Why I Don’t Take Public Transport

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The start of a multi-stop journey. Taking the kids to art camp during December in Glebe. The start of a very hot day despite the need for jackets in the early morning.

It’s  well documented that public transport and cars do not serve all women’s needs. When I was single and working in Manhattan as a junior banker, I took the train daily from my shared apartment to the office. I also took the bus. My journeys varied from 30 minutes to 45 minutes door-to-door. While working for a large investment bank, I had the luxury of taking a hire car home if I worked past 9pm. Everyone explained that taking the train home was an unsafe proposition late at night whether woman or man. I had a well-stocked local produce market to shop for groceries just a few blocks away. I walked home with my groceries.

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When my son was in pre-school, we had “Oma (mummy in Korean)-stay-home-days” as he called it, on Fridays. We used to go grocery shopping together to leave more time for fun on the weekends.

While on the train, I was groped once and had altercations with a few people in the often crowded trains. I bicycled to the office on the weekends when the traffic was lighter. Manhattan was surprising hilly. It was a wonderful ride especially through Central Park when I lived in the Upper East Side.

I moved to London in the late 90’s for work and again took public transport. I lived in Soho on Shaftesbury Avenue.  I was still single and walked my groceries home. Eventually, I bought a wheelie bag for comfort. In time, I hated taking the Tube to work which was expensive, dirty and inconsistent. The Jubilee line was under construction and was subject to constant delays and failures. The black that emerged from my nose was horrifying. As a consequence, I started taking the ferry from the Embankment to Canary Wharf where my office was based. Living with two flatmates who also worked in banking, we would sometimes share a black cab to the office in the early morning – a very civilised commute. A few times, I had alarming interactions with men on the Tube which required that I move carriages. I didn’t bicycle or drive in London because the traffic flow was opposite to what I was used to in the US. I didn’t trust my reaction in a stressful situation.

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I used to play tennis at Parklands Tennis when I first landed in Sydney in 2003. Now my children attend tennis camp there.

I moved to Sydney in 2003 for love. I met my husband in London and he suggested that I come to visit and then to stay. I was unable to work for a year as I had arrived on a tourist visa. I volunteered at the church where we were married and played tennis. I was told by many that it was only 10 minutes to the local tennis club. Forty-five minutes later on foot, I was livid. Ten minutes by car was the implicit understanding. This was my introduction to Sydney’s car culture and its public transport system.

I started taking the bus to tennis and to the city. The buses were late, early or didn’t stop at all. Few were air-conditioned or heated. I also took the train and the experience was neither enjoyable nor efficient. My husband had a car which we would use to go grocery shopping at the crowded Broadway Shopping Centre. Living in the inner-city we quickly discovered that having a car was a liability. Eventually, he sold it and we turned to car-share, public transport, walking and bicycles.

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This bus was stalled on Williams Street for awhile. Good thing that it was school holidays. I was on my way to the office after walking the kids and e-bike to school.

Fast forward fourteen years. Two children and one career change later, I rarely take public transport or a car. I have overheard mothers’ terrible-traffic-I’m-so-late conversations at the pool and tales of their parking troubles. Driving is a stressful experience in Sydney. As a mother, I understand why. Leaving the house with children in tow is difficult. The younger the child the more the parent has to do to escape from the grip of the house. Being on time for an appointment is also difficult. Getting everyone into the car + fighting with the traffic + finding and paying for parking = not fun/why bother leaving the house trauma.

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The next stop after dropping kids off at art day camp in Glebe was in Ultimo. I needed to try a sewing machine that I would hire for four weeks during December and January.  Temperature now about 32C.

A solution? My husband and I bought a cargo bike with electric motor boost to carry two children and an e-bike with child seat to carry one child.  The bicycle has saved us. We are both 20kg lighter than when we first met. We are less stressed during our journeys. We have more leisure time because we get things done efficiently by bicycle and are not stuck in traffic.

