The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

A Day in the Life of a Bus Rider


photo 2

Want to get healthier, save money, and lower your stress? I have a simple answer for you: Ride the bus. I use the bus in Milwaukee almost every day and it has made me more active and fit, saved me thousands of dollars, and kept me out of hundreds of stressful traffic jams and endless hunts for parking. It also familiarizes me with my city and my fellow residents.

If you haven’t used public transportation much, it can seem really daunting to figure out how to make it work with your life. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say: “The bus system in my city is horrible,” only to later find out that that person has never even ridden the bus! It’s absurd but far too common for Americans to dismiss bussing altogether as a viable transit option. There is a major stigma surrounding bus ridership–that it is only for poor minorities–and that needs to end now.

I’ll be up front here: Public transportation in most cities is woefully inadequate. It serves far too few people and takes far too long to get them where they need to go. However, without riding it, we’ll never figure out ways to fix it and convince our leaders to make that happen. Systems don’t change unless they have buy-in. So today I’m going to walk you through how I use the bus on a given day to get everywhere I need to go. It isn’t perfect, but it is so much better than driving a car.

Here is what a day in my life as a public transit user looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.28.52 AM

7:30am  My alarm goes off and I shower, dress, eat cereal and make coffee.

8:28am  As I drink my coffee, I check the Real Time website on my laptop to see when the next southbound Green Line bus is coming. I live just north of the downtown and my office is a bit south of there. According to Real Time, the next bus is at 8:39am so I clean up my breakfast, brush my teeth and grab my shoes. The Green Line is an express bus so in Milwaukee, that means it runs every 15 minutes. I wish it ran even more frequently, but I can make it work with my schedule, no problem.

8:31am  I head out for the nearest bus stop, about a 5 minute walk from my apartment. Thankfully it’s not raining, so all I need for protection from the elements are my sunglasses. Side note: One thing about being a public transit user and pedestrian is that you need to be a bit more prepared for weather that someone who is constantly hopping in and out of a car. I always check the weather for the whole day in the morning. If there’s a chance of rain, I throw a raincoat or umbrella into my purse. And of course, in the winter, I do tons of bundling up.

8:39am  My bus arrives and I hop on, swiping my electronic MCard as I enter. I always purchase a monthly pass. It’s just $62 and I get unlimited rides for 30 days–a steal. While on the bus, I crack open a good book and read for a solid 15 minutes. I love starting my day like this.

bus photo

8:58am  I step off the bus, and walk a block south and a block west to my office. From door to door, my commute is just 30 minutes–no need to account for parking spot hunting or paying to park in a lot. When I’m there, I’m there.

9:00am-12:00pm Time to work.

12:01pm I check the Real Time website again to see when the next northbound Green Line bus is coming to my stop. I have 7 minutes until then, so I grab my stuff and walk out to the bus stop.

12:07pm I get on the bus, swiping my MCard again, and ride a couple stops north to a shopping district called the Third Ward.

Inside MKE Public Market

12:13pm  I step off the bus and head over to a jewelry store to get my watch resized, then stop by a second hand store to browse through clothes. I check Real Time again on my phone to see when the next southbound bus is coming, then I walk through the Milwaukee Public Market on my way back to the bus stop just for fun.

12:55pm  I’m on the bus headed back to work.

1:05pm-5:25pm Workin.

5:30pm  I check the Real Time website, close out of my projects and head out to the bus.

5:38pm  The bus takes me north, back home. I feed the cat and make some dinner.


7:20pm  Up until this point today, I’ve just been riding the Green Line. Now it’s time to check the 15 and 14 lines on Real Time to see which one is coming quicker to take me to Wednesday night trivia at the Riverwest Public House Cooperative. The 14 is arriving in 10 minutes and it’s just a block away from my house.

7:28pm   I head out to the bus stop and swipe my MCard for the fifth time today. If I was paying by the ride, I would’ve spent almost $9 today, so you can see why the unlimited monthly pass is such a good deal for me.

7:39pm   I step off the bus in a different neighborhood just north of mine–Riverwest–and walk a few blocks over to the Public House.

7:43pm-9:45pm Trivia with friends

9:50pm  Trivia is wrapping up so I check Real Time on my phone one last time. I catch the 15 bus south, walking a few blocks back to my house, and I’m done for the day.

As you can see, the bus took me everywhere I needed to go on this day, and 95% of the time, that’s always the case. Only when I need to make the (very occasional) trip to a distant store or to transport a large item do I wish I had a car. As I’ve said before, my boyfriend and I chose our apartment chiefly because of its location, and I shared some ways to make this downtown living possible in this post. From my apartment, I can access at least six bus lines at any given time, by walking anywhere from 1 to 5 blocks, so I use the bus to meet up with friends, grocery shop, go to the library, and more. I also use my feet to run tons of errands, walk to the gym, visit bars and restaurants, and get to church. My location is crucial to my ability to use public transit as much as I do.

However, I have other friends who live in less connected areas who still rely on the bus for transportation everywhere and they make it work. Where there is a will–to save money, to be happier, to be healthier–there is a way.

The first step toward incorporating public transit into your life is to get informed. Find your city or county’s public transit website and explore the routes near you. Don’t be daunted if there isn’t anything in close proximity to your home; consider also the other places you go on a regular basis. Is there a bus route from your child’s preschool to a favorite park? How about between your church and the grocery store? Start small with one route on a Saturday or Sunday. Make sure to investigate your payment options beforehand, and also to check whether your area has a “real time” website.
Give it a shot and tell me how it goes.


6 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Bus Rider

  1. Another great post.

    As I got older and a bit more prosperous I gradually migrated closer and closer to the center of town and activity where rent (and ultimately a mortgage) was a bit higher. But living “car lite” is so much easier. Now I’m right on top of the things I love and need on a daily basis. I walk and bike most of the time for most trips and hop on a train to get downtown in ten minutes. In my comfortable middle age I actually do have a car now, but it stays in the garage most of the time. It’s reserved for trips to the county and moving big heavy things. The thought of living in a car dependent suburb has zero appeal to me.

    Keep up the great work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed reading about a day in your car free life in an urban area-I live car free in a rural area where there is no regular public transportation or taxi services. So I bike everywhere. My bike means so much to me: it is my form of transportation, my exercise, my time of relaxation and my way to explore the world.

    Very cool to see one way car free living can work in an urban setting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment! I have mad respect for bikers. I would like to be able to bike more places (I used my bike to get around all through college), but its something I need to work better at incorporating into my life. I’m glad to hear it works for you getting around in a rural area. That can be the toughest place to not have a car.


      • I used to tell myself that it was impossible to live by bike out here in my small, widespread community but once I decided to try it out I was surprised how doable it is. Sometimes I think we are so focused on social and cultural norms that we forget how fun it is to push the boundaries a bit!

        Liked by 1 person

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