public transportation: friend or foe?

Having lived outside of a city for more than 30 years, I have not had access or need to public transportation. If I want to go somewhere, I have to either walk or get in my car.

So it’s no wonder that I’m not overly comfortable with public transportation. I have not grown up with trains, metros, subways, rapid transit or even buses. Growing up, we lived on the south end of Winnipeg where public transportation was not a part of daily life, and it was only once I was older and attending university that I took the bus with any regularity. And that was only for a relatively short period of time.

Even though I’ve travelled a good part of the world and have now taken pretty much every mode of transportation imaginable, I admit to being not overly comfortable or pleased with the challenges and inconveniences public transport presents the traveller.

This became evident last month while in Toronto, when other members of my team happily agreed to take the “Red Rocket,” a $3 form of transportation from Pearson International Airport to my downtown hotel. We had been encouraged to take the economical form of transportation by our treasurer, whose focus on the bottom line has us all looking at ways to save the organization money. $3 versus $66 for a cab is a pretty tough argument to fight.

Unhappily, I had to stand a good portion of the way into the city. And my sweet new suitcase called a “Spinner” had a mind and life of its own with its four wheels giving it the gumption to get up and go whenever I wasn’t holding it down. I could call IT the Red Rocket!


my Swiss Army “Spinner” has a mind of its own

But I did it, and saved the organization $120 on a round trip. That paid for a night’s hotel and then some, so I can certainly see the logic to being practical versus being comfortable.

As I prepare to leave for a journey that will take me to South America later this week, I can’t help but smile when I think back to the fall of 2010, when my travelling companion, Virginia (a rather small-framed woman with amazingly strong arms!) was able to run up and down the steep subway stairs touting my too-large suitcase throughout Italy as we crossed the country in search of chocolate.

To make things easier on both of us (she is accompanying me to South America) I bought the new smaller suitcase and hope that I can shlep it without sheepishly looking for help.

Below, you’ll see a picture of me in the Florence, Italy train station, where I was trying to smile after having to shlep (yes, Virginia did most of the shlepping) our luggage up and down a multitude of stairs. There was an elevator, but it was not working.


waiting for the train in Florence, Italy

Oh, sure. I have some neat public transport stories that I’ll never forget. Like the time Reg and I took a school bus in Barbados and rode with a bunch of small children who looked at Reg as though he was Santa Claus on vacation. And the time we rode on a bus in Mexico with a bunch of chickens. Somehow I don’t remember the details of that situation. I could go on, but time is tight and I’d rather hear from you.

Have you had some interesting times on public transport? Anything particularly good or bad you’d like to share? We’re all ears.


Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

69 Responses

  1. Doreen, public transit is one of my favourite topics! I’m sure your experience on the Toronto Transit System was not fun – these days, “the better way” is a shadow of its former self. Toronto used to have a transit system that was the envy of North America. What happened?! Now the buses, subways and streetcars are constantly delayed, crowded, and inefficient. A month ago I was in Boston for five days, and got around exclusively on public transit – their subways and bus system are so well thought out that it was easy to get from point A to point B and even in-between. We were even able to take the subway to the airport – now I’d love to be able to do that in Toronto!!

    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment, Krystyna.

      Yes, it’s quite different from city to city, isn’t it? If I’d had more time, I would have gotten into more detail about some of my experiences with public transport abroad.

      Glad to hear you had a positive experience with Boston. That is one city I’ve yet to visit, but am certainly hoping to over the next year.

  2. I don’t know, Krystyna. I still adore the TTC as do my 90-something parents. They still take it everywhere – to the opera, to a party, even to our house 10 stops away (and my Dad grew up in Nelson, BC). Other than a bike (which is higher risk but more enjoyable), it is still the “better way” to get around the city in terms of speed, monetary cost and environmental cost. An added bonus is that you get to observe all sorts of interesting people.

    If you moved here for a year, Doreen, I would be able to convert you. And New York! – fantastic – takes you literally any direction you want to go.

    As for the schlepping: One Doreen Suitcase up One Flight of Stairs = one weight workout. Cup half full.

  3. Doreen

    Virginia: Thanks for reminding me of my best public transportation experience EVER!

    Reg and I spent a week in New York and travelled exclusively on the subway. We got a one-week pass, and each morning, we’d come to our subway station and speak to the Subway “Ambassador” Allyson, a very large black lady who was so very kind and helpful in making sure we knew what stop to get off at to go where we wanted to go. She made our trip!

