“You’re going to have to buy a car.”

That’s what everyone told me when they heard I was returning to the west coast. Sure, they said–it’s easy to live without a car in Chicago, surrounded by trains, buses, taxis, and car-sharing companies. But how can you do it out west?

To compensate for the embarrassing carbon footprint I stamped by moving 2300 miles in a low-mileage UHaul, I’ve gotten around Seattle and Portland, from Seattle to the town of Mt. Vernon 60 miles away, and from Mt. Vernon all the way to Sacramento on a combination of city and county buses, streetcars, light rail, and Amtrak. Figuring out routes and prices took a lot of research and asking questions, which, as a traveler, I was happy to do. But for people who drive every day, public transportation is like a second language. Convincing someone to learn it is work!

We’re glad to do it in Europe or New York City, consulting guidebooks and websites that translate the mysteries into vocabulary and gestures we comprehend. In our own hometowns, we’re more suspicious: Where do buses go? Who rides them? Are they safe? Don’t they take longer?

Tom Hampson of Church World Service answered these questions in Modesto, California. Twice a week, he gets to his office by bus, only five minutes later than he would in his car. The two buses I took between Seattle and Mt. Vernon were crowded with commuters who had done the legwork required to leave their cars at home. In Portland, the mayor wants 25 percent of commuters to use bicycles and buses; the one-two punch of Portland’s fine public transportation system and enlightened populace will help him succeed.

Learning the language and practice of public transportation could narrow the gap between the carbon dioxide humans emit every year (7 billion tons) and the CO2 that the earth’s natural processes can absorb (about 4 billion tons). Roughly 1.5 billion tons come from transportation; changes in our behavior can be significant.

In Everything Belongs, Father Richard Rohr says “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” Take the bus, and see what happens!

Anne Basye

“Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal”