On campus at UW, my daily commute to Grainger Hall takes takes 10 minutes by foot. In the middle of a harsh Wisconsin winter, it seems like the longest trek ever!
Before studying abroad, my only experience with public transportation had been hopping on the 80 bus line during a rainy day on campus or while visiting my sister in New York City. Frankly, I really disliked it! I always wondered how she did it… commuting at least 45 minutes to / from any dinner location or her workplace. My impression of the NYC subway was as a crowded and dirty place. I always thought I wanted to live in a city where I could drive myself to work in a car.
Since being abroad, I have gained a huge appreciation for public transportation.
Each city has its own way of doing it. Some systems are expensive, like London’s infamous Tube, and some are not regularly used, such as the system in Dublin. In Milan, it is necessary to utilize the metro and it’s such a blessing. I may be biased… but we have the best metro! It is inexpensive: €1.5 per ride, €8 for a 48 hour unlimited pass or €98 for 4 months. Your ticket allows you to choose between an underground metro, street car trams & buses depending on your preferences. We even have bikes! It is so awesome and so efficient.
The Milan Metro system (courtesy of Azienda Trasporti Milanesi)
I usually prefer the underground metro for speed and efficiency – but I often take a streetcar or bus on my way to class, which gets me the closest to campus.
When acclimating to a new city, one of the biggest challenges and learning curves is adapting to the public transit system; learning the best routes, stops, and the timing. I’ve had far too many heartbreaking moments, watching the bus pull away when I was just 15 feet from it– absolutely devastating! Now, catching the bus right as it pulls up to the stop is a little win I like to celebrate!
Despite its efficiencies, there are things to know when using public transportation of all kinds. Here, I’ll debrief some of the pointers I have learned about this intricate transit method.
A Metro station in Milano
How to Public Transportation: Tips
Plan your route. Timing is everything and Google Maps is the go-to. This mobile app knows exactly when your trams are arriving and updates in real time. If you see that the train is 5 stops away, 3 minutes out– you can plan to pick up your pace and make it to the stop.
Mind your belongings. ALWAYS have your phone and wallet in your hand or in a safe pocket, zipped. NEVER leave important items in an exterior hold on your backpack or back pocket of jeans. Crowded transportation lines are the number one spot for potential pickpocketing; it is of the utmost importance to be aware of your surroundings. When the trams are very crowded, many individuals even switch their backpacks to their front sides. It is a safe way to watch your things and minimize the space you are occupying.
Acknowledge others. If you notice someone is shifting toward the door preparing to hop off and it is not your stop, move around them as necessary. This helps ease the transition at stops. Likewise, prepare for your stop so you are not pushing through the crowd and getting trapped in the doors.
Give up your seat! If you notice someone with baggage, a child, or a senior citizen– offer your seat. I taught myself how to say “would you like to sit?” in Italian and I use the phrase often! You can make someone's day and be a kind person.
Be conscious of others. If talking on the phone, keep volume to a reasonable level and match the energy of the atmosphere around you. Say thank you to the driver.
Validate your ticket. This is something that changes depending on the mode of transportation you are using. Metro stations underground often require you to scan or tap in with your ticket or permanent pass. On street cars and buses, it is important to note and use a validation box to tap your pass or ticket. Failure to adequately validate your ticket can result in very steep fines. There are many individuals I know who have had €50 fine for forgetting to swipe or choosing to be sneaky.
An Appreciation for Public Transportation
Now, after studying abroad and utilizing public transportation to its maximum, I have truly developed a great appreciation for the system. This summer, I will be living in Chicago for my internship. I am excited to not need to use a car and instead have the opportunity to ride the El train. Commuting to the city will take 25-30 minutes a day, but it is going to show me just what it would be like to live there after graduation.
Ultimately, give it a chance! Public Transportation is great and can really surprise you. I still look forward to driving a car, but I know I won’t complain about that 10 minute walk to Grainger!