    I have a pic of her and Reg buried away somewhere in my slides. I’ve absolutely got to get around to converting my slides to digital pics so that I can post them on my blogs. See you very soon!

  4. sally hayes says:

    I just came back from a trip working as a permanent makeup artist in New York City. The public transportation system there just makes it so easy to get around. Taking a $2.25 subway ride saves you serious time, money, and a truckload of aggravation. When it comes to public transportation, I do as the slogan says, “I Love New York.”

    • Doreen

      Right on, Sally! Thanks for joining the conversation.

      I think the key for a large city is to make it efficient for its residents, and its visitors. So far, NYC has the vote for being the best at both.

  5. Kristen says:

    I was once vacationing in the Philippines when I got caught in one bad traffic. The tension got into almost everyone’s nerves when some teens at the beck decided to break the ice by singing and dancing. What could have been a bad moment turned into a party, thanks to some perceptive students.
    Kristen recently posted…jamorama reviewMy Profile

  6. Doreen, I don’t have much experience with transportation except for the occasional taxi here and there, but I think it’s great that you get to visit so many great places. I live in Los Angeles, so everyone has a car, which is why we have such horrible traffic. But when I visit San Francisco, we never use our car. We just use the trains and trolleys. It’s pretty great. Best of luck in South America!
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for stopping by, Dennis.

      Yes, isn’t it interesting how different cities have different transportation personas?

      After writing this post, I remembered how lucky I was to have traveled Europe and London with travel savvy friends who navigated me throughout the cities using the subways/metros. I definitely couldn’t have done it on my own, as public transport isn’t engrained in my blood. But how lucky we are when we can get by with a little help from our friends!

  7. Doreen – it was a pleasure to ride the rocket back to the airport with you and Heidi after our Feb PWAC Board meeting in Tdot! Hopefully we converted you over a little at least to the ít’s not so bad shift in your reality! Yes Virginia – I too love your TO home’s transit quickness ease and low cost – especially having commuted in Vancouver’s mess of a transit (non)system for way too many years! Glad to hear about the Boston public transit system from Krystyna as I am venturing there this fall and will gladly use nothing but PTS – love to people watch (or as we writers call it, character sketch) in a different city.
    Doreen and Virginia – ENJOY your amazing amazon trip!

    • Doreen

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Michelle, and for encouraging me to “ride the rocket!” I must say that I enjoyed the ride with you and Heidi much more than doing it on my own. Having someone to converse really helps detract from the inconvenience and discomfort of being crowded into a people mover.

      And yes, isn’t is interesting how transportations provides such unique challenges and perks in different cities? I’m glad I brought up the topic as I’m learning much from everyone’s comments and perspectives.

      China is now discovering traffic jams as so many people are driving cars there now than ever before. “Progress” does not always mean forward motion!

  8. Pat Bodman says:

    Since moving to Vancouver I first had the opportunity to walk to work. We lived in the West End and I could enjoy a lovely 25 minute walk to my office downtown. For the last 19 years I have been living in North Vancouver and my daily commute is a bus ride to the Seabus and then a walk to the office. I have enjoyed that commute for many years except for a few weeks last year after having knee surgery. I could write a book on those daily treks!!!! What an eye opener!!! You can’t predict how other people will treat you when you are using a cane and walking slower than the rest of them!!! Look forward to hearing about your transportation challenges in South America.

    • Doreen

      Hi Pat: Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Yes, I’ve done that lovely trek with you from N Van to downtown and quite enjoy the sea bus. I’m sure it’s not always pleasant, but I love being on the water as long as it’s not too rough!

      Yes, we should have an interesting rides in South Am! 2 different jungle treks, and hopefully … lots of great experiences await us. Stay tuned next month for updates on that!

      • Pat Bodman says:

        Perhaps when you come and visit us again we can have you and your new suitcase experience the Canada Line. Will take us right from the airport to the Seabus!!! Having that direct access from downtown to the airport for the Olympics has been great although I am sure the taxi companies aren’t as pleased. Can’t wait to see pictures of your amazing trip!!!!

  9. AJ says:

    I came across your website and found it very enjoyable. I just had a couple of questions so if you could e-mail me back that would be great!

  10. A.k.andrew says:

    A favourite trip of mine was through the snow in the Sierras from San Francisco to Reno by train. The roads were blocked except for short section where people were led in a convoy. Amazing scenery from the train & so glad not to be wresting with snow tyres & blocked roads.
    Have a great trip Doreen. Travelling always has amazing bits even tho the schlepping can be rough. Take care A.K.

