By Annie Loewen, Communications Intern
I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of public transportation until I moved to the Bay Area. Growing up in Stockton, California, it was pretty easy to get from place to place. My parents drove my brother and me in their car. Stockton has a bus system, but I never needed to take it. Stockton is also not nearly as congested as some of the cities in the Bay Area, so it’s easy to get wherever you need to go in a reasonable amount of time. For me, public transportation was on the sidelines – the bus was just something I passed on my way home.
Then I moved to the Bay Area to attend Santa Clara University. Freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars on campus and for the first two years of college, I didn’t have a car. So, for the first time in my life, I quickly familiarized myself with public transportation.
Fortunately for me, the Santa Clara Station, served by Caltrain, ACE Train, Amtrak and VTA, happens to be right across the street from campus, which makes catching a ride easy. When my parents were helping me move in, they pointed out I could take Caltrain to get around the Bay and that I could use ACE to visit home on the weekends – they were quite happy about this.
As a diehard Giants fan, I naturally had tickets to a game my first week of college (clearly, I have my priorities). I decided to take Caltrain for the first time. When I bought my ticket, I realized I qualified for the youth pass since I was still 18, so my round trip ticket was only around $10, which ended up being cheaper than my hot dog at the ballpark. I brought homework along with me for the ride, figuring I’d be productive. Instead, my books sat untouched as I looked out my window with excitement, taking in the sights, sounds – the whirlwind of my home for the next four years. Commuters filed on board, friends reunited, coworkers wished one another a good evening, and eventually the train became a sea of orange and black as more and more Giants fans boarded, making me feel right at home. Everyone and everything was moving so fast, and I reveled in the excitement that I could go wherever I wanted with a train ticket.
After three years of living in the Bay Area, I still love it and I still catch myself looking out the window and watching life happen around me. I am also more aware of the issues that plague our fast-paced, problem-solving, tech-savvy, avocado-toast-eating home. The Bay Area highways are extremely congested, displacement is rampant, housing prices are skyrocketing, climate change is causing sea levels to rise, and an ice cream costs $7. Many of my friends who have lived here their whole lives are grappling with the fact that they cannot afford to stay here.
Public transportation is becoming more important than ever. It not only is working to alleviate congestion on our roadways, but it also provides access for people in lower socioeconomic classes, commuters who cannot afford to live close to work, youth who do not have a license, students who do not have a car, and those who require paratransit. Buses, trains and light rail are getting people where they need to go efficiently and more affordably.
Combating climate change is also becoming more critical. According to the Federal Transit Administration, “heavy rail transit…produces on average 76% lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than an average single-occupancy vehicle…and bus transit produces 33% less.” SamTrans is introducing battery-electric buses with plans to go completely electric by 2030 and Caltrain is set to begin operations of its new electric trains by 2022. Every car removed from the road makes a difference, as this benefits commuters and, more importantly, our planet. If you want to calculate how much money you can save and how much carbon you can reduce by switching to public transportation, check out the American Public Transportation Association’s Fuel Savings Calculator and Carbon Savings Calculator.
My realizations of the region’s challenges are all coming to a head as I’ve started interning at the San Mateo County Transit District. I’ve spent the last few years complaining about these problems, and now I am working with the people who try to solve them. Not only has it been a good experience so far, but it feels great to know that I am helping to contribute to something bigger than myself. The District is committed to sustainability efforts, expanding access to public transit, improving schedules and community outreach. Getting an inside perspective on various projects and how they come to fruition is helping me realize the impact that SamTrans and Caltrain have for helping the Bay Area alleviate congestion and provide an affordable means of transportation in one of the most expensive places to live.
It’s easy to talk about how we need to do something to help save the planet – so why not walk the walk? (Or in this case, I suppose, ride the ride?) It’s no longer enough to just raise awareness, to post about it on social media, to say we’ll start being better “eventually” – it’s time to take action now. So get onboard with public transportation to get you around the Bay Area, saving time, money and the planet. Our buses and trains are at your service.