The first thing I learned on my big public transportation foray in Southern California is that you can spend more money than necessary if you don’t play your cards right. My first bus fare to get to the train station will forever be a mystery because I put two dollar bills in, and upon my expectant expression, the driver asked, “You expecting change or something?” which garnered laughter from other passengers.
My initial attempt to blend in did not fare well for me.
My most recent public transportation adventures were on Chinese subways in the heart of Shanghai. There it seems everyone, from schoolchildren to businessmen and foreigners, uses this method to get around on a day-to-day basis without a second thought.
Through my travels, domestic and abroad, I’ve realized public transport is viewed differently around the world and even in different parts of California. What is a godsend for some is a burden for others.
For this trip specifically, I wanted to experience traveling from Azusa Pacific University to the University of California Riverside (UCR). Although ridership has been on the decline in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas in recent years, it’s not so around the nation.
According to a report by the American Public Transportation Association, public transit ridership in the United States in 2013 was the highest it has been since 1956. Americans took a record 10.7 billion trips on public transportation that year alone.
I rode that first bus until my transfer to another bus that would take me to the Pomona Transit Center. Other than sarcastic comments, the bus driver offered conversation to an older African American gentleman sitting adjacent to him. He seemed to be a regular.
“If I got to ride all the time with the same 3 people, I figure I shouldn’t be quiet around them. I’m loud by nature,” said the man, who I later found out to be Southern California native Alan Glover. The outgoing rider saw the everyday hustle and bustle as an opportunity to chat with those around him, both regulars and others.
Unfortunately, this amiable approach isn’t always the case with other passengers. On the second bus I met a tall woman in business attire around her late 20s named Eileen Teran. She was heading home after a day of clerical work at the Pomona courthouse.
“I stay quiet, mind my business. You never know what kind of weirdos there are when you’re a lady riding alone,” said Teran. “A couple of months ago I had to switch bus routes when this guy—he looked okay at first—but this guy showed up one day, talks to me once, and thinks he can predict my schedule and sit next to me the rest of the week. Oh no.”
She then explained that she was just trying to scrape up enough money to finally buy her own car. She saw the bus system as a waste of time in the mornings.
“I’d even say I prefer [public transportation] to cars, but that might just be because I’m broke.”
On the way to Riverside from Pomona, I met Allison Harris, a bike-clad college student with a different perspective. She was originally from the bay area and moved to Southern California earlier that year for school. She explained the difference between traveling through San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“Up north, it’s kind of just more convenient for people—anyone really—to use public transit like BART because getting in and out of the city [San Francisco] is a traffic storm every day,” she said. “Down here, I feel like people use it if they don’t have any other way. It’s like the last resort. I think I’d even say I prefer it to cars, but that might just be because I’m broke.”
She commented that she takes advantage of a discounted Metrolink pass program set up through UCR, a common practice at many universities set in place to encourage students to arrive at school through modes of transportation other than driving alone.
I used the last leg of my trip to observe those around me and focus on my stop. It was getting darker by the minute, and although slightly on edge, I couldn’t help but appreciate the availability of public transport in the Riverside and Los Angeles Counties. Even though it isn’t as extensive as that of New York or Shanghai, this complex network of trains, busses and subways is practical for anyone looking to save money and encounter interesting people.