This story is part of a week-long series challenging a native Houstonian to use public transit in everyday scenarios. Read part one here.
There’s never a day where I wake up dreading having to go to work. I only wake up dreading the traffic I’ll have to deal with on the way there.
Even with that knowledge, I still slug myself out of bed at 6:45 a.m. and try to look decently alive before I lock my front door, slump into my car and turn on the engine. By the time I get to my desk in the morning, I will have spent at least 30 minutes in a vehicle, both my own and the shuttle bus that takes me to my building from the lot where I park.
Although the Kinder Institute is housed on Rice University’s campus, it’s closer to the Texas Medical Center than it is to most things Owl-related. The Medical Center is one of the more public transit-friendly areas in Houston for good reason: it gets at least 8 million visitors a year.
The light rail runs north-south by the cluster of hospitals and several bus routes jog through the area.
I tell people I live in the Medical Center but no one really lives in The Medical Center proper. My apartment is actually right outside Loop 610, one mile from the nearest light rail stop and half a mile from a bus stop. Getting to public transit requires some exercise.
After consulting the Google Maps app (with its handy embedded public transit information), I decided to make my morning commute a tad easier, choosing a route where I didn’t have to change busses and that would drop me off right in front of my building. Not changing still added a projected six minutes to my trip but it was worth it.
The app said that my bus was departing at 7:54, so I trekked out of my apartment at 7:45 and got my bus stop at 7:52. I’d purchased my $3 day pass on my phone during the walk over, and after I showed it to the driver, sat down in the first row of seats.
As soon as I sat down, two people on the bus asked me how I bought a pass on my phone. I looked around and noticed that there was no advertising for the app anywhere on the bus — just warning signs in Spanish, Urdu and other languages telling passengers not to eat or drink on the bus.
I filled them in, then put in my headphones to focus on the 37-minute journey ahead of me. We zipped along Buffalo Speedway and ended up near NRG Stadium, picking up but rarely dropping off more passengers. By the time we got to the transit center housed in the Medical Center, the bus was 75 percent full. But those numbers dwindled as soon as the driver parked the 84 in its spot and half of the passengers unloaded. Most folks didn’t have the luxury of a transfer-less commute. I was one of five left as the bus pulled out onto Main Street.
As we were getting closer and closer to my building, I started getting nervous. The button to request a stop was close enough, no more than six inches to my right, but I had no clue when to press it, especially when we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. What is the timing etiquette here?
I pressed it as soon as I saw my building — four blocks early.
“Have a nice day!” The driver said enthusiastically, right before he pulled the bus away from the curb and drove back into traffic.
I looked at my watch. 8:33 a.m. I got to work, or at least near it, right on time.
For the ride home, I decided to take the light rail. I consulted Google Maps again and gave myself a five-minute buffer to walk from my building to the stop to catch the 4:52 p.m. train.
After braving the crosswalk on Main Street — perhaps I’ll do a series on trying to cross the most dangerous streets in the city — I made it to the platform right on time.
The train, however, was three minutes late and less packed with people than I thought it would be. My morning ticket was still valid, but this time I didn’t have to show it to anyone unless asked. No one did. I pulled up my app and tracked the stops.
The plan was to take the rail southbound until the last stop, then hop on a bus for the last mile before the half-mile walk to my apartment. After a 10-minute ride, I’d made it to the Fannin South Transit Center and spotted the row of busses waiting for people to board. I found the 8 and realized I was in for my first challenge since carrying groceries half a mile: the bus was full and every seat occupied.
I’m small compared to the average person, so I managed to squeeze in between a brawny maintenance worker who kind of reminded me of my dad and a woman with her toddler, but I could see how someone who actually grew to the size their doctor promised them they would might have trouble.
I got off at my stop exactly a mile later. I felt a bit guilty because I was the first person to get off the bus and squeezing into everyone’s personal space was awkward. I’d call it a win, though: the only person that gave me a stink eye was the guy standing at the very front of the aisle. I made my way across another busy street and started my half-mile walk home.
I collapsed on my couch as soon as I closed my door and look at my watch. 5:25 p.m. I’ve never been more grateful for air conditioning in my life.
Read the next installment of this series here.