1. Get familiar with the different types of transportation in your area, and figure out which works best for you.
If you’re going to college in a major city, you’re going to be greeted with multiple types of public transportation, and not all of them are going to be right for you. If you know that you’re going to be traveling around the city on a daily basis, look into the subway (or your city’s equivalent), because it will likely be the quickest and cheapest way to get around. And often, subway stops are so abundant that it’s easy to get very close to your destination, which minimizes walking. A public bus also works for frequent and short trips, because buses make many stops around cities, but consider traffic when looking into buses. They operate on the same roads as cars, and if you’re traveling during rush hour, make sure to give yourself adequate time to get to your destination. For longer trips (internships outside of the city, for example), trains are invaluable resources, and most towns will have a train station.
2. Figure out where you need to go during a typical week, and write out a transportation schedule.
If, over the course of a normal week, you need to go to the grocery store, the post office, the pharmacy and class in three different buildings on opposite sides of the city, you need a schedule. Take the time to sit down and map out a timeline of where you need to go, on what days and at what times, and then look at public transportation schedules to determine what method works best for each particular journey. (If you want to take the subway to your 11 am class, for example, but your arrival time would be 10:55 and the station is six blocks away, you may want to take the bus instead.) Color code your schedule if you need to, but make some kind of weekly outline so that you don’t find yourself missing every single bus, subway and train you had planned on taking.
3. Always have cash and your credit/debit card with you.
Plenty of ticket machines won’t take credit or debit cards, but there are others that won’t take cash. Have multiple methods of payment on you at all times so that you can ensure you can buy a ticket, regardless of what mode of transportation you’re taking. Bring small bills as well – certain machines have difficulty processing large ones, and tickets for individual rides are often cheap enough that you can pay in $1 bills and $5 bills.
4. Invest in a train or bus pass if traveling often.
The cost of individual tickets can add up if you’re using public transportation on a regular basis, so it’s wise to invest in a pass that allows unlimited rides. While it may be pricier up front, it’s guaranteed to be cheaper than paying for a ticket every time you need to go somewhere in the city, and you’ll save time by avoiding the long lines at the ticket machines.
5. Practice transportation etiquette.
Public transportation is exactly that: public. When surrounded by at least a dozen other people, the best thing to do is remain polite and courteous for the entire ride. If you walk onto a bus or train and there are no seats left, stand next to a pole away from the doors, so as not to block the flow of traffic on and off the vehicle. If you have a seat and someone enters the vehicle who clearly needs it more than you do (an elderly or injured person, for example, or someone who’s pregnant) give them your seat and stand for the rest of the journey. When traveling early in the morning and late at night (as a college student will likely do), remember to keep your voice down and avoid causing any disturbances, because people traveling at odd hours of the day are tired and want to ride in peace. If possible, try to avoid eating on public transportation (the cars can be crowded and uncomfortable enough without the entire train smelling your egg salad), but if you must, eat something portable that doesn’t give off a strong smell and is allergen-free (i.e. no nuts), and don’t eat if the vehicle is unfathomably crowded. Cover your mouth whenever you have to sneeze or cough, and make sure to only take up one seat when able to sit – do not place your bags on the seat next to you, and do not spread your body across multiple seats. Other people are riding the same buses and trains that you are.
6. Practice transportation safety.
Again, when using public transportation, it’s normal to be traveling with several dozen people at once. Be very aware of your surroundings. When entering the train or bus keep your bag close to you and in your sight at all times, and if you have a shoulder bag, drape it across your body to minimize the chances of it getting stolen. If you have a seat, keep your bag on your lap. Keep your wallet in the main compartment of your bag or another inside pocket, not in a front or side pouch, as doing so makes it more accessible to pickpockets. If you can, split your cash (and credit/debit cards, if you have more than one) between two separate wallets in the same bag – that way, if one of them gets stolen, you’re not completely lost. Make sure you have a hand on your bag at all times. Whenever possible, pick a train car that isn’t unbelievably crowded (it’s easier for pickpockets to grab your bag if you’re packed tightly together and distracted by other people), but isn’t empty either, as that makes it easier for potential assailants to corner you without having to worry about witnesses. The same is true for waiting on station platforms: stay with other people in a well-lit area until the train arrives.
When boarding a train, be careful of the gap between the train car and the platform: at some stations it’s large enough to fall through. Try not to run when catching a train, as that increases your chances of falling into the car and injuring yourself. Never, ever, ever try to board a subway or train when the doors are closing, as you might get stuck between the doors as the train begins to move. When waiting on a station platform stay away from the edge to avoid being dragged under the train when it pulls into the station.
Always listen to instructions when they’re given: announcements about delays and safety issues will be made over the station’s PA system, and listening to them is the easiest way to ensure that you feel safe and comfortable. If you ever feel unsafe in a station, or on a bus or train, approach a uniformed official and ask them for help, whether that be a train conductor, a bus driver or a security guard.
7. Download apps to make your journey easier.
In this day and age, technology makes everything easier, including public transportation. The app Moovit allows users to find transport stations in their area, and features crowdsourced information so that users can see which routes (and vehicles) are more crowded than others. Users can also plan their routes around different locations, and can change their metro area depending on where they’re traveling and when. The app can also call for an Uber directly if public transportation falls through and you need a ride immediately. If your city has an app for its public transportation specifically, download that to find maps of bus and subway routes, as well as arrival and departure schedules and directions to destinations – all specific to your city. Apps like these allow you to take your schedule with you, rather than having to memorize arrival and departure times.
8. Be punctual.
Trains and buses are not your friend from high school that drove you to class every morning: if you aren’t ready, they will not wait for you. Make sure you arrive at the train or bus station at least 10-15 minutes before your ride is scheduled to arrive, to provide a cushion just in case transit is running early or you’re running late. If you don’t have a subway pass and need to buy a ticket at the station, give yourself additional time, because the lines at the booths can get ridiculously long. Subways run on a regular enough schedule that if you happen to miss your train, you should still be able to get to your destination on time (if a bit late), but if your city’s subway doesn’t run as regularly, or if you’re taking a bus or train, getting to your destination on time might not be possible. Moral of the story: get to the station on time.
9. Pack your belongings practically.
Unless you’re using public transportation to go home for a holiday break, you don’t need to bring an excessive amount of belongings with you. Pack one bag, as small as possible, and only fill it with the things that you absolutely need: wallet, keys, phone, ID, books (if you’re going to class). Doing this will minimize the amount of space you take up on the bus or train (always a good thing, as both tend to be so crowded), and will also minimize your chances of being robbed, as you’ll have less belongings to have to watch. In terms of choosing a bag, remember this: the best bags are ones that you can watch at all times. Whenever possible choose a shoulder bag over a backpack (backpacks are on your back and therefore, out of sight---a good thief can reach in and grab your wallet without you ever being aware), and keep your bag draped across your body, with a hand on it.
The prospect of public transportation may seem daunting at first, especially for students who have never used it before. But if given the time, public transit is a system that can be conquered easily, and can quickly become a college student’s best friend. Good luck, and happy riding!
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