A driver abandons his car (gasp!) and discovers the
simple joys of public transit. By Harvey Chipkin
The number 34 bus pulled up to the stop at Prospect Avenue and Lotus Street in Bloomfield. I climbed the steps, dropped four
quarters and a dime into the farebox
and asked the driver for a transfer.
Taking a seat, I checked my NJ Transit
app to see when my connecting 28 bus
would arrive at Bloomfield Avenue and
Municipal Plaza. It was five minutes
away. Perfect timing.
It hadn’t taken me long after I
stopped driving to become a skilled
user of NJ Transit’s bus system. In fact,
I didn’t drive for 14 months, a period
that ended early last summer. I had
multiple reasons for going auto-free:
my background (a Manhattanite and a
non-driver until my 20s); my driving
record (several incidents, most recently
the ramming of my backyard fence);
and a deep-seated aversion to com-
manding a 2,800-pound machine (even
if it’s just a little old 2004 Corolla).
Friends and neighbors peppered
me with questions. “How do you shop
for groceries?” “What do you do for
lunch?” And just plain, “Really?” This
was no surprise. When you live in
suburban New Jersey and own a car,
it’s pretty unusual not to drive that
car. But I quickly discovered that NJ
Transit buses are efficient and, com-
pared to driving, an easy ride. The 92
or 34 bus—both stop about four blocks
from my house—took me to Bloom-
field Center, where I could transfer to
get to the Y, doctor appointments and
other local destinations. I made weekly
grocery-shopping trips with my wife
at the wheel. For my frequent trips to
Manhattan for business or pleasure, I
For a while, I enjoyed it. Mastering
public transit can deliver a sense of
triumph. I got satisfaction out of well-
timed transfers and being dropped off
in front of the Y with no need to park.
I was glad to be going green. My fellow
passengers—those who perhaps didn’t
own cars—were probably feeling less
triumphant. Unlike me, they might not
have had the option of paying for an
Uber when it was raining (usually a fare
of $5 to $8, as opposed to the senior bus
fare of 75 cents for one zone, $1.10 when
I transferred—a good deal).
In many ways, the bus life was sim-
Finally, I recovered from the trauma
pler. The NJ Transit app showed me
when buses would be arriving; if it was
going to be a while, I had the option of
walking or digitally hailing an Uber.
Another plus: Bus riders seemed
kinder and more considerate than most
drivers. White haired, I was regularly
offered a seat. Bus operators were gen-
erally polite, considering the traffic and
the rider hassles they have to endure.
Even bus stops could turn into social
gatherings as riders commiserated
about their commute, the weather and
the state of the world.
More good news: I don’t wear a Fit-
bit, but there’s no question that walking
to bus stops, I got a lot more exercise.
So why am I driving again? I found
myself coming home late from New
York on a regular basis. Those midnight
walks home from the train station
seemed endless. And the closing of
a nearby convenience store, where I
could walk for a carton of milk or my
afternoon ice cream sandwich, left me
feeling more isolated.
of the fence busting.
On the weekend of July 4, I told
my wife it was time for me to get back
behind the wheel. And with just a little
trepidation, I did—driving first on local streets, then the highway. I’m still
not crazy about driving, but I’m not
prepared to go back to mass transit on a
regular basis. Here’s hoping they work
the kinks out of that driverless car.
Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer. He
has lived in Bloomfield for more than 25
years—and has driven for most of them.