explaining that she had graded most of our papers while riding the bus. She told us that she actually does almost all of her grading on the bus and how that despite having a longer commute, she was amazed at the amount of time she gained when she began using the bus.

Moving to San Luis Obispo (SLO), I too became a frequent bus rider. While doing my undergrad at UCSB, biking was the easiest means of travel, and I never even considered using the bus. I also had my own personal vehicle, so any other trips were made in the convenience of my own car. At UCSB, biking was also often much quicker than driving to campus. As at many universities, the parking lots were always packed, and were always a long walk from class.


SLO is a much hillier area, I live farther from campus, and I only own a cheap bike. Fortunately, my apartment is on the same street as a bus stop that can get me to school. My first observation from riding the bus was how long it took to get anywhere. With the bus, you have to add on roughly 10-30 minutes to what it would normally take by car. It takes me about 20-30 minutes to travel 3 miles to school.

I felt like I was wasting a lot of time every morning just sitting on a bus, waiting to get to class. I didn’t see it as an opportunity – of new, small increments of my time, now added to my schedule. When my professor made this comment, my outlook changed. I wasn’t losing time by riding the bus, but gaining time.

In driving a car, there isn’t opportunity do anything, except, well, drive. Which is good for safety reasons – drivers should be alert and attentive to what they are doing. The contrast with public transit is that you have the space and freedom to do other things, while still traveling to your destination.


A lot of this applies to taking the train as well. I recently took the Amtrak for the first time on a class trip to Los Angeles this last quarter. It was the most relaxing experience I have ever had traveling to L.A. – no traffic, beautiful coastal views, comfortable chairs, and a snack cart. It was great. I was able to socialize with classmates, do homework, and relax.

It is popular in planning to push public transportation for all of its environmental benefits, but let us also look at the simple personal benefits public transit has the opportunity to provide. With my new outlook on bus riding, here are the top 5 things I find myself doing with this new free time:

5 Things to Do While Riding the Bus


1. Get work done. Like my professor, use that extra commuting time to get a head start on work that you can carry with you. Review those documents, get a head start on class reading, etc.

2. Read – for fun! As a student this idea sometimes feel foreign. I have been trying to use this extra time to read books that I want to read, not that are just required for school. It is nice break from the academic life.

3. Catch up on news and current events. Browse through your favorite news source on your phone or bring a magazine or newspaper.

4. Catch up on replying to texts, emails, and social media. Instead of procrastinating important work and tasks to do this, use your time on the bus to text back your friends, reply to important emails, or catch up on your facebook/twitter/instagram feeds. Also, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people trying to inconspicuously snapchat on the bus. We see you taking your selfie.

5. Turn off all media and just relax. I do this fairly often on the bus. Most of the day is spent staring at my phone, tablet, or computer – reading, working on my to-do list, writing, researching, or procrastinating online. It is nice to just put your phone away, sit next to a window, and enjoy a few minutes to just relax, enjoy your surroundings, watch people, have a conversation with others on the bus, whatever it may be.

While driving a car may get you to your destination quicker, bus riders gain the opportunity to get a head start on work or simply to take some personal time to catch up on reading, news, or relaxation.

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