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Embracing public transportation: Is it worth it?

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Train or car? There are so many excuses I can devise to talk myself out of using the train. It takes

Sunset in Philadelphia, 46th Street Septa platform, 2021

longer. It's an eight-minute walk to my suburban stop. It's cold. If I miss the train, it's 30 minutes until the next one, and then I'm late.

The reality is that the walk is decent exercise, cold weather toughens me up, (Yeah—I was raised like that.) and I can read a book on the train. But since I'm fortunate enough to have a choice, saving carbon is the reason.

The US government has declared to the world that we will cut climate emissions in half by 2030, so I'm trying to do my bit.

I've started flirting with a carbon-tracker app called Capture, which helps one meet individual reduction goals. (As climate change becomes frighteningly real, global conservationists are revisiting the idea of Personal Carbon Allowances, or PCAs.) But I have reservations about tracker apps in general. I gave up on a food tracker because it was way too easy to get lost in the minutia. Alas, it is possible I will have to make friends with the thing in order to save the planet.

In the meantime, a simple goal like taking the train from the suburbs to my Philadelphia school feels doable. My usual routine is to divide it up. I take the train most days but allow myself to drive when the circumstances warrant it. Am I combining at least three errands? Then I can take the car. If I drive when I have one errand only, I have failed.

Oh, the gymnastics that leads to. Let's see, maybe I can stop at Aldi and CVS. (They're next door to each other.) At Aldi I can pick up a can of tomatoes and CVS ... What do I need at CVS? Lip balm? No, if I were a good person, I'd give up plastic applicators. But it's impossible to give up all plastics. Just give up single-use plastics. Okay, focus.

Here are my general transportation rules: I can drive if I'm running multiple errands, schlepping lots of stuff, or going to be out late and don't feel safe. If I'm out late, I still try to combine the outing with errands. Flying is another matter; I haven't figured out my rules yet, beyond do less of it.

If one day I do buy an electric car, I wonder if I'll miss the gritty urban experience of taking the train to work. Will I ride the rails just to continue supporting public transportation? I hope so, but I suspect it'll be a tougher sell.

What rules do you try to live by in order to save the planet?

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