  11. Doreen — I’m a New Yorker and use public transportation every day. It’s in our DNA. Our transit system has vastly improved in the past 30 years and is quite reliable. People in other cities can’t imagine not having a car. I was visiting a friend in Florida and got to the rental counter and the agent asked me what car insurance I had. I told her I didn’t have any. She looked at me in disbelief and asked how could I possibly not have car insurance? I told her I didn’t own a car. “You don’t own a car!” she asked, as if I had just dropped in from Mars. In a car culture, New Yorkers are definitely different!
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment, Jeannette. Yes, where we live really determines how we feel about public transport. I think you New Yorkers are spoilt by having such an awesome system. Lucky you! It’s looks like many cities can learn from New York.

      I remember being there when there was a snowstorm, and we were amazed at how quickly they got things moving after it was over, and how they put stuff on the sidewalks so that people wouldn’t slip and fall. My own city of Winnipeg could certainly learn from New York in that respect. So often, our sidewalks are more treacherous than the roads!

      • Jen Anderson says:

        Actually, there is a LOT left to be desired about the NYC subway system, but our population density makes it a necessity. Driving into Manhattan is insanity–I’d wrestle with a runaway wheeled suitcase on a bus any day rather than drive through NYC. The few times I’ve done it, I’ve burst out of a car at the end of the trip desperate for a strong drink!

        As a native NYer, I couldn’t imagine living somewhere car-centric. Although I’ve let my driving skills get so rusty that I feel I’m at a disadvantage.

        • Doreen

          That’s so true, Jen. We are definitely the product of our environment.

          I can’t imagine NOT driving, as it’s my only option where I live. But if I lived where public transport was easy, efficient and cheap, I’m sure I’d take it religiously. I just got off a 5-hour bus ride in Ecuador and it cost a fraction of the price we’d paid for the cab to take us into the area.

          Hope you’ll drop into the blog again next week for the new post. Cheers!

  12. Kay Lorraine says:

    Doreen, all elevators in Italy are out of order. Didn’t you get the memo?

    And while you are in South America, if you get a chance to ride the Caracas Metro in Venezuela you will find it to be an amazing modern transportation system. It’s all quite new. I got a chance to ride it in a special group back in 1983, four days before its official opening. They were understandably proud of it.

    We desperately need rapid transit here in Honolulu but I fear that we have waited too late. They are trying to proceed but the window of opportunity is quickly closing.

    I see rapid transit as a necessary evil. If it weren’t for the Underground in London or the Metro in Paris, every trip would be endless and cost a fortune. Hang in there — you’ll learn to love public transportation. You’ll also learn to clench your wheelie between your legs so that it doesn’t get away from you. LOL

    Kay in Hawaii

    • Doreen

      Thanks for the comment, Kay.

      Unfortunately, we won’t be going to Venezuela on this journey. Hopefully … sometime soon.

      Yes, I really do appreciate the importance of public transport in our modern lives, it just doens’t feel natural to me. But I am slowly gettimg to embrace it.

      Hope to meet you sometime in HI. It’s been far too long since my last visit. I’ll be coming for the chocolate!

  13. Sherryl Perry

    I grew up in a small rural town and I live in one now. So, my excursions on public transportation are limited and I am always accompanied by someone. (I’m not brave enough to venture out on my own. I’ll pay the extra to take a cab.)

    I remember several trips into Boston with a co-worker. We took the “T” and it always took longer than we should. Both of us would be so busy chatting that we’d usually go right by our stop.
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Sherryl.

      We may live in far away parts of the world, but we can certainly share very similar experiences. Cheers!

  14. Kay Lorraine says:

    Hey, I gre up in a REALLY small town (about 900 people). If I can master public transport so can you. Be brave, little buckeroos. Just do it!

  15. I lived in the Phillippines for years because I studied there. There were times that I’d find commuting a hassle since it is a tropical country and it was always hot whenever I commute but it was still a good experience riding the jeepneys and the carriage which you can actually ride for as low as $2. Thanks!
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  16. Linda Strange says:

    Ah, Doreen – how different our life experiences were! Part of that is due of course, to the differences in our ages.
    When I was growing up in Ft. Rouge, most of the families had neither the money nor the need for a car. We lived on River Ave. long before the Midtown Bridge was built. “Everything” was within walking distance. Movies in Norwood or on Osborne St., and shopping at Eatons. And if it wasn’t, then you took the bus. I recall going by streetcar to Assiniboine Park for the Augustine Church picnic.
    Regular ridership was not part of my experience until grade 7; and became more onerous with the opening of Churchill High School in 1955. My family’s move to the downtown end of the new Midtown Bridge made me the last person dropped off from the school bus.
    One of my summer jobs was at the U. of M., which required payment of an additional “zone fare”, as it was outside the perimeter of regular buses. The presence of a very cute mailman who rode everyday made it worthwhile!
    The first car I co-owned in 1962 if I remember correctly, cost $2000.00 ; and it took till 1968 to apply for my driver license. I continued to ride the buses to work until 1991.

