Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Teen discovers joys of public transit

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If you are a Washington area parent and you are used to driving your kids all over town, the increased cost of gasoline is likely driving you to extreme annoyance. You may be thinking about purchasing a more fuel efficient car or cutting down on your kid's activities. But, a simple solution exists that everybody knows about but most people think is more of a nuisance than a convenience: The Bus.

As a rising 10th grader at Montgomery Blair High School I have friends and activities that span from Olney to Tenleytown in the District. I can get to all of them using merely $1.25 and a route map. Better still, from 2 to 7 p.m. on school days, those rides are free with a student ID.

Learning the routes

I started using mass transportation when I entered eighth grade, but, it wasn't until ninth grade that I started "power-using" it. Like many students, I maybe knew the route of one bus that I would use once a week. In my case, that was route 42, which went from my fencing club near the Medical Center Metro station to within walking distance of my house.

However, when I entered ninth grade, my parents, like many other parents, began getting annoyed over the high gas prices.

In addition to the gas prices, my father also was frustrated by the idea that he seemed to be more of a chauffeur than a dad. The days of parent-sponsored rides were coming to a close.

After a few months of power-using, I found I was catching on. The learning process was namely looking up a route or two at a time to get to a friend's house or a party. Thanks to this, after only one year of power-using, my repertoire of familiar routes consisted of 46 area buses.

Believe it or not, using these I can get from my house to almost anywhere in the county. If I am trying to get to a place outside of the system's range, I simply stow my bicycle on the bike rack attached to all Metro and Ride On buses.

Surprisingly, I feel that my use of the system, instead of limiting me to only the places the buses can go, actually gives me independence. A year ago, I had to wait for my parents to get ready before I could leave, but now regardless of how busy they are, I can get to where I want to be as long as I know the routes.

If you are a parent, allowing your children to use public transportation will give you time to relax on weekends instead of grumbling your kids around town.

Many parents, I know would probably tell me that either they don't trust their kids in the system or that they think it's unsafe. However, I have used the system dozens of times and I've never felt unsafe or that I was in danger of getting lost.

Saving money

Sure, public transportation isn't as fast as jumping in your car. However, for the daily activities and parties, does it really matter when you show up? More importantly, the bus runs regardless of whether you are in it or not, but your car doesn't. Furthermore, if you ride the bus more than six miles you are actually saving money. The average 20 mpg vehicle is costing you $1.257 in those six miles where the Ride On is $1.25.

As I've been using public transportation, I have been figuring out the way the county is laid out. This experience will probably be useful if I ever learn to drive. But with a working bus system and volatile gas prices, why bother?

Aaron Burger, a member of the Class of 2011 at Montgomery Blair High School, lives in Chevy Chase.