A year ago, if you'd asked me to trade the comfort of my car for a crowded train ride to work, you'd have needed a crow bar to pry my hands from their vice-like grip on my steering wheel.
I'd taken Toronto public transit when I was a student. It was a fine way to get around – if you didn't have any other choice.
As a suburban working mom, however, my time was precious, and I needed the convenience of driving. Sure, I burned through a lot of gas on my daily 76-kilometre round trip, but there were payoffs. Getting home early meant no daycare and no mad rush to get through homework and dinner.
Of course, I had to go to great lengths to avoid traffic. I volunteered for the insanely early shift, tiptoeing out of my house just before 5:30 a.m. each day to avoid the rush-hour congestion that would double my half-hour commute time, or triple it if a few flakes fell. (Toronto doesn't deal well with snow. Remember Mel Lastman?)
While the drive in was a breeze, the trek back was more like a fierce headwind. In Toronto, rush hour lasts most of the day, and idling on the Don Valley Parking Lot made returning home a daily guilt trip.
Sitting in traffic was stressful, both for me and my Kia Rondo. The day I hit 100,000 clicks on my four-year-old vehicle – and was slapped with a $1,000 maintenance bill – I finally acknowledged that driving was costing me more than I cared to admit. Maybe it was time to give public transit a rethink.
My schedule proved to be a hurdle: Transit in my neighbourhood didn't run early enough to get me to the office on time, so I'd need to adjust my workday. I wasn't sure what to expect when I pitched my plan to my boss, but was delighted to learn she was fully supportive. We ironed out a more flexible schedule that would allow me to start my workday from home, catch the train and still make school pickups.
That was me a year ago. Today, I'm happy with my decision to quit driving to work, but there are things I miss.
For starters, climate control: I couldn't have picked a worse winter to leave the car at home. Who can forget the polar vortex, with its minus-50 wind chills and frost quakes? For months, I had to wear a snowsuit to work, scarf up over my nose, hat down to my eyebrows .
Also, I had to put away my impractical shoes, bags and coats. I'm all about arch support, backpacks and down-filled parkas now.
I miss the alone time my car provided. On the train, I'm always within sneezing distance of someone who might decide to kick off their shoes, hog the seats or talk loudly on their phone. On the other hand, I'm now free to catch up on e-mail or watch a show during my commute.
There are certainly things I won't miss about driving downtown, like the constant road repairs and the traffic that moves slower than an old lady walking through wet cement.
I also won't miss the weight I've lost since I started walking to the train station every day. Ditto for spending extra money on gas (about $200 a month) and parking (another $200). I even knocked $6 a month off my insurance. Transit costs me about $220 a month and qualifies for a tax credit. Also, less driving means fewer maintenance expenses.
I can live without the guilt, as well. Now that I'm a backpacking transit user, I can hold my head high as I walk past snarls of disgruntled drivers. I wonder what it would take to pry them loose from their cars? Perhaps I can offer them a crow bar.
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