When I said I would be taking public transportation for the first time in Hemet, Calif. to compare the experience with my usual car commute, the reactions I received concerned me.
“Have fun on the bus with the Hemet crack heads,” my coworker Lacey Riutcel said.
With that, my dad and fellow bus novice Jeff and I headed off to begin our two hour long ride on the Riverside Transit Agency’s (RTA) route 32 from State and Stetson to Mount San Jacinto College (MSJC) on a Tuesday afternoon.
According to their website, an average of 32,000 people used RTA each weekday last year and there were 9.6 million total boardings. The agency serves over 2,500 square miles of Riverside County and has operated since 1977.
Our passes were more affordable than I had anticipated, as my dad’s was $2 and mine was $4 for unlimited rides all day. We took our tickets and headed to the back of the bus next to second semester MSJC student Samantha Hernandez, who was wearing cheetah print pants and holding a giant sketch pad. She said she rides the bus four days a week to go to the college for her art and theater classes.
I asked Samantha if the cost of riding so frequently got expensive. To my surprise, she said it did not and explained that MSJC students ride the bus for free with student IDs, as transportation costs are already factored into tuition.
There were many other college-aged students on the bus, taking the hour-long route to campus that would have taken 15 minutes by car. The other passengers were people of all ages, ranging from babies to the elderly.
I moved to the second row of the bus to talk to Jan, an older woman who said she rode the bus multiple times a week. She said it becomes costly because she usually rides it for several hours per day, but she said the benefits of riding outweigh the price.
“If it weren’t for public transportation, I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere.”
“If it weren’t for public transportation, I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere,” Jan said.
After she got off at a stop, I took her seat so I could talk to the driver. Tom Allen said he has been professionally driving for 12 years, ranging from school buses to Dial-A-Ride and has been working for RTA for six months, five days a week.
“I was a rider long before I was a driver. I see the necessity of public transportation. I try to provide good service because I have been on the other side,” he said.
When we pulled up to the MSJC stop, Tom said his shift was over and introduced me to Daniese Taplin. She said she had been working for RTA for two months, a drastically different job than her previous at Hope Academy Charter School. She said since she had kids, she wanted to try something different than spending time with children all day, having gone straight from work caring for other people’s children to home with her own.
Being new to the area, Daniese said she is still getting used to her route. She said she enjoys the opportunity to talk to passengers and said most riders will reciprocate her friendliness.
“I have a lot of people talk to me. They actually tell me how they are doing,” she said.
When the bus loaded with more passengers, two MJSC students sat behind me. They chatted about the weather and their classes until one of them got off. An older woman named Brenda took the student’s place and Jan got back on and sat in front of me.
Brenda told me she rides the bus three to four times a week, typically with friends, but was alone today. She said she depends on public transportation to get her to stores and the community center. She said I should know how incredibly kind the drivers are to her and that they always recognize her and the other regular passengers.
At the next stop, Jan got off and Brenda said, “Bye, bye, Jan!”
Jan said, “Bye, Brenda.”
The regulars knew one another and had formed relationships on their habitual commutes. Lacey’s warning before my ride started seemed ridiculous to me, as all of the people I had spoken to thus far had been friendly.
Just as I began to think my ride would end before I encountered any people who were out of the ordinary, a man from the back of the bus started shouting. He was talking about his girlfriend Lola, religion, Beyoncé and french fries, was using pseudo-Spanish words, cursing, listening to music with foul language and giving relationship advice and restaurant suggestions to the people around him.
This must have been the sort of person Lacey had warned me about, though he was more an exception and a fulfillment of an untrue stereotype than reflective of most passengers.
When we pulled up to our stop, I thanked Daniese and exited the bus. I was grateful for both the kind and entertaining people I had encountered who showed me the best part of public transportation through the community they facilitated. While the route would have taken a fourth of the time driving myself, my car lacks the welcomed company of the other riders.