Re-imagine Your Commute

The big, blue expanse of the Bay stretches out for miles as we cut across it, making our way to the San Mateo County shoreline. From my seat on the upper deck of the San Francisco Bay Ferry, I open my laptop and get a head start on the workday. Seabirds fly alongside us as the morning sunshine slowly breaks through the fog. About forty minutes pass and the familiar pillars of the marina catch my eye as we pull into the South San Francisco Ferry terminal. I pack up, grab my bike from the back deck of the ferry, tap my Clipper card, and ride along the Bay Trail to my office. I arrive feeling productive from the ferry ride and energized from bicycling.

Growing up, I always pictured myself entering the workforce after college and driving my car to and from work— as is the norm. I certainly never imagined my commute to involve traveling by boat. Now, I would not have it any other way. I am right on-brand with my Sustainability Service Corps fellowship host site, Commute.org, a public agency in San Mateo County that encourages commuters to use alternative transportation modes rather than driving alone to work. The agency envisions a region where all residents and workers have access to equitable, sustainable, affordable, and safe transportation options and works to reduce drive-alone miles to reduce traffic, help the environment, and improve quality of life in the county.

The benefits I get from taking public transportation and biking far outweigh the ostensibly convenient drive. For one, the combined expenses of the Bay Bridge toll, gas, and car maintenance are greater than the cost of my ferry ticket and bike maintenance. On the ferry, I can also maximize my commute time by getting a head start on my workday or catching up on social media, rather than sitting frustrated and stuck in traffic. Riding my bike to and from the ferry also helps me exercise and boosts my energy levels throughout the day.

Beyond the personal benefits of taking transit, biking, walking, or whichever alternative mode you choose, there is also a significant environmental benefit to ditching your car. As a Sustainability Service Corps fellow, I am learning about how important sustainable transportation is in mitigating climate change—particularly in reducing carbon emissions. In fact, the transportation industry is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the State of California, and makes up to 40% of the total emissions in the Bay Area.

Don’t just take my word for it—many others have shared the personal, economic, and environmental reasons why they choose to make non-drive-alone trips. Each year, Commute.org hosts the Commuter Challenge in the county, offering a $250 raffle to those who pledge to commute sustainably from April to May. Many pledgers regularly use alternative modes and shared why they choose to do so. One transit rider said they enjoy being able to rest or read on BART and not be stressed with traffic. Another commuter shared that in their carpool, they like to relax and enjoy the ride when they’re not driving and can significantly reduce their monthly expenses while helping the environment at the same time.

Driving alone may feel like the only option to commute. Sometimes, driving is the most feasible option, depending on where you are travelling to and other responsibilities you have. However, I challenge you to explore commuting habits beyond this, and all the advantages that come with trying new ways of getting around.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits all approach to sustainable commuting. It could mean breaking out your bike for Bike Month, creating a carpool group with your coworkers, or pledging to make a sustainable trip to work for the Commuter Challenge. With the multitude of options, you may not know where to begin. Commute.org’s website has a variety of commuter resources to help you travel in, to, and from San Mateo County and assistance for low-income commuters or those with mobility needs. Whether it’s a few times a month, twice a week, or every day, I encourage you to try out an alternative commute—the benefits might just surprise you!

If you are interested in exploring the world of sustainable transportation or elevating your current alternative commute, here are several upcoming events:

  • Commuter Challenge (April 1-May 31): Commute.org sponsors the annual Commuter Challenge, an opportunity for commuters in San Mateo County to win $250 when they pledge to take an alternative mode of transportation to get to work or college.
  • Earth Day (April 22): The week of the 22nd, there will be events centered around sustainability throughout the County. This is a great way to learn about sustainable habits. Check your local community center, employer newsletter, or media outlet to see what Earth Day events are being held near you.
  • Bike to Wherever Days (May 16-18): An extension of Bike to Work Day, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition will host a three-day-long event with energizer stations for commuters, swag, and a bike party. Pledge to ride and find an energizer station in your area.

Get inspired by watching Commute.org’s #mycommute reels of different local commutes.

Written by Isobel Readdie,

Sustainability Service Corps Fellow with Commute.org

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