My Commute via Public Transportation

I decided that I was going to take public transport (or, not use my car) to work, for several reasons:

  1. Inject a little activity into my life (as I use my bike or a scooter to get to and from the stops, etc)
  2. See if I can do anything productive during that time. FYI, I wrote this blog on the bus.
  3. My son loves buses and trains. As he gets older we’ll start to use them more on our weekend excursions.
  4. Just for fun and to see how long it would take vs. by car.
  5. Learn a little about my transportation options as well as roads I never drive down.
  6. If I can save a few bucks and help the environment too, why not?


In the suburbs of Long Island, public transportation is mildly useful but totally uncool. It is not acceptable to not have a car, even if it is by choice. Now that I travel back to LI often, I’ve come to rely on PT (or, transportation other than my own personal car) I see how lousy it really is, which is probably due to the fact that only people who can’t afford a car (or can’t drive for some reason) use it for the most part.

Here in the Bay Area, however, that is not the case. People of all types use public transportation. It is definitely better than the bus system on LI, but not as robust and fast as the NYC system. It also gets confusing as there are several different transit systems here and depending on where you are and where you want to go, you may use more than one.

I use VTA as I’m traveling inside Santa Clara county. Plus, it is free for me to ride thanks to Y!.

Planning and Preparation

I used the public transportation feature of Google Maps for my initial planning. It is very cool, but not without its flaws. The VTA website and a paper-copy of the VTA schedule were my best friends during the week. Also, a big thanks to my co-workers for the advice and tips along the way.

My bike had been chained to my storage closet in my complex with the front wheel removed since I arrived here in CA, so on Memorial Day I decided to put it back together, cleaned it up and put air in the tires. The bike is nothing fancy – just a cheap Huffy I bought a few years ago. It has knobby tires that are made for dirt and makes a swooshing noise when I ride. But, I’m not a pro cyclist – I just need something to get me from point A to point B.

VTA fully supports using your bike for this purpose and describe what they offer on the bus and light rail here. In short, up to 4 bikes on a bus, 6 on the light rail.

I’ve already seen lots of bikes on PT – ten-speeds, old clunkers, mountain bikes, pro-bikes, BMX bikes, folding bikes, tandem bikes and even bikes with banana seats. Its all about getting around.

Here are some of the highlights from my journey:

Bus was 2 minutes late. One other bike in the rack. Bike is simple to put in – just place front wheel in and pull the hook over the front tire (although, I was still worried about my bike falling out). I also had the outer slot, but I saw the other bike owner get his bike out OK. Another Y! got on the bus a few stops later and sat right in front of me, so I thought I’d follow him, but he got off at Great America. Stops are announced which is very helpful, too.

Light Rail and Bike rack – that totally sucks – just hold your bike if you can. Especially if you have a heavy mountain bike like mine.

Ride home was fine – I skipped the plan big G gave me to opt for the route returning home. I goofed, however (see what happens when you cross the big G?) and took a train 15 minutes too early, which left me at the connecting bus stop for 15 minutes. But, now I know.

The only other downside is that I need to cross a major road on the way home, with no traffic light. Argh.

5/28 – signed up for free wifi – a little slow, and doesn’t seem to work on the bus itself, but hey, it is free. It would be nice if just worked everywhere, though, as I wouldn’t need a broadband card. Oh well.

A couple of Y!s were at the bus stop this morning. It seems that people tend to not use public transport everyday but rather just a few times a week. I’ve had conservations with other Y!s and one said he saved $30 a week plus wear-and-tear by just using PT twice a week. Pretty cool.

Had to leave work early on Wednesday because my wife had plans. The public transport schedule accommodated me just fine. I was a little too early for the train leaving Y!, but had the connection to the bus optimized so I only waited two or 3 minutes.

6/2 – rode my scooter to the bus stop. That is more of a workout than I thought! It also shows that I am out of shape.

The scooter is cool because it folds up but I do wish the platform was a little bigger. I bought the “pro” model of the scooter as it supports my weight – you would think that bigger people would have larger feet and hence they would make the platform larger. Not so.

6/3 – missed the bus by 30 seconds – a very nice woman actually took myself and a fellow Y! up the road (about 4 miles) to catch the bus. Never got her name, but thank you!

6/4 – bus was late – missed my train, but Y! shuttle to the rescue!

Lessons Learned

  • not all stops are listed in the schedule, pick the one before and add a few minutes
  • bus with a bike: when you see the bus coming, look and see how many bikes are on the rack. If no bikes, position your bike so the front tire faces you and put in on the kickstand as you will need to pull down the rack. The bike goes on slot closest to the bus. If there is one bike already on the rack, position the front tire away from you. If there are two bikes, you’ll be taking it on the bus.
  • bike and light rail – hold it if you can – the bike racks are a pain and not worth it for a short trip
  • my commute with a car – 25-35 minutes. Commute with bike/PT – 55 – 113 minutes (57 on average).
  • once you learn where you need to said transportation to, position yourself accordingly. There are benefits to riding the front or back of the train, etc.
  • personal pref, but I don’t like the seats in the front of the bus that face each other. However, if you have a bike and the rack is full you may end up here.
  • riding a scooter is about 1/2 as fast in my situation but twice the workout. Riding a scooter also confines you to the sidewalk so be on the lookout for cracks, etc.
  • Caveat – you are at the mercy of the transit schedule if there is an emergency