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Sarah Kelly

Riding Houston METRO

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Here I am, the manager of the University of Houston Office of Sustainability, and 1.5 years through my tenure, today is the first time I’ve used METRO to commute to work.

The guilt of driving to work nagged at my conscience for months, and I always made excuses for not commuting more sustainably. Perhaps this sounds familiar: “I’m not a morning person,” or “it’ll take me twenty minutes to drive and an hour to use public transit.” Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe a bit intimidated.

I bike, carpool and take public transportation on the weekends or after work. When I worked for UTHealth, I biked to work almost every day (but it was a short ride and quicker to bike than drive). I’ve carpooled occasionally to UH and taken the METROrail to off-campus meetings, but honestly, why did it take this long for ME to commute by bus? Two words: Privilege and habit.

On my walk to the bus stop this morning, I enjoyed the unseasonably mild Houston weather and remembered how freeing it was to not depend on a car. Then it hit me, for others who don’t own a car, particularly because of financial limitations, they may feel highly restricted in their lives – unable to secure particular jobs, visit with friends and family, and even purchase fresh, healthy food. Then there’s me, someone with the option to choose how I commute, someone with privilege – maybe that’s why it feels freeing to escape the madness of Houston traffic.

Arriving to the bus stop, an uneasiness welled up in the pit of my stomach. Car after car whizzed past with one driver in the vehicle, and I thought, “That’s me. I’m part of the problem.” A problem demonstrated by the 90.5 percent of workers in Houston who commuted by car between 2007 and 2011 according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

As I entered the bus filled with commuters, I looked around for an open seat and recalled a reaction a friend of mine had when I told her I was planning to try out the new METRO bus routes. “Why don’t you just take the METROrail since you’re close to it? This may be a classist view, but the buses just seem so gross.” You know the funny thing? That was my presumptive view of the Houston buses for the longest time: they were old, dirty, and I was somehow above those who rode them. This stigma associated with public transit in Houston is widespread. I think many others in the middle class who have the same privileges as me hold that belief.

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Full story: My First Day Commuting by Bus
Source: University of Houston Sustainability blog, August 27, 2015

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