The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


A Day in the Life of a Bus Rider

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Want to get healthier, save money, and lower your stress? I have a simple answer for you: Ride the bus. I use the bus in Milwaukee almost every day and it has made me more active and fit, saved me thousands of dollars, and kept me out of hundreds of stressful traffic jams and endless hunts for parking. It also familiarizes me with my city and my fellow residents.

If you haven’t used public transportation much, it can seem really daunting to figure out how to make it work with your life. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say: “The bus system in my city is horrible,” only to later find out that that person has never even ridden the bus! It’s absurd but far too common for Americans to dismiss bussing altogether as a viable transit option. There is a major stigma surrounding bus ridership–that it is only for poor minorities–and that needs to end now.

I’ll be up front here: Public transportation in most cities is woefully inadequate. It serves far too few people and takes far too long to get them where they need to go. However, without riding it, we’ll never figure out ways to fix it and convince our leaders to make that happen. Systems don’t change unless they have buy-in. So today I’m going to walk you through how I use the bus on a given day to get everywhere I need to go. It isn’t perfect, but it is so much better than driving a car.

Here is what a day in my life as a public transit user looks like:

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7:30am  My alarm goes off and I shower, dress, eat cereal and make coffee. Continue reading

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Exploring Bus and Train Options in the US

Exploring Bus and Train Options in the US

Depending on where you live, you may have encountered any number of intercity transit options—that is, buses or trains that can take you from one city to another, all across the country—and wondered which was best. With the rise of Bolt and Megabus, non-automobile modes of travel are more available than ever and it’s important to understand your options. There’s also the trusty standbys: Greyhound and Amtral. Over the last several years, living carless in cities in the West, on the East Coast, and in the Midwest, I’ve explored these options and have a few insights to share from my experience. Of course, like plane travel, trips can vary wildly, but some general characteristics prevail for each of these modes. I’ll explore some of the most widespread intercity travel options and rate them (one to five stars) based on affordability, availability, speed, reliability comfort, and enjoyment. Let’s roll.

Megabus Route Map


Affordability: *****

While their supposed $1 fares are a rarity in reality, you can pretty much guarantee yourself a roundtrip ride for under $60, and usually more in the range of $40. My most recent megabus trip cost me only $13 for a one-way ride from Milwaukee to Minneapolis.

Availability: * * * *

Megabus is fairly well-connected between cities from the East Coast to the Midwest (and in Europe and Canada!). Its main untouched territory is the West and Pacific Northwest.

Speed: * * *

When they show up on time, these buses can get you to your destination with relative ease—at least as fast as a car would.

Comfort: * * *

Megabus has one main cool factor, which is that it’s double-decker. This not only means nice views out your window but also a higher likelihood that you might have a seat to yourself. That being said, I’ve been on some pretty uncomfortable Megabus rides in which the air conditioning was blasting way too cold, my seat-mate smelled bad and the bathroom light was out (to name a few complaints). Don’t expect any form of comfort in the way of a bus station either; Megabus usually picks up and drops off on a random, sometimes desolate road. You get what you pay for here. Continue reading

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Song About Cities: Public Transit Tunes

A while back, I posted a collection of five top-notch songs about a city. That time it was Chicago. This time, to brighten your Friday, I’m offering some of my favorite tunes about riding the bus or the train.

  1. On the topic of public transit, there is perhaps no more fitting tune than “Joe Metro” by the Seattle-based hip-hop group, Blue Scholars.
  2. Back Up Train” by Al Green
  3. School Bus Driver” by a hometown favorite, Trampled by Turtles
  4. The Train Pt. 2 (Sir Lucious Leftfoot Saves the Day)” by Big Boi. And if that title doesn’t make you want to listen, then I don’t know what will. 
  5. Trains & Buses” by Frank Hamilton 


Public Transit Trends: What a Bus Ride Can Tell You About Race and Class

Two weeks ago, I started a discussion about the relationship between cities and public transit. I outlined the different public transportation models that I’ve seen broadly employed in big cities, sprawling cities, mid-size cities and small towns, but now I want to go more in depth to talk about two intersecting issues that effect public transit across the nation: race and class.


Riding the bus is one of the best ways to understand race and class differentials in a given city or town. By watching who gets on which routes, at which places, and at what times of the day, you can begin to notice the demographic make-up of your city. This information tells you what sort of jobs people have (night-shifts, office jobs, etc.) as well as what neighborhoods they live and work in, and how segregated those areas are. But public transit doesn’t just demonstrate how our cities are divided by race and class, it can also create those divisions.

Two Examples

I know I mention these cities a fair amount on The City Space, but New York City and Washington DC offer excellent fodder for an examination of the relationship between public transit, race and class. While I’m not a transportation expert by any means, I feel comfortable speaking about public transit in these places because I’ve used it a lot, and the corresponding issues seem to come up frequently in discussions with friends. Stick with me on this example—it’ll make sense in the end.

Let’s start with New York City. Here, the subway costs $2.50 no matter where you’re going. $2.50 buys a trip from the Far Rockaways to the heart of Manhattan, lending a certain equality to the daily commute. $2.50 also buys a homeless person a warm place to sleep on a cold winter day. In New York, everyone from grandmas to babies in strollers, from politicians to actresses, takes the train. $2.50 is by no means a bargain, but it can take anyone almost anywhere in the city. Continue reading


Public Transit Trends: From Cities to Towns

With numerous recent articles commenting on my generation’s decreasing use of the automobile, it’s time I started a discussion here about the relationship between cities and transit. Having never owned a car myself, I’ve often relied on public transit to get me where I need to go in a number of cities. Thus, from both a personal and an urbanist standpoint I know how important it is. In this first post in the transit series, I’ll outline the different transportation models that I’ve broadly seen employed everywhere from major metro areas to small towns.

IMG_0164 Big Cities
New York City and Washington DC provide some of the most expansive public transit systems in the nation and they are usually pointed to as examples of top-notch public transit. (Chicago is also a notable example of quality transit.) These cities’ transportation systems serve millions of residents a day, taking them to the office, the supermarket, the theater, the park and everywhere in between with relative speed and ease. The webs of their bus and subway lines reach the corners of the city (though both, notably, exclude certain neighborhoods like Red Hook in Brooklyn and Georgetown in DC). Public transit in these metropolitan areas may not be cheap, but it is the quickest method of movement in traffic-logged cities that cost a fortune to park in. In New York and DC, it is completely reasonable not to own a car and if the need arises for an out of town trip or an IKEA buy, one can grab a ZipCar for the weekend. Class differentials seriously effect access to such resources and I’ll speak more about that in a future post.

Mid-size Cities
Mid-size cities are a vastly mixed bag when it comes to public transportation. Some, like Philadelphia, have gone all in with a commitment to maximum accessibility and frequency. Others, like Atlanta hardly try. Still others—Milwaukee, WI for example— have a transit system that quietly links thousands of residents to the surrounding area while whizzing through, unnoticed, by its wealthier, car-bound citizens. I won’t deny that having a car in my mid-size hometown of Minneapolis makes transportation a lot quicker—with the exception of rush-hour wherein a designated highway lane makes commuting on the bus a relative breeze. Ultimately, quality public transit is entirely achievable in these sorts of places if governments and people want to make it happen.

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