A day in the life

The City of Boulder’s public transportation system

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Lenah Reda

I waited at the bus stop near my home. When the bus finally arrived, the doors made a suctioning sound and opened to reveal the smiling face of a bus driver with an orange hat on. I scanned my RTD pass, which I, like all University of Colorado-Boulder students, was given during freshman orientation. I gave a nod to the driver and walked toward the back. The bus was completely vacant. I took a seat and stared out the window.    

For many, public transportation has become a well-integrated part of their lives. But for people like me who have the luxury to not take public transportation out of necessity, there exists a negative connotation about riding the bus.

So I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and see first-hand what it would be like to go from driving cars and riding Ubers every day to adding public transportation to my travel routine.

The first thing I noticed is that the City of Boulder’s public transportation system (a collaboration with the Regional Transportation District and Via Mobility Services) is innovative and easy to navigate. There are bus stops conveniently placed all over the city, and the schedules are straightforward.

My goal was to grocery shop at the Target near the 29th Street Mall and then walk around Pearl Street after. That meant I had to take the HOP. This bus provides services between University Hill, the 29th Street Mall and downtown Pearl, traveling either clockwise or counterclockwise depending on whether it is a weekday or a weekend. There are phone apps and websites available to riders that provide exact schedules on any given day — check out the Transit app for up-to-date bus arrival times, help planning your route and more useful information.

As someone who had not ridden a bus in years, I was wary about the excursion out of fear of getting lost or taken to some far-off place; however, my trip was fine. One reason for my first-time success on Boulder County’s public transportation system is that the bus route on which I traveled passed landmarks that kept me oriented — Pearl Street, 29th Street Mall and the CU campus are all very recognizable sites for people who live around here.

As the HOP traveled farther, continuing to pull over and stop every so often, more people kept boarding, and soon I was sitting next to a stranger. Once I reached my destination, all told, it took me about 20 minutes longer to get there than if I had driven; however, I found traveling with a bus load of strangers made me feel closer to my community.

I realized: Here are all these people, from all different backgrounds, who were all going to different places, but were traveling together as one unit of energy. That means that each person who rode the bus that day was collectively contributing to the conservation of our resources, and supporting our community and our values by doing so.

Indeed, Boulder County is home to many energy conservation initiatives, and our local governments have incentivized a variety of different methods of promoting eco-friendly lifestyles. It’s something, I’m sure, we all take pride in as Boulder County residents. And while there are many ways to use these tools to protect the Earth, burning less fuel by riding the public transportation system is a good way to start.

Riding the bus gave me a sense of awareness of the other people and things around me. Even if it was only for a moment, each passenger who got on and off the bus became connected to this community, and it was refreshing to take all these new faces in and wonder about where they were all going.

But the biggest thing I took away from my experience with Boulder’s public transportation was self-awareness. Once I looked beyond myself and what was the most convenient for me, I realized my fears about getting lost and the stigma about public transportation were unjustified. Others may have realized this long ago, but for a public transportation beginner like me, it was an eye-opening experience.

Many people, including myself, live in a bubble, only caring about the things that are happening directly to them or right in front of them. People may not want to take the time out of their own days to take public transportation when their car is parked a few steps away, but it’s the right thing to do and it brings you closer to the community. At least that’s what I learned. But if you’re still a skeptic, the answers are only a HOP away. Happy riding.