Lessons I’ve learned from riding the bus


Last week I got around on one of the nation’s best public bus systems.

And it was interesting to say the least.

I saw former students and ex-coworkers riding TheBus. I sat alongside folks heading to work, to the mall, to school, to the grocery store. Some knew the driver — one guy actually stood next to the driver and talked with him for the entire ride — and others, mostly tourists, had never been on the city bus before. There were professionals going to their offices in downtown, kids going to the beach, couples going home.

And then there was me.

The girl who got a ticket for not having a current safety check or registration and was too paranoid to drive until she got all of that squared away.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this mode of transportation and the culture that surrounds it. People catch the bus for a variety of reasons. Some believe in public transportation, some think it’s a greener way to get around. Some can’t afford cars, some aren’t old enough to drive. And there are others who prefer the convenience of not having to drive or look for parking.

I will say, getting around on the bus isn’t as difficult as it may seem to those who haven’t hopped on one lately. I mean, 75.5 million boardings every year must mean something.

But I couldn’t survive on TheBus alone. For one, I can’t take my dogs on it, so that makes going hiking and to the vet impossible. And I have to jet to appointments, meetings and interviews all the time, sometimes on very short-notice, and getting around on the bus would be challenging.

So I rushed to get the safety check and registration squared away — I also had to replace a tail light — just so I could use my car again.

But I don’t regret the week without my wheels. I learned a lot.

Here are some of those lessons:

HEA is awesome. TheBus has a very helpful, real-time website that tells you exactly when each bus is stopping at whatever bus stop you’re at. Oahu Transit Services, which operates TheBus, launched this bus-located site several years ago. It tracks Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on each bus and updates every two minutes with a bus’ estimated arrival time at a particular stop. I lived by that!

Bus passes aren’t prorated. It cost $60 for a monthly pass for an adult — it’s less for students, seniors and members of the military. I walked into 7-Eleven to inquire about a monthly pass, but it was already the middle of November. The cashier said I would still have to pay the entire $60 for the pass even though it was only good for two weeks. Good to know.

Stand up to get noticed. I made the mistake of not standing up at the bus stop when the bus arrived. I was still sitting, putting away my Kindle, when I saw the bus approaching. I suppose because I wasn’t standing up, the bus driver just drove past without stopping. I had to wait for the next bus. Now I know better.

There’s no Internet on TheBus. As far as I know, there’s no free Wifi onboard. Which is too bad, especially for foreign travelers. (I know how important free Wifi is when I’m traveling abroad.)

Sit forward. If you’re prone to motion sickness, pick a seat that faces forward. The side-facing seats can make you feel sick. (I learned this from experience.)

You still sit in traffic. Just because you’re using public transportation doesn’t mean you get anywhere faster. The bus stops more often than you would in your car, and you still sit in the same traffic. So you still have to plan out your trip factoring in those things. Mass transit rail will be different. But until then, this is it.

In all, I’m glad I did it, even if just for a week. It made me realize there are other ways to get around — and despite how much I love to actually drive my own car, it was nice ego sit back, relax and read my Kindle on the way to work.

I don’t think I’d ditch my car, but don’t be surprised if you see me on the bus again.

To learn more about Honolulu’s public bus system or to find routes and timetables, call (808) 848-5555 or visit www.thebus.org.

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17 Responses to “Lessons I’ve learned from riding the bus”

  1. Glenn D November 18, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    Hi Cat, the last time I rode The Bus was back in the winter of 1974, fresh out of high school, just moved to L.A. and was visiting my girlfriend who was living in Kaimuki at the time. I don’t t remember much of the ride because one, it was a loooooong time ago and two, all of us were ‘under the influence’ then. At least we didn’t attempt to drive.

  2. Dennis November 18, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    I remember a long time ago our busses were trolly cars powered by over head electrical wires. Sometimes those connections were broken and the bus driver had to try to reconnect the wires so he could power the bus again. Wow, I’m really old! That was my last bus ride. Can’t wait for rail and back to electricity .

  3. Annoddah Dave November 18, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    CAT: Did this when gas went to over $3 a gallon because my work place subsidized bus riding to relieve traffic congestion. It was great like you said, you could read, doze, and people watch. The only draw back was you had to plan your ride so that you could get to appointments in time. It was a little longer but not that much of a hassle. Sometimes when it rains it is a bit more difficult to stand at a stop or walk to your destination. Calling OTS is a plus, the people were helpful and told you how to get to your destination thru stops and transfers.

  4. M November 18, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Hello Cat,
    I haven’t ridden the bus since high school and that’s a long long time ago. My son goes to HPU downtown campuss and use the bus to go to school.