    • Doreen

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Linda!

      Isn’t it amazing how our life experiences really shape our opinions? I’m slowly expanding my experiences on various modes of public transport and am grateful (for the most part) for all.

      Today, our flight from Tarapoto, Peru to Lima was delayed by 2 hours. At least they let us get off the plane and they gave us a pop and snack. More than our own national air carrier would have done I suspect.

  17. I am not going public transportation because lot of time wastage waiting the transport like cars, buses etc. So thanks for sharing this blog for us..

  18. Gabriel says:

    For some public transportation is a friend, especially to those who want to have less carbon footprints. For others, it may be a foe; traffic jams affect the students, workers and the economy.
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    • Doreen

      You are so right, Gabriel.

      I’m in Quito, Ecuador right now and we took the bus yesterday. It was crowded, but clean. And it only cost .25 per ride vs probably at least $5 for a cab (cabs are cheap here.) We used that extra $ to support local artisans by buying local handicrafts at the market yesterday. Makes sense to me.

      Thanks for dropping by the blog. I hope you’ll visit again.

  19. Snookie says:

    For me, public transportation is a friend. I find it very fascinating riding a bus and seeing lots of different people. I once made a friend on my way to work and it’s just a good feeling for me. 🙂
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  20. Lee says:

    Hi loved your story. Bought back memories of a time we were trying to get back to our boat on the isle of Elbe. ( off the coast of Italy) from England. Plane from London took off on time. Things started to go wrong when we got to Rome airport their was a bomb scare. Which held us up for 2 hours which made us miss our train. Which wouldn’t be to bad normally butu we had to make a connection to another train which would take to the ferry port. Which we subsequently missed. Unfortunately that was the last train . We did however manage to get a bus to the ferry port. Then had to run for the last ferry of the day. We eventually arrived at the boat at ten at night after leaving London at 6 in the morning. Was a very long stressful day.

    The joys of public transport we love it really?
    Thanks again enjoyed reading your post.
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for dropping by the blog, Lee, and for sharing your travel challenges with us.

      I’ve just gotten home from a lovely 2-week journey in South America and will be updating the blog in the next day or so. There were certainly come travel hiccups along the way, mostly weather dependent.

  21. Jeri

    As someone who grew-up in a small-mining town in northern Idaho, I never thought I would like public transporation. In general I still don’t, but a visit to Athens made a believer out of me. The subway there was surprisingly clean, but it wasn’t very old as it was built for the 2004 Olympics and I was there in 2010. When public transporation works and is efficient, that is a great thing. Ease of access is key. I know live in Charlotte, and for a large city, it doesn’t offer very great public transport. I also like being able to focus on reading, or surfing the net instead of having to concentrate behind the wheel.

    • Doreen

      Yes, isn’t that the truth about public transport? If it is efficient, safe, clean and affordable it is good for all. If any one of those 4 ingredients is missing, it is likely to flounder, be under-utilized and start to go downhill.

      Thanks for visiting the blog, Jeri. I’ve never been to Charlotte (other than a short stopover at the airport) but I’d like to visit as I’ve heard the culinary scene is rocking!

  22. I would like to recommend everybody to hire a taxi rather than traveling through a public transport.

  23. Kathe Lieber says:

    How did I miss this posting? Oh, I guess I was about to leave for Paris and the Métro workout… Well, you know what I’m going to say, Doreen: public transit is great, especially in cities like Montreal, Paris or Toronto where there’s a well developed system. My arthritic bones (despite the knew knees) still prefer being above ground (you see a lot more, too) but we city types stay healthy and save a lot of money taking public transportation. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • Doreen

      Thanks, indeed, for joining the conversation, Kathe. I did think of you when I was writing this post as I know what an advocate you are of public transportation, and how well you navigated our way thru the trains and metros of Europe. I am slowly learning much more about public transport, but having lived outside of a city for 30 years now, where we don’t have access to any public transport, the only time I get to ride/utilize it is when I’m away from home.

