Most Americans love their car, and I love my car as well. It is personal freedom, moving inside your bubble. It feels “safe.” But board a bus or a train with a lot of other “strangers,” your personal bubble gets very small and uncomfortable. Thus a particular perception of safety seems diminished. This is despite statistics that driving your vehicle is a much more significant safety risk than riding a train or even an airplane.
So why do folks from other nations tend to use public transportation more? Most likely, it is simple economics and speed. When using a bus or a train often, you don’t need to figure out where to park your car. In big cites, parking is expensive. You might only need one car at home instead of the American standard of two, or maybe not a car at all.
I could go into politics about car use is subsidized, but I want to focus in on making public transportation use a considered alternative during your travels. I’m not a therapist, but I am hoping I can reduce the fear of using public transport. So I will lay out what I know I worry about when I visit a new city, so you know you are not alone, even by one who loves public transport.
FEAR # 1: I will get lost
This is a valid fear, even while driving. But driving, you think you are in control. If you are on the wrong train, you think you do not have control.
Tip #1: Study maps of the cities you intend to visit. For transit, however, you need to go a step further. You need to know how often the bus or train comes. You don’t want to go somewhere, then when you wish to return you find out the next train or bus is not for a couple of hours, or even worse, not until tomorrow.
Tip #2: Download an app with transit directions and real-time arrivals. I have used this in a few cities, and they are rather good, as long as you have a data plan. Google Maps works in many cities; another App I highly recommend is aptly named “Transit” for both IOS and Android.
Tip #3: Carry a map with you, an old fashion paper map. It does not fail due to a dead battery and does not cost you valuable data on your phone.
Tip #4: If you’re lost, ask fellow passengers or the driver (if accessible) for help. Many people want to help tourists. I have been approached many times on station platforms, even in cities I am visiting myself, and I am always willing to try to help.
Fear # 2: I don’t know how to pay the fares
This is a big one, even for me. Not all systems are very straight forward. What makes it worse in some metropolitan regions you will have different transit systems which don’t have the same fare structure or fare media. Luckily, in today’s world with contactless farecards (RFID), or even using your own NFC enable phone or chip-embedded credit cards, this is slowly (okay snail’s pace) becoming a thing of the past. As Tourist by Transit develops, I will explain the fare structure as best as possible for the cities featured. But here are some tips
Tip #1: Visit the transit agency’s website for fare information. This is not always that easy, and I have found some sites to be downright confusing.
Tip # 2: Purchase day or weekly passes, when available, if you intend to travel a lot during your visit. Even if you wind up spending a little more, the convenience of just flashing or swiping your pass is worth it.
Tip # 3: If the system uses a contactless farecard that is refillable, even if there is a charge to buy the card (usually between $2-$5), it is much easier then buying tickets all the time. Some of them you can refill via the internet for added convenience.
Fear # 3: Fear of being crowded, or I have luggage
This fear is real and understandable. Baggage is also a pain to drag on a bus or pull through a turnstile. Too many older systems may not have elevators, or escalators, or step-free entry into their vehicles. Although I do bring luggage nearly all the time, if I am visiting a city via transit, there are times I will do something different.
Tip #1: Avoid rush hours. I don’t like driving during rush hours, riding trains is faster during the rush, but they are often much more crowded, with some cities needing pushers to pack them in, like Tokyo. In Tokyo, I do bring my luggage on trains but try hard to avoid the rush hour peaks.
Tip #2: Luggage needs to roll nicely or be on your back. The “spinner” type luggage I find works the best when using turnstiles since you can roll them sideways. But if they are too tall, slide them on their side.
Tip #3: Use a Taxi or Uber: I will succumb to using these when the luggage is too heavy, or I have too many pieces, or using transit involves too many stairs. I am more likely to do this if I have one or more other folks with me. But this is the last resort for me. I have been known to take the train as close to my destination, then use a taxi for the last mile or two to reduce costs. But do remember in big cities taxis can get caught in traffic.
Fear # 3: Crime
This can be a real fear. Although crime is part of anywhere you go, you should not let it rule your life. You have to get out of your car sometime, And there are car-jackings. My tips are for being in any city
Tip #1: Do not wear any loose or flashy jewelry
Tip #2: Ladies keep your purses crossed over your chest, or at least close to your body under your arm. I highly discourage the use of clutch purses.
Tip #3: Men, do NOT keep your wallet in your back pants pocket. I grew up in NYC, so I was trained at an early age to put my wallet in my front pockets.
Tip # 4: Phones, I am guilty of keeping my phone in my back pocket, as do most people. But this it is easily pickpocketed that way. A front pocket or a shirt pocket might be better.
Tip #5: Be aware of your surroundings. Look up at skyscrapers, or staring intently on your cell phone is a way to past the time, but do it too long and you may become a target, or you may walk into a wall, or miss your stop, or worse of all get hit by a car.
So what are your fears about using public transport? Maybe I can do a follow-up post on this later on!