In case I hadn’t realized yet that the summer tourist season was upon us, a family in FBI hats decided to mow me over with their wheeled bags on the Metro a few days ago as a reminder. My big toe wasn’t all that happy about the turn of events, but otherwise, I can’t complain.
It’s terrific for tourists to be on public transportation. When they’re riding trains and buses, they’re polluting less, leaving more parking spaces open and — most critically — only getting into suitcase accidents rather than the automobile kind. Considering how many local drivers pull stupid stunts, I don’t even want to think about what would happen if every out-of-towner showed up behind the wheel of a rental car.
So I cheered the results of the new “Travel Like a Local” survey from the American Public Transit Association: Nearly 60 percent of folks planning a trip to another U.S. city this summer plan to rely on transit while they’re there. Apparently, the driving forces behind that decision are cost and convenience. Of the group opting for transit, 59 percent don’t want to drive around unfamiliar cities, 45 percent want to make their vacations more affordable and 28 percent are doing it “for the fun of it.”
Count me in on all three categories, especially that last one. Whenever I travel, I schedule in time to explore the city’s transit system. Like the name of the survey implies, there’s no better way to get a glimpse of real life than by seeing how people get around.
It can completely change your perspective on a place. Last summer, I was in downtown L.A. for a week and got around exclusively by transit, which I never imagined would be so easy and awesome. And even if it had sucked, how bad can a long wait for a bus be when the weather is perfect every day?
It’s also a chance to see things that I wish were done in Washington — and things I’m glad are not. When I was in Boston last weekend, I took the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit from the airport for the first time and was not impressed by the really confusing signage, the bunching (even with dedicated lanes) and a circuitous route that took us to one stop twice before we arrived at our destination.
It made me think tourists are going to be quite pleased with what they find in D.C. this summer, which makes me feel good from my head to … well, nine of my toes.
If you’re a traveling transit user, sign up before Sept. 3 at Facebook.com/Publictransportation for the “Travel Like a Local” contest. To enter, just say where you’re headed — you’ll get a reminder a few days before your trip to choose transit. Randomly selected winners will snag three $100 gift cards and two $500 travel vouchers.