  5. Gary November 18, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Help make our city and environment better by riding the bus. For those of you who complain about traffic, think about how many cars would not be on the streets if more people took the bus which holds about 40 people. And think about how much kala you would save: it is estimated that a car costs about $6-9 thousand dollars a year to maintain if you count maintenance, insurance and loan payments. That could be how much you could apply toward buying a house or apartment. Those who have to commute from the ‘burbs to town usually have more than one car per household. You could get by with fewer cars if you caught the bus. That’s what my wife and I did.

  6. Halili November 18, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    Hi Cat, I believe that the monthly bus pass is more than $30 for the adult..Students I think is $30 & $50 for Adults…That is good that you were able to pass as a student ☺.

    • Catherine Toth November 18, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      Yes, typo, sorry! Thanks for the catch. It’s $60 for the monthly pass. :/

  7. Sarah November 18, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    “Mass transit rail will be better.” Man, I hope so, but that just made me snort tea out my nose. It’s probably from having to share with Amtrak and freight on older infrastructure, but the NJ and PA rail systems were… not exactly awesome when it came to being on time. I hope Oahu does better. If there’s a next time, could you try bringing Indy and Sunny in a soft-sided carrier? If they fit together in one, you can take them on board – you just have to hold the carrier in your lap/put it under the seat if the bus is crowded. Zeke comes to work with me every day. Also! Public service announcement! Yearly disability passes are really cheap. I can’t drive because I have epilepsy, and my doc filled out a form for me to get one. If you you can’t drive due to a valid medical condition, even if it’s not a “visible disability,” talk to your doctor – you’re probably eligible. Just don’t be a skeezy person and try to get one if you’re able to drive and just want to cheat the system.
    Glad you’ve got your wheels back.

  8. Marc Mielke November 18, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Where did you find bus passes for $30.00? They’ve been $60,00 for several months now!

    • Catherine Toth November 18, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      I changed it. Sorry! I was thinking about the annual senior pass — which is crazy cheap!

  9. Dennis November 18, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    And your lessons are ones that the obstinate to Rail will have to change in their paradigms…it is a huge cultural shift form the HNL population..but a better one, and a shift that has to happen for our city to survive in the coming years..You hit the nail on the head…REF; Is Ben Cayetano and the rest of his cronies reading this..? YOur observation is the key…taking the bus won’t speed up your travel becuz you still sit in traffic…REF: BEN…so expanding the bus system in ANY form won’t work with our limited amount of space and the laws that govern them!!! You don’t wait in traffic with RAIL…every major city in the US has rail…every major city around the Globe has RAIL…why you figure they work…?? becuz it does…and then a whole nother culture of using other green transportation will follow…i.e. bikes, walking etc..

  10. turkfontaine November 18, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    i always ride DA BUS when in HNL. i miss DA BOAT. i used to take it every day on it’s last round trip run from Aloha Tower to Kalaeloa Barber’s Pt harbor. it was the a great way to end the day. Tourists learned it was the cheapest ocean ride you could take on Oahu. i got to be a kind of unofficial guide, answering the usual questions: ‘where’s Pearl Harbor entrance?’ ‘what’s that big pink thing up on that hill there? and my favorite: ‘i’m gonna be sick. i was fine on the ride down, what happened?’

    • Glenn D November 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      I was born on that big pink thing up on the hill….LOL

      • Glenn D November 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

        I should say “at the big pink thing” not “on”…

  11. D November 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    Back in the ’80s, for students under 17 years old, bus fare was only 25 cents one way to go around the island — what a deal!

    I still catch the bus on occasion, especially to places where it’s tough to find parking (i.e. Waikiki and Downtown). With the GPS monitoring system in place and the fact you can get real time arrival information right on your smart phone, it does make riding the bus a lot more bearable.

  12. Amy November 19, 2013 at 3:44 am #


    In Northern CA I sometime visit my cousins and take public transit I notice people are nice to bus drivers. They say “good morning “. and later getting off bus “say thank you to drivers. I glad people still practice old school manners. It getting rare these days.

  13. J December 8, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    TheBus is really good. Another great bus (transit) system is TriMet in Oregon. I went to school there and lived outside of Portland. As you know, living on the outskirts is definitely cheaper and the transit system made it better. SF’s Muni is also great. It helped my friends and I go to a Giants game without hassle. I hope our transit system can compare once rail is done. Oh, and just a heads up, when riding public transportation always check your seat. I have had friends who sat on pee and one picked up bed bugs when she put her bag down by her feet. :( I’d rather stand. Lol.

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