By Mahala Herron, @MahalaHerron

As a college student, we are told to try new things. We are told to join a variety of clubs, make new friends, try new experiences and most commonly, to explore a variety of internships.

I’m entering my third year at University of California Los Angeles, and I would have to say that I never really thought about the intricacies of public transit until I started my internship with the San Mateo County Transit District a little more than a week ago.  But, I’ve quickly learned there’s more to public transit than meets the streets.

I grew up in the East Bay and many of my friends took either AC Transit or BART. I usually took BART, and what appealed to me about the system was that no matter the time of day, I could always get from point A to point B without a hitch. BART was also safe and in reasonable proximity to places my friends and I would go to hangout, such as Westfield Mall, Downtown Oakland, and Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. I began taking BART alone when I was a freshman in high school and it wasn’t too complicated to figure out, being that there are limited stops. It was easy, to the point, and fast. I also love the added dancers and singers who showcase their talents during the weekends.

My mom didn’t allow me to ride the bus alone until I was 16. I was taking community college classes at Laney College while I was in high school, and since she couldn’t chauffer me to my classes being that she was at work, she allowed me to take a quick 20-minute bus ride to the college. I remember my mom taking me to the stop beforehand, so that I could ensure it was my route. I asked the bus driver, “Will this take me to Laney College?” and “Do you all take debit cards?” He laughed at the second question, until he realized I was serious, and then he pulled off.

58872.jpegTaking AC Transit was also a fun experience. I loved seeing all my friends from school, and being able to see and notice things on the streets of Oakland that I never noticed before. Being that the bus has many more stops than BART, I would notice new restaurants, boutiques, and other shops that I wouldn’t otherwise notice while rushing around in a car. Taking the bus is a great way to learn more about the city and develop a greater connection with your community. AC Transit always had poetry and art by locals posted inside the bus, which not only served as great entertainment for longer rides, but helped me discover local talent.

Public transportation is also my favorite way to help the environment. Taking public transportation improves air quality, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and saves energy. According to the Federal Transit Administration, “heavy rail transit such as subways and metros produce on average 76 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than an average single-occupancy vehicle (SOV). Light rail systems produce 62 percent less and bus transit produces 33 percent less.” This means that those who ride public transit are lessening their carbon footprint, further supporting greener living. I feel more environmentally conscious when I take public transportation. I suddenly get the itch to make sure I am composting, recycling, and recycling my batteries. I begin to look into hybrid power, and how I can further help the environment beyond my public transportation efforts. All around, I’ve noticed that I make better decisions for not only myself, but for others and the environment when taking public transit.

I just wrapped up my first week as an intern here with SamTrans and Caltrain. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’m looking forward to exploring the public transit options within San Mateo County. I took Caltrain to San Francisco for the first time last week, and I rode alongside Giants fans heading to the ballpark, people getting off of work, and families heading to their family affairs.

The people who work at Caltrain and SamTrans are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I can tell that everyone here has passion for their jobs, and enjoys serving the community. I look forward to embarking upon the endless possibilities that can be found when riding public transit, but more specifically Caltrain and SamTrans.

Mahala Herron is one of the San Mateo County Transit District’s summer interns. She studies at UCLA and is from Oakland. She is interning in the District’s communications department.

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