Edgy Mama: Bus-riding mama

I believe in public transportation. It’s good for you—saves gasoline, prevents wear and tear on your car, and gives you a safe place to talk on your cell phone while on the road.

A few months ago, Paul van Heden, marketing coordinator for Asheville’s transportation department, asked if I’d ride the bus for a day—an entire day—with my kids, to prove that a typical mom can accomplish her daily errands on Asheville’s public transit system. I enthusiastically accepted Paul’s challenge.

Then I failed. Yes, public transport is good for you, but it’s just not always good for me.

I blame the kids for my failure (hmmm, that could set up an interesting pattern). When I was child-free, I lived in cities where I didn’t even own a car. I took public transport or walked wherever I needed to go. And I loved it. These were big cities (London, Boston) that, in addition to buses, offered subway systems that truly do get passengers around more quickly than any on-road option. When I’ve hopped public transit by myself, the experience has been downright pleasurable—I’ve probably read about 50 books on subway trains, so far.

In Asheville, with the only option being buses and my having to drag along the kidlings, the experience became something else altogether.

First off, it was 90 degrees. After the three of us walked the half-mile to the bus stop, then stood in the sun next to Merrimon Avenue while car exhaust choked our thirst-swollen throats, we were all grumpy.

Finally, the bus appeared (no, it wasn’t late—we were early—novice error). Luckily, it was cool on the bus, but after about five minutes, my kids started picking on each other. Trying to deal with fighting kids in public is a whole other column I’ll have to get my head around some time. In this case, I forced myself between them on the bus seat, hissing at them to be quiet. They calmed down. For a few minutes. Then they announced that they were bored. You see, they used to think riding the bus was a great adventure—when they were 2 or 3. Now that they ride a school bus five days a week, the novelty’s worn off.

Finally we arrived downtown. But my boy had figured out that the trip took us twice as long on the bus as it does in the car. I explained that frequent stops and circuitous routes through college campuses are part of the public transportation deal. On the bright side, I noted, we didn’t have to waste time searching for parking downtown. He wasn’t convinced.

The same day, I rode the bus alone to the gym. That experience worked well. I wasn’t too early, I stood well back from the heat and fumes of the busy road until the bus arrived, and I read a book until happily jumping off the bus downtown.

Otherwise, the kids and I spent the remainder of the day at home. Forget the damn mommy errands via public transit, I thought.

In the past, Enviro-spouse and I have taken the bus to events downtown—using public transit to and from Asheville’s Brewgrass Festival is a no-brainer. Despite the time we missed the last bus and had to catch a ride with a pizza delivery guy, it’s been great. Of course, we do live close to a consistent bus route, although timing is still crucial, because the bus only passes by once an hour.

Bus-riding makes good economic sense, especially now. According to Paul, given current gas prices, the average American pays 20 cents a mile for gas. That’s $1 to travel 5 miles. One-way on the bus with free transfers costs $1. Children 5 and under ride free with an adult. So you can travel a whole lot farther than 5 miles on the bus for $1.

Go for it—answer the challenge yourself. If you have young kids who love the idea of riding a bus, and you own a foldable stroller that you can load on and off the bus, I think you’ll probably have a better experience with your kids than I did.

After my experiment, I’ll try to figure out ways to ride the bus more often. And I’ll get my kids on the bus again. Once the weather turns cooler. Next time, I’ll bring books for them too. Or candy bribes.


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6 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Bus-riding mama

  1. Bryan Freeborn


    Good for you for taking the challenge. It is hard to do with kids. And it is even harder to do if you have multiple locations to go (Like the mall, downtown, N.Asheville, back home etc.) My wife and I strive to not use our car. Sometimes we get lazy. Lucky for us we can afford to be lazy sometimes. For many in our community they do not have the choice. Their with or without kids, they have only the bus as their major form of transportation. I ride the #1 bus in and out of West Asheville and see the same folks on the bus: old, young, families, mothers w/kids, dads w/kids, etc.

    Because of a historical lack of funding and mismanagement of our transit system, to make it work for you it has to be a way of life and the schedules and routes have to be ingrained in you mind.

    I am one of the most vocal advocates for transit in our city, as well as a transit rider (When not cycling), however until we see substantial improvements riding the bus is going to be a novelty for “Choice Riders.”

  2. Thanks, Bryan, for your feedback. The transit issue feels like a reinforcing loop to me–if more people start riding, then the city will react with more routes/times, then more folks will start riding, etc., etc. Part of the challenge seems to be helping people understand that the bus is a viable alternative. Thanks for your work on this!

  3. Great article, Anne Fitten. Something else that should be mentioned is that, while the bus is a relatively affordable $1 per trip, a monthly pass is only $15, which is a very good deal. Furthermore, many employers (such as Grove Park Inn) and educational institutions (such as UNCA) have struck deals so their employees, students, etc. ride for free.

    However, as you mentioned, one of the biggest drawbacks to the system is that the buses run only once an hour on any given route, so you really have to plan to ride the bus; it’s simply not an option for spontaneous or quick trips. I’d be willing to ride the bus more if I knew I could wander over to the bus stop at any given moment and never have to wait more than 20 minutes or so to catch a ride. I know the budget constraints Bryan mentioned are a big reason for this, so hopefully city council will address these issues sooner rather than later.

  4. MY husband and I have just started taking the bus. We take the #29 out of east Asheville.
    I agree that more than once an hour would be a benefit. Also, we have tried to call the number at the bus stop twice when we had questions concerning the bus being late and no answer. It would be helpful if there was someone who could answer questions or an automated system to update bus running times.
    Another problem I see is where do you park if walking to the bus stop is not an option? We currently have to drive to the bus stop and luckily we have a friend’s business parking lot to park; otherwise there is no parking.
    All in all, we enjoy taking the bus, it means we can have a couple drinks in town and not worry about driving back!

  5. Old Horsetail Snake

    You are a glutton for punishment. But the neat thing is you always come up smiling. Nice of you.

  6. jacquie

    I lived in Portland OR. and commuted by bus/light rail for my entire pregnancy and was able to read every parenting book ever written! The system there was great. I could log on to the transit website and click “plan your trip” I would enter my start and end point and the site would tell me exactly when to be at the bus stop what number bus all my transfers and an estimated time! The buses ran every 15min and did not stop running until 2am! If Asheville had something close to this my forester would be parked indefinetly!

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