One might assume I’m being sarcastic when it comes to my enthusiasm for taking the bus and the metro. But I am not.
My first experience riding an underground came exactly four years ago when I traveled to Washington, D.C. to see President Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, I’ve ridden the L in Chicago, the subway in New York, the U-Bahn in Berlin, and the tube in London, to name a few. I now consider myself a professional patron of public transportation, but this was not the case in D.C. all those years ago.
This is a map of Washington’s metro system.
Pretty, right? Or, pretty confusing! you might say.
Thankfully, I was at the inauguration with one of my best friends who had been to D.C. before. Between her previous visit and her impeccable logic and sense of direction, she educated me on the color-coding system and explained the meanings of all the arrows and signs.
Because I’m from a very small town in Kentucky and I went to college in a medium sized town, I drove everywhere, and I never took the bus. In fact, I’m 99% sure my hometown doesn’t have a bus. I was lucky enough to have a car. So, aside from the campus buses that ran from the bottom to the top of the hill in college, the only other time I rode the (school) bus was to soccer games in high school.
Now I take the bus every day. Often more than once. I take the metro almost as much and when I’m in the heart of Prague, I take the tram (which is my favorite).
So why do I love public transportation? First of all, it is extremely convenient. I can walk two minutes to catch a bus or nine minutes to the metro station, and I can get anywhere in the city. I don’t have to find directions or navigate unfamiliar streets while driving. I don’t have to find a parking spot and therefore don’t have to pay for parking. Saving money is a huge plus of public transport. My litačka, my transportation pass, allows me to use all buses, trams and the metro for an entire year for $145 US dollars. That’s only $12 per month!
Convenience and saving money are huge perks. It’s also really beneficial for the environment. But my very favorite thing about taking public transportation is people watching. Now, I’ve only been in Prague for four months, so I may get over it in the future and turn from interest and curiosity to boredom and annoyance. For now, I thoroughly enjoy it.
I’ve seen kids as young as seven or eight taking the bus by themselves. I’m always very impressed when anyone brings a stroller with a baby. Or a bicycle. Around Christmastime, I saw two different people carry their Christmas tree on the metro. People sleep, blow their nose, and of course, look at their phones. I can’t tell you the number of dogs I’ve seen on the metro and the bus. This is always very amusing or very annoying, but most dogs in Czech Republic are remarkably well behaved.
Four times I’ve bumped into someone I know on a tram or in the metro. Someone I know! In Prague! Four times! This is always very exciting. It usually makes my whole day.
Sometimes I like to imagine where people are going or why they’re on the bus. This usually happens if I’m on an especially long ride or if the bus isn’t very full. Like the two children across the isle. Are they siblings? Friends? Are they going home from school or are they off to soccer practice? Or the man wearing a DPP (Prague Public Transit) uniform. Is he going to work? Coming home from work? Does he like his job or is it just something that pays the bills? And what about the teenager in front of me reading a huge book. Is it for fun or for school? I almost always try to see the title of any book I see on the bus, even if it’s in Czech.
Once I was reading the same book as a guy sitting two seats down from me, and I just couldn’t get over it. I even held my book up a little so he’d notice in case he wanted to discuss it. (The book was David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, in case you were wondering. It was really good, and I highly recommend it.)
Barely catching or barely missing the bus evokes all kinds of emotions. If you’ve ever traveled by public transportation, you’re probably familiar with the feeling that happens when you’re walking to the tram/bus stop to wait on the #26 when it passes ahead of you. You start a jog or sprint, depending on how far you are from the stop and what you’re carrying. If you make it, you’re jumping onto the tram at the last minute, out of breath and trying not to bump into anyone. If you don’t make it, the people on the tram either don’t notice or are looking down at you with pity eyes from the window as they take off. I think these are feelings that could bond all of humanity.
If I’m not people watching, I’m reading a book or listening to music. Reading is something one definitely cannot do while operating a vehicle, and I really enjoy that aspect of taking public transportation.
So while I don’t have the complete control that comes with having a car (sometimes you have to wait on the bus in sub-zero temperatures), I don’t mind relinquishing that power for a much more interesting, easy, and, for the time being, enjoyable method of transportation.
If you or someone you know will soon be traveling to a big city in the near future, review these helpful tips (rules) for taking public transportation so you don’t fluster the locals when you use their city’s buses or underground.
General Tips (Rules) For Using Public Transportation
1.) When taking the escalator up or down, always stand on the right side. Leave the left side open for those that are in a hurry or wish to walk up the stairs instead of stand.
2.) If you are standing near the door on a crowded bus, tram, or metro, step outside at the stop to let people exit. Then get back on with the passengers who are boarding.
3.) Give up your seat to elderly, anyone with a disability or injury, and pregnant women.
4.) Don’t cross your legs so that your foot sticks out in the isle when the tram or metro is full. Or if you’re sitting across from someone, don’t cross your leg so your foot invades their space.
5.) Generally avoid eye contact with everyone.