The ultimate transgression in California

I’m contemplating a startling act for a Californian: relying on public transport to get to work.

A Boston-based friend of mine commented when we moved to Berkeley that the Bay Area had one of the better public transport systems in the country. That’s a sad comment on the country (as my friend was aware). In the middle-class professional circles we frequent, I know only one person who takes Bart to work. Everyone else depends on the car for everything.

I have no doubt that if my office was in San Francisco, I would bart (I think the verbal form is allowed). San Francisco Bay is glorious, but it also means that the choke points of a handful of bridges create terrible traffic in commuter hours. Bart is efficient, clean and reasonably fast. And once you’re in San Francisco, there is very little need for a car during the working day.

My office, however, is in Berkeley. In the summer, I cycled to work reasonably regularly. But I don’t want to cycle in the rain (we’ve had quite a bit in the last month) or the dark. So I’m reliant on the bus network. On the map, this looks fine. There’s a good network of buses tying the various parts of Berkeley together. The reality, however, isn’t so great. Because so many people use their cars, the buses are very underused. Because they are underused, the frequency is low. Because the frequency is low, people are reluctant to use the buses. And so on.

Still, I tried the buses for the last couple of weeks, and I might persevere. The one hitch is that without a car at lunchtime, I’m restricted to a handful of places, unless a colleague is going somewhere I want to go. But it feels good to defy the completely car-reliant culture I now live in. In a small way.

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