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Mass transit can liberate us from stress, blogger says

By Gene Park

LAST UPDATED: 2:34 a.m. HST, Jun 17, 2011

In 2009 I was without a car for two weeks and forced to ride the bus to Kapolei from Makiki for work.

And that was the last time I was that relaxed while traveling to work.

Mass transit can be stressful, but who says driving to work in your own car isn't? At least when I rode the bus, I didn't worry about navigating traffic, sometimes tired, while operating the heavy machinery we call cars.

Earlier this month, famed Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta touched on lessons he and his family have learned since he decided to ride mass transit almost exclusively.

Babauta recently moved from Guam, where a mass transit system is almost nonexistent, to San Francisco., a guide to simple, stress-free living, also has more than 200,000 subscribed readers, and was listed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet in 2009 and last year.

He wrote that with transit you don't worry about parking, traffic jams, rude drivers, maintenance and stopping for gas. It's teaching his kids how to be patient, how to walk and how to deal with humanity.

He also wrote about how driving a car is part of the "illusion of control" and how letting go of that illusion can be liberating.

"Cars are not usually on time either," Babauta told me in an email. "We think we're in control when we have cars, but do we control traffic, or car accidents, or flat tires, or having to stop for gas, or finding parking?"

He also embraces other riders, including the "smells, with annoying people, with those who talk loudly, with the mentally challenged, with plain crazy people." And that's OK because it teaches to celebrate differences and that life isn't all white picket fences.

Cars have disconnected people from each other as a community and nature, he says.

"It's sad how isolated we've all become, and I wholeheartedly embrace being shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors," he tells me. "We're uncomfortable with that at first, because we've forgotten how to deal with strangers. But once we get used to it, it's like rediscovering community."

I'm inclined to agree. When I lived in Los Angeles, I took the Metro buses and rail system all the time, and I traveled through lower-income communities there. Eventually I felt comfortable and unafraid to walk through areas many wouldn't dare even drive through.

"We tend to highlight the cons of transit because we're not used to it, and we forget about the cons of cars because that's the way we've lived all our lives," Babauta says. "But when we do a true comparison, transit comes out ahead, even in convenience."


Gene Park can be reached at or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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