  24. knee clinics says:

    Feeling pity for your red rocket ‘Spinner’! I think it depends on the entire condition of the state. Sometime it gives so good service that we want to be a professional tourist 🙂 but few times it’s a big trouble to travel indeed. I’m waiting for your next ‘South American chocolate’ with the best wishes for the travelers. Good luck Doreen.
    knee clinics recently posted…DynamicMy Profile

    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment and for visiting the blog.

      Alas, the “Red Rocket Spinner” is in hiatus right now! Its wheel came off while in Vancouver last month. Will soon be seeking repairs.

  25. Greg Rhodes says:

    I have to experience this yet in Australia.

  26. Lee says:

    Hi public transport where we are is not that good to say the least. We are a bit out in the sticks and get 1 bus an hour going the same way. To try and go the other way we have to get a bus one way to the main station to then come back the other. A rift pain in the neck.

    Thanks lee
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment, Lee. Yes, it really does make a difference where you live or visit as to whether public transport is a viable option. But it certainly does work well in some places.

  27. I can’t imagine living a life outside the city, but it seems like u managed it well. Good for you.
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    • Hi David and welcome to the blog.

      I was born and raised in the small city of Winnipeg, Canada and lived there until 30 years ago when I moved to a rural area just 45 minutes from the city. I now live a bit further out into the country.

      Although I love the excitement and culture offerings of a city, what really makes my heart sing is the quiet beauty of nature. Fortunately, my work as a travel writer takes me to many of the world’s great cities. And it is there that I become exposed to the pleasures and challenges of public transportation.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…dealing with unexpected delays when you travelMy Profile

  28. Transportation to Dulles airport says:

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  29. Mark says:

    It is true that public transportation facility diverse from country to country due to management and public awareness. Now I’m visiting in Bangladesh and here public transportation is not very good as like our USA. But all the developing country as like Bangladesh should give proper care for improving their public transportation for the wellness of the population. Thanks for this valuable input.
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment, Mark, and for visiting the blog.

      Yes, the issue of public transport really is location-specific. But each location can learn from the triumphs and difficulties of similar situations in other parts of the world.

  30. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post! I really appreciate this very informational post that I have found from your site. Keep Posting!!

  31. Joel says:


    Public transportation in New York is getting improved day by day.
    But in my opinion public transport is wastage of time.

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  32. Edwin Payne says:

    Hi Doreen, i know am late in describing my foest journey via public transport in Atlanta, Georgia. But, one big problem there is facilitating cars. A City which has hosted Summer Olympics in the past would have been better .but, it seems like it’s priorities have been elsewhere.

    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment, Edwin, and welcome to the blog!

      I’ve never been to Atlanta, so thanks for the heads-up about the traffic. It’s interesting how some cities seem to have really embraced making ease of transport a priority, while others have turned a blind eye to their problems.

  33. I hope I manage to read this post last year because I am having a difficult time upon moving for preparation of my college life. A must read article for students who’s planning to move.

  34. Thank you for some other wonderful post. Where else may just anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect manner of writing?
    Many of the islands visited by cruise ships are not as nice as the areas the tourists see. I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the look for such info.

    • Doreen

      You are most correct! Often, the cruiseships are so big that they can’t get to the most scenic and lovely areas of an island. That is certainly true of St. Lucia, where the ships port at Castries — not nearly as scenic as the southern part of the island around Soufriere. That’s why it’s important to look for cruises that allow a full day at port, so that you can take an excursion to the most scenic areas.

  35. Lee says:

    Hi Doreen
    When I was younger and on holiday in Italy we were on a bus and my sister started laughing I can’t remember about what. But soon it became infectious and a lady sitting near us was crying with laughter and when she left thanked my sister in broken English for the most enjoyable bus journey she had ever had. Fond memories just thought I would share that with you.

    Thanks lee

    • Doreen

      Hi Lee and thanks for your comment. Yes, one can have some amazing experiences on public transportation. You have the opportunity to interact with people you’d likely not otherwise have the opportunity to. For the most part, that can be great.

      I guess for the most part, my objections relate to lack of comfort and space, and waiting for service with often ridiculous delays beyond our control. But indeed, taking advantage of public transportation gives us many options we may not otherwise have.

  36. Airport transfers says:

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  37. Excellent stuff!! but now transportation service is really good one…i personally think public transportation is really cheapest and safest.

  38. cristina says:

    wow great post thanks for sharing.

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