Saving With Streamline

Ashley Nettles  |   Thursday Feb. 1st, 2018

You are sooo lucky to have all this public transportation; there’s NOTHING in Montana.” I find myself saying this when visiting friends and family in large cities. It all seems so easy. Uber, Lyft, buses, trains, trams, Car2Go, ZipCar, subways, bicycle rentals… It appears well coordinated and effortless. I imagine my alternate big city world, in which I have peaceful commutes where I read a million books. Catch up on my podcasts. Get extra work done.

Obviously, Montana isn’t laid out the same way. Living here without a vehicle would seem insane. After all, we measure distance in hours not miles. The recent Black-Olive debate is evidence of our dependence, if not outright need of cars. That said, I’ll admit my work commute is a mere four miles one way which takes all of 15 minutes- 20 via a leisurely bike pace. I really have nothing to complain about. And while I champion the idea of less environmental impact and the glory of public transportation, it suddenly occurred to me; there’s a bus stop 2 blocks from my house and I’ve never even considered riding it.

Part of my lack of enthusiasm regarding Streamline is due to a fateful downtown night shortly after they started operating.  I had decided the bus was the only option and ended up at ‘the end of the line’ nearly an hour later, 1 mile from my house, in -8 degrees and 5 inch stilettos. I thus decided the whole bus thing was useless.

But that was a long time ago and I really hadn’t done much research prior to my impulsive bus ride. So I decided to challenge myself. Would I really use public transportation if it was available? What if I didn’t use my car for a month? With a little research on the Streamline website, I discovered that there was a stop 1 block from my work. The time frames worked perfectly for my work schedule as long as I managed to transfer to the right bus. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and see if there is truly no adequate public transportation in Bozeman, Montana.

Day 1: I diligently organized my things the night before. Packed my lunch, laid out my clothes. The bus arrives two blocks from my house at exactly 6:56 a.m. I plan to leave at 6:46 just to make sure I’m there in time. I find myself scurrying around the house in a frenzy, closely watching the clock. I speed walk to the stop, my 12-year-old anxiety of missing the bus resurrecting. Never mind that if I did in fact miss it, I could easily walk back to my house, hop in my car and arrive at work in plenty of time. But there was a sudden panic in my pace, as if missing the bus would force my mother to drive me to work. Mom wouldn’t like that.

I made it in plenty of time. The bus driver greets me with a merry “Good Morning” as I board and I choose a seat over the wheel well. That was always my spot in school days. I have no idea why, but I’m sure there’s some psycho-analysis as to why I gravitate there. I breathe a sigh of relief and happily gaze out the window. I made it.

We get to the transfer spot on campus. I crane my neck around looking for the “Orange Line,” the one that will take me downtown. Red, Green, Blue… they’re all there without an Orange in sight. I disembark, thinking maybe it’s just a bit late. Orange never shows. I check my app, and it says it departed a few minutes ago. Crap. I missed my bus. It’s a mild morning, and thank goodness I had worn some practical shoes, so I shrug and start hoofing it to my workplace all the while wondering where I had screwed up. Nearly two miles later I make it to work, a mere 20 minutes late, but still bewildered in where I had gone wrong.

A little research on the site confirmed what I had suspected. My Yellow Line bus turned into the Orange… I should have never got off the bus.

Day 2: I’m determined to figure out if I’m right. So I choose the front seat so I can ask my driver at the transfer point where I need to go. After we arrive to a more lighted part of town I realize I’m surrounded by signs. Signs that alert me I’m sitting in the designated handicap section. I imagine dozens of eyeballs drilling into the back of my head, my clearly able self. My clearly able self that is sitting in the handicap section. Oy vey. To avoid more embarrassment, I resolve to continue sitting there until someone else gets on. No one does. As we reach the transfer point I crouch down in my seat, trying to make myself as invisible as possible as the rest of the riders disembark. I ask the driver, “Do you continue downtown?” “Yup! This bus does.” Ah ha. I was right. I move further back to my ideal wheel seat and settle in- satisfied I had finally made it.

Day 3: I had to run an errand, and didn’t feel like inconveniencing my coworkers. As luck would have it, the bus stop next to work was heading in the direction I needed, so I sprinted out to catch it. At 7th and Mendenhall, a stop listed on the map, I jumped up and stood at the doors, waiting for the driver to open them. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the cord” he says to me apologetically. The cord. Oh yeah. That wire thing stringing through the bus. “Uh, probably because I didn’t pull it?” I grimace at the driver and bound off the bus trying to escape my error.

Day 4: I dutifully watch other riders before they disembark and see them pull the cord. Before I get to work I nervously pull the cord at what I feel might be the right amount of notice. The driver stops and I thank him as I get off. I think I might be getting the hang of this.
I continue riding the bus as much as I can. My two ground rules for using my car are: 1. If my Grandma in Belgrade needs something and 2. If there is really, truly, no way around it. Other than that, I have to use the bus for work, play, and errands.
There are a few things I discover during this period. It’s rather peaceful to not focus on driving. There’s something amazing about becoming an observer in the world. I do catch up on my podcasts, and relish the time to explore a new Spotify playlist. I also spend a lot less money in general, since it’s not as easy to pop by the store on the way home, or drive across town to meet friends for lunch. I also find that my errand running is far more planned and focused.

And I have a confession. As a normally laid-back and easygoing person that strongly believes in meditation, I have a bizarre tendency to a bit of road rage. I’m not going to chase you to your house, but I’m free with the gestures and string together a prose of colorful metaphors to rival a drunken Irishman while tailgating on ice. I’m not sure where this comes from. Calm as cucumber in L.A. I-10 rush hour, but in my hometown, I’m easily annoyed by people that don’t seem to know what they’re doing. My newfound bus commute is also improving my blood pressure.

Financially and environmentally speaking, how does all this break down?

Daily Commute Distance: 8 miles
Car’s MPG: ~20
Cost of Gas (Per Gallon): $2.55
$354.05 Saved Annually

CO2 3530.8 pounds in emissions saved = 153 trees (This is the same amount of energy as heating a hot pocket in a microwave for 20 days straight, or taking 6 hour showers every day for a year. Which if you are doing either of those things, we need to talk.)  

To Mr. Deep Pockets, who thinks C02 doesn’t affect anything, and drives his Escalade one mile to pick up his teenager from school, that may not seem like a lot. But this is just my puny commute alone! It’s not including all the trips to the hill, and oh-I-forgot-the-eggs store runs of which there are many in my life.

Here’s how I look at it- with $354.05 I can buy a round trip plane ticket to Miami, or decadent weekend in Big Sky, or put it into a savings account annually with terrible interest for 5 years and be $2,232.93 richer. All for very little inconvenience on my part. Yes, it requires a little more thought into planning your day- but a little more mindfulness can save your wallet, your blood pressure, and some trees.   

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