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David Schmalz here, thinking about how, at various times in my life, there were years where I would barely ever get into my car. 

When I lived in San Francisco from 2009-2013, I biked almost everywhere I went, including every weekday at 6:45am, when I would cycle across the entire city, from Bernal Heights to Fort Mason, where I had to be at work at 7:30am. But when I wasn’t on my bike, I was probably on a bus (sometimes I’d even put my bike on the bus’ bike rack) or a train. The only times I got in my car was for a big shopping trip, to head out of town, or to move it for street cleaning. 

Ditto for Japan, where I lived from 2002-2004. Where I lived in Kochi there were no bike lanes, but the main thoroughfares had very wide sidewalks (and very few pedestrians in commuting times), which were jam-packed with people on bicycles every morning and evening on the way to and from work or school. (Delightful side note: Nobody locked up their bikes when parking them at a rack, because nobody would steal them.)

This is on my mind now because, for the first time in years, I recently got on a bus in Monterey County.

A friend was in town last weekend visiting from the East Coast. After a glorious hike at Pinnacles National Park on Saturday, he said he wanted to check out Monterey’s waterfront—specifically the Dust Bowl Brewing taproom. 

Knowing high-octane beverages would be consumed, driving was off the table. I considered Uber or Lyft, but thought better of it: Where I live in Seaside is a short walk to a bus stop, and I figured riding a bus would be cheaper, and guilt-free. And it was surprisingly convenient thanks to an smartphone app called Transit, which is free to both use and download. 

I wrote about the app in 2017 when Monterey-Salinas Transit synced it with their routes, and it’s been on my phone ever since. It tells you which bus (or buses) to take to get where you want to go, and exactly when the bus is arriving in real-time. A more recent MST innovation (though not one I took advantage of on this occasion) is contactless payments.

The bus ride itself was low-stress—my friend and I were able to chat without me worrying about the road. And when you’re not driving, you can see a lot more—everything on the side of the road suddenly opens up.

In a county such as Monterey (which for the most part was developed around the automobile, and as such is mostly sprawled out and not built up), travelling by bus is admittedly a lot tougher than it is in major cities. But most Monterey County residents, myself included, could probably do it a lot more, and my recent trip inspired me to pledge to do just that. In a world being transformed for the worse by the climate crisis, and in a region where residents are incessantly complaining about traffic, it seems like the least I, or anyone, can do.

And this morning, MST General Manager/CEO Carl Sedoryk tipped me off to another good reason to ride the bus: A 2019 study found that nearly half of the microplastics washing into the San Francisco Bay through storm drains—microplastics that get into seafood, and into us when we eat it—came from car tires.

Having a livable future will require us all to make some sacrifices. But it seems to me there are few easier than this: get on the bus. 

-David Schmalz, staff writer,

P.S. The Monterey County Gives! campaign is currently underway through Dec. 31. Learn about the important work of 170 local nonprofits in this year's campaign, and please donate to support their efforts.

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