Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day. (ECHO Echo echo.) It seems to me it’s hip and mainstream for the first time ever — a good thing if you ask me. It’s no longer just for us environmentalists. More and more people are becoming aware of how our everyday lives and lifestyles affect the world around us. However, I worry it will meet the fate all fads do.

One year ago today I started taking the bus to work. And to celebrate I…shamefully drove this morning.

There’s an excuse, though: I recently joined the campus gym and am still uneasy about working out, sweating my balls off, and riding the bus, forcing people to endure my distinct reek. Then again, most people on the bus reek so I shouldn’t worry. (I could shower, but being naked with other men is not my thing.)

Even though I drove to work on my public transit anniversary, it’s still a reason to celebrate: today is one of only five days I’ve driven to work in the last year. I used to drive five days a week.

Let’s do some crude math. To work and back is 30 miles; multiply that by the five work days and you get 150 miles a week. I took off about two or three weeks in the last year, so multiply the 150 miles by 49 weeks: 7,350 miles. My car gets about 23 mpg in town, and 7,350 miles would use 319.5 gallons of gas. The average price of gas here was roughly $2.90 over the last year (I’m guessing, probably too generously), so 319.5 gallons of gas would cost $926.74.

I could have spent $926.74 just driving to work. Instead I spent $18.91 ([150/23]/2.9).

Obviously, taking the bus was a beneficial change. It’s also been a great experience. Not only has it saved me from wasting tons of money and gas (I ride for free with a UCI pass), but I no longer have to worry about traffic, my car, or parking. I can read, write, close my eyes and rest a little. Yes, sometimes it smells, sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s loud; sometimes the drivers are too fast and sometimes they’re too slow; sometimes people are annoying. But at least I can sit back and enjoy the ride without responsibility and obligation. The OCTA is my personal chauffeur.

I’m lucky, though. My bus stop is a 20-minute walk from my apartment, and the route links Huntington Beach to UCI so there’s no need to transfer. Others aren’t so fortunate. Their homes or workplaces are in the unconnected fringes of the bus system, or they need to transfer once or twice. Such are the rigors of public transportation in modern America. Needless to say, mass transit in the United States — especially in the west — is woefully deficient and inefficient.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, more people rode public transit in 2008 than any other year since 1956. The 10.7 billion rides Americans took was a four percent increase from 2007, contributing to the 38 percent increase in nationwide ridership since 1995. Despite the growth in use, though, pubic transit is falling victim to inadequate funding. Busing systems across the country are contracting service, stranding thousands who want a viable alternative to driving. Many others are cut off because it’s their only means of transportation.

The country has found itself in an odd dilemma: improve and broaden mass transit systems to get people out of their cars and decrease our reliance on foreign and dirty energy, or cut funding to close state and local budget gaps. Americans are hasty and imprudent — there is a pathetic lack of foresight in our culture, which is one reason why we find ourselves in this economic and environmental mess — so I expect more transit systems to be felled by the fiscal ax.

It’s a damn shame, really. Our nation and society have the opportunity to change our wasteful and dirty ways, to break bad habits, but we continue to impede any progress by reverting to the status quo.

Environmentalism emphasizes the impact one person can make. A single American, like me, may not sound like much, but the small things I do to make a difference add up and make a large contribution to the betterment of our environment. Think of what we could do, what would happen, if we all drove 7,350 less miles, used 319.5 less gallons of gas, and saved $926.74. Think of what it would be like if everyone used mass transit.

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