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RIDING THE BUS BRINGS SURPRISE BENEFITS

Riding the bus in Pinellas County is convenient, inexpensive, safe and fun. Since selling my Jeep six months ago, I have discovered new places to go, met a lot of new friends, gotten a lot of reading and homework done, and saved tons of money.

When I drove to work, the mall or the beach before, I had a one-track mind, just getting to my destination. Using the bus instead puts me into the community. I meet people from the neighborhood that I would not get the chance to chat with ordinarily in my rush to go somewhere.

Several of my classmates, co-workers and fellow volunteers also take the bus. Relaxing and letting the professionals do the driving lets us learn more about each other. "Oh, you live in this neighborhood too?" "What are you reading?" "Is that your son, he looks just like you."

Suddenly, people I see at the drugstore or at the coffee shops become a regular part of my life. I can't forget to mention the drivers; they are my new friends, too. I welcome the chance to break away from my self-occupied world.

Not only do I meet people, but I have found new places to eat, make copies, transfer photos to digital, get doughnuts, or, best of all, relax with a book and a cup of coffee. So many businesses are close to my home that I would never have noticed speeding past in my Jeep.

I had gotten stuck in a boring and familiar routine; now I have more choices.

I get a lot of homework done while sitting in the cool air-conditioning while someone else deals with the traffic. Avoiding traffic alone is a great reason to take the bus. During the summer when school was out, I got through War and Peace on the bus. Most of the time, the daily St. Petersburg Times is available on the bus. I get to talk to other people about the headlines while sharing sections with them. I can talk and text all I want on my cell phone without being a hazard behind the wheel.

I can get anywhere I want to go because the Pinellas County Suncoast Transit Authority buses go all over the county. The buses are reliable. There are times when they run behind, but that is to be expected on the longer routes, especially the Suncoast Beach Trolley during high tourist season. Learning patience can't be a bad thing.

The PSTA Web site has a convenient trip planner. If I am not sure which bus I need, I just put in the starting and ending address and it gives me all the details I need.

When I consider the $250 car payment, the $100 insurance payment, at least $100 cost of gas, along with the price of parking and repairs I used to have to pay, the $55 I pay each month for an unlimited ride pass is a bargain.

Many people qualify for discounts - seniors, students and the disabled. A single ride for a nondiscounted passenger is $1.75. It is almost always a better bargain to get the monthly pass, and it offers freedom to be on the go.

I feel good about going green. It is a tiny step, but if more people did it, there could be a big positive change. The environmental cost for the convenience of personal vehicles is growing. U.S. cities are falling behind in the trend toward removing cars from the road. Fewer cars means less noxious gases entering the air, less consumption of oil and gas, and less congestion on the road.

See you onboard.

Andrea M. Gilson is a senior at Eckerd College and a freelance writer specializing in travel.

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FAST FACTS

Know how to go

For complete fare and route information for Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses, visit www.psta.net or call the info line at (727) 540-1900.

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