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My husband bringing home Christmas presents from Uncle Steve in San Francisco that were delivered to his office in the city.

Interestingly, speaking with my male and female friends, it’s clear that women and men’s trips vary greatly. I make several stops after dropping off kids and sometimes before picking them up. My husband does the same with his cargo bike which also has electric-motor conversion. It’s easy for both of us to make several stops; to buy bread on the way home, to go to a series of meeting around the city and to pick up kids. It’s possible to do so in a suit or dress and heels without getting too sweaty or needing to carry an extra set of clothes and/or shoes.

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While testing the sewing machine, I realised that I was making mistakes because I was hungry. Waiting for lunch in the air conditioned cafe. Not long after this, I would take the sewing machine home. In 35C, I would go back to Glebe from Surry Hills to pick up the kids. A 35km day!

The alternative by car poses another set of problems which we found uneconomic. Finding and paying for parking and parking fines, petrol, registration, insurance, delays. And by train is impossible. The trains do not facilitate carrying a weeks worth of groceries home to feed a family of four.  These days I usually have a little person or two who help load the cabin of our cargo bike and the lift at home. When the cabin is very full and I have two children with me, they are required to walk. Of course, they complain.  But once we are underway, the complaints disappear and they notice their surroundings and conversation begins.

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I made more of an effort to give my kids space to sit in the cargo bike when they were younger, smaller and weighed less. Not any more!

Because I regained my confidence on a cargo bike, this led me to riding an e-bike with my son in a seat behind me. My husband encouraged me to consider trying one because I had previously complained about hill starts on my hybrid Giant. It was always unnerving to have the front wheel lift with the extra child weight in the back. With the e-bike, I had no issues.  When my son’s weight became too great, we removed the seat and its’ mount. The e-bike became my go to bike for the hot and wet weather with its motor, excellent brakes and heavier weight.

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The second generation EZee Sprint that Omafiets Dutch Bicycles has loaned me while mine is still at large having been stolen 21 January.

Interested in trying an e-bike? How about joining me for the Gear-Up Girl ride Sunday 12 March? I’ll be a ride ambassador for Bicycle NSW this year. I’ll be on an e-bike.  For ladies who want to join me, there will be discounted admission, a separate start time and special treatment on the day. More details will be forthcoming about where to hire an e-bike for the day.

Happy Bicycling!

X Sarah

5 Comments

  1. ‘I was told by many that it was only 10 minutes to the local tennis club. Forty-five minutes later on foot, I was livid. Ten minutes by car was the implicit understanding.’

    It’s interesting to hear it put like that by an ‘outsider’ (as you were there) – and what a sad indictment of our car culture!

    I really hope your beloved bike turns up soon, Sarah – look forward to hearing more when you’re able to share…

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  2. I also doubt I could manage with a car, massive PITA on the odd chance I use one. I love just tipping everything into the cargobike and going. Also, #2 child makes such a bloody mess when he eats, glad it’s in the cargobike and not some pricey sedan 😀 It’s a shame the government by and large has made this proposition untenable to most suburban (and heck, most urban) Australians. It’s such a simple and enjoyable way to do things, they need to make the infrastructure/laws favourable for people to do it more easily.

    As for your panniers, as much as I love Ortlieb (always use them touring) I find them too overwrought for shopping. The Basil “route shopper” bags are brilliant, easy to use, attractive, and you don’t have to worry about leaving them on your bike. If you take them in, clip them on the shopping trolley 🙂
    The rigid sidewall design works really well.

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  3. Great to read about your transportation adventure and to see you moved to Australia in the same year I did!
    Me and my husband arrived with each a backpack and a bicycle! Now we have 3 bikes each and cycling is our main mode of transport combined with the train on wet winter days in Perth.
    I still resist the e-bike, as I love the exercise as well. Cycling to work (35km return) is my gym as well as mode of transport.

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