Monthly Archives: May 2011

Back to the glossary

I’ve neglected my bus glossary for a minute (OK, three years–last entry was May, 2008) and have really been meaning to return some focus to transit terminology. Fortunately, my Saturday 17 ride (home from celebrating my brother’s birthday) provided some much-needed inspiration.

The gentleman sitting directly behind me used one of my favorite transit terms, “bus legs,” in a conversation with his seat mate*. I wasn’t able to hear the context, given the general noise level on the bus (and the fact that I was trying to accommodate competing story requests from my tiny travel companions), but I’m guessing it was related to the heavy traffic and somewhat erratic driving. (What is it about the 17 and erratic driving?)

“Bus legs” is a term I use often but have never bothered to formally define. So, for those who don’t know:

Bus legs, n: The ability to effectively balance oneself while standing or walking on a moving bus, no matter how unpredictable the traffic or inexperienced the driver. Ex. I’ve got bus legs, so I don’t need to hold on.

I guess that’s one way to ride the wave.

* Speaking of transit terminology, there’s got to be a better way to describe the person you sit next to on a bus or train.

One *really* good reason to use a smart phone

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m not a gadget person. I’m no Luddite (hey, I appreciate a useful tool as much as the next bus chick), but I’m no early adopter, either. I believe in using stuff “till the wheels fall off,”* if you’ll excuse the auto-inspired metaphor, and it feels wrong to get rid of something that works perfectly fine just because there’s something newerfasterbetter out there.

But folks, on Friday my Bus Nerd surprised me with a fancy new smart phone (which, by the way, he managed to obtain gratis), and I think I’ve found religion. Yes, I can use the phone to check e-mail and find restaurants and update my Facebook status and blah blah blah, but none of these is a good reason (in my book, anyway) to upgrade. What is a good reason? One Bus Away!

OBA makes an app for my fancy new phone, which means I am (finally!) able to experience its true power. I realize that this is old news for all you gadget geeks and hardcore transit nerds (Bus Nerd has to work not to roll his eyes every time I start a sentence with, “Did you know it can…?”), but bear with me. This is the best thing that’s happened in my bus life since I stopped experiencing motion sickness.

In the old days, checking bus times on my phone meant looking up a stop number or searching through a huge list of stop locations to find the one I needed. Most of the time, doing that work was more of a hassle for me than just waiting for the bus (and usually took just as long). Now that I have One Bus Away, I don’t have to do much more than tap my screen a couple of times. After I open the app, the GPS locates all the stops within a half mile of me, then tells me which routes stop there and which directions the buses are traveling. I click the stop I want, and it tells me how many minutes I’ll have to wait for each route. The end. The entire process takes less than 30 seconds.

The uses for this amazing (free!) application are almost innumerable. Some recent examples from my world:

Sunday, after church: It’s pouring. We’re close to missing the next 48 and don’t want to stand out in the weather for 30 minutes (or schlep kids + stuff +umbrellas back to the church building) if it passes the stop before we get there. OBA tells us that the 48 is three minutes late, which means we have time to make it. And we do.

Today, late morning: I have a meeting downtown shortly after the babysitter arrives at our house. I need to catch the next bus heading west, but the three options all serve different stops that are several blocks apart. I use OBA to determine my best option and make it to the stop seconds before the bus, which gets me downtown in plenty of time for my meeting.

I could go on, but I’m too lazy.

Every bus rider should possess this kind of power. Real-time arrival info at stops is helpful (Can we have this now, please?), as is real-time info in businesses and public buildings (using “transit appliances” like this one), but neither is as empowering as having the information at your fingertips.

I know I just said this about the 8 a few weeks ago, but I’m with Lily: One Bus Away has changed my life.


* For example: my laptop, which, after many years of regular use, has started making a frightening crunching/grinding sound every time I turn it on

One good reason to use snail mail

Back in the day, my friend Char called me “Card-la” (better, I guess, than some other nicknames I’ve had) because of my tendency to give and send cards. I’ve toned it down since then, but I still send thank-you notes–more often, according to some of my friends, than is necessary. (My mom was big on manners, OK?) Ah, but this is a good thing, since I’m going to need plenty of excuses to use a stamp. Fellow bus chicks, behold.

A bus stamp!

It's a bus stamp!





Yes folks, it’s a bus stamp (!)–part of USPS’s Go Green initiative. There are 15 others, which are cool and all, but I’m going to need a book with just the buses, please.

How riding the bus will make your kid smarter

One of the biggest benefits of riding transit with little ones is that you can actually pay attention to them while you travel. Instead of hollering in the general direction of the back seat (or worse, resorting to an in-vehicle entertainment system to keep order), PT parents can have meaningful, even educational, interactions with their little darlings. Here are some examples of brain- and bond-enhancing ways to use transit travel time.

  • Read! Reading is a great PT pastime for children of any age. Research shows that reading to infants and young children helps with bonding, language development, and imagination. Books are also portable and compact—an essential addition to any parent’s bus bag.
  • Watch the world. Talk to your tiny ones about what’s going on outside the bus window, and they’ll learn to identify natural wonders (mountains, bodies of water), city landmarks, different types of vehicles, and various animals and plants. Bus time is also great for pointing out seasonal changes (leaves changing color in fall, tulips and daffodils coming up in spring) and explaining traffic rules.
  • Meet your community. What’s going on inside the bus is often at least as interesting as what’s outside. Infants love to look at faces, and babies who ride buses are exposed to a great variety of them. They learn early that people of different ages, shapes, and colors are part of their world. Older children will learn how to share space and how to interact politely with strangers. Being exposed to difference will help them develop empathy, or, at the very least, a more realistic picture of the world they live in.
  • Practice number/letter recognition. Long wait with a preschooler? Use the time to identify the route numbers that pass your stop, or practice reading the destination signs. (Kids who can identify letters can usually memorize simple letter combinations and sight “read” short words. Children who are working on phonics can practice sounding out the signs.) You can also make up games, such as putting the child in charge of telling you when your route arrives, or of finding all the routes with a certain number.
  • Learn to get around. Bus riding offers plenty of opportunities for school-age children to practice map and schedule reading and other skills, such as assessing direction of travel. Give your little BCiTs some trip planning/wayfinding responsibilities when you still travel together, and they’ll soon become experts at getting around town sans parents.
  • Talk. There’s nothing better for teaching, learning, or bonding than a respectful, reciprocal discussion between a parent and child. Transit rides and waits (not to mention the walks to and from stops and stations) are perfect for good, old-fashioned, heart-to-heart “tawks.”**

I am not naïve enough to believe that my children will always be thrilled about taking the bus every-dang-where. What I do know is that, so far, our bus time has been great for just about every aspect of their development. (Folks, for your sakes I have exercised restraint and not mentioned even one of their many demonstrations of genius.) It has also been great for our relationships. Bus time is as much about togetherness and adventure as it is about getting from point A to point B, and every time we travel, we create amazing memories. As I’ve said before, I could never trade that for easier access to the mall.


*Tip: Always carry a few tried and true favorites, but make sure to keep your selection fresh. The library is your friend.

**As my friend Aileen would say.