Conservation tip: carry a book with you

Written by adam


In the midst of this interesting back and forth about public transportation, Michael O’Hare offers an easily overlooked tip for ensuring that you never have to wait a single moment for a train or a bus: carry a book with you at all times.

The essence of waiting is doing nothing while you sit in anticipation of some event. Waiting sucks. No one likes waiting, which is one reason why many people prefer cars to public transportation.

But if you’ve got a good book, you’re never waiting. You’re reading. While this might seem an obvious point, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. As a frequent subway rider, I can say from experience that a good book will almost magically shrink your commute time to zero. It is not at all uncommon for me to be disappointed when I finally reach my destination, because it means pulling my nose out of my reading.

Perhaps you prefer other diversions. Maybe you’re a crossword puzzler or a sudoku fan. I’m a bit suspicious of these activities, actually. However enjoyable you find them, they seem like time-fillers. They may make your wait more bearable, in much the way that radio makes your drive more bearable, but you’re still killing time. A good book offers just a whole different kind of enjoyment. But others may disagree.

This points up one of the larger problems with the supposed convenience of driving. Driving does move you around more quickly, but time spent in the car is guaranteed dead time (unless you’re on your phone, which you shouldn’t be). By using a book to eliminate the dead time from public transport, you shift the convenience equation considerably.

A related logic applies to bicycling and walking vs. driving. Bicycling and walking both generally take longer than driving, and so could be considered less convenient. But such a comparison ignores the fact that bicycling and walking are both inherently enjoyable leisure activities. Consider that every time you get on your bike or walk, you’re actually multi-tasking: exercising, recreating, and getting from point A to point B.

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  1. Aaron A.

    I think that the inconvenience argument against public transportation is just a cover. Honestly, I don’t think most of us even consider public transportation an option once we’re old enough to drive. It means waiting on somebody else to drive us around, and we can’t afford to waste time, what with our busy lifestyles. We have to get straight home to microwave dinner and spend three hours in front of the television.

  2. Katherine

    Great post, and so timely; I was just looking for a place to ask you/TerraPass if you have a reading list on climate change/the regulatory space/carbon trading. Any must-reads? I’m looking for recent releases and overviews, everything.

  3. Marcia

    Here, here. While I live in an suburban area that has no public transportation available, I do use my bike to run as many errands as possible as well as to commute thirteen miles for work. Hey, it keeps my wallet fatter and my waistline trimmer…a no-brainer if you ask me, and yes, it is much more enjoyable than fighting traffic in a car!

  4. BarbaraL in OK

    I highly recommend small knitting projects as a very enjoyable alternative.

  5. Sustainable Radio Diva

    Excellent perspective. I also take ‘waiting’ times as opportunities to do a couple of other things that help make the time spent feel more worthwhile. 1) I pay attention to those around me and verbally or silently offer calm and gentle support to those that are extremely stressed – generally being a positive source in often difficult or frustrating circumstances; 2) I also find these times surprisingly good for brief meditations or just quiet inward moments to get centered, which can help in the midst of chaotic or busy surroundings.

  6. A. L.

    I only wish I could. I have about a 25 minute drive to work with no public transportation available. I’ve considered biking, but I’d have a long trip and end up sweaty by the time I got to work (no showers). I live in a small town the a little removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, which I very much enjoy, but I’ve got at least a 15 minute drive to almost anywhere. I know there’s not much of a true solution, but it makes me sad every time I read articles like this and I try and think if there are any viable alternatives for someone like me.

  7. Sorina

    Great article, Adam! It is so puzzling to me when I see people on the subway just staring into the void…..waiting….I agree that a good book is the way to go. Right now I’m reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. Other books on my “commute” reading list are “When the rivers run dry : water, the defining crisis of the twenty-first century” by Fred Pearce, and “The weather makers : how man is changing the climate and what it means for life on Earth” by Tim Flannery.

    For people like A.L. who live in the “island” suburbs, it’s a tough one. Aside from moving to a place where you’re within walking distance of your day-to-day errands (even if you still commute to work), I’m sure there are other options. Of course, your “no showers” excuse is not much of an issue for not biking to work (bring a change of clothes, wet wipes, etc). Plus, you’d get a a great workout. Just make sure you’re safe safe. Try a practice run during the weekend, to get used to it and see how it feels. It might not be as bad as it seems.

  8. Marge

    I agree, Adam. As an avid reader, I have spent many commuting hours on subways and buses reading good books. Getting involved in an intersting story, biography, or other book makes the time fly.
    Not that I want to encourage more car use, but I do find that audio books help me to get through many long trips or traffic jams without raising my blood pressure.

  9. Lisa in San Jose

    My mantra with my now teenage boys has always been – “You’ll never be bored if you have a book.” They are now both avid readers (the need to avoid boredom is a powerful incentive for kids) and my older son happily takes the bus home from school every day. He even walks places while reading (hoping that other walkers, cyclists and cars will avoid him, no doubt.) Give a man a book, and he’ll not be bored for a day…teach a man to love to read, and he’ll not be bored for a lifetime.

  10. Bridget

    I really like listening to audio books on my ipod: with a total of three hours spent on a bus each day to get to my downtown research job last summer, I got through 7 books: not bad, and no motion sickness to speak of.

  11. Anonymous

    And there are also those of us who just like the time to stare into space without feeling like we’re being lazy! I can’t read on the bus (the only public alternative whre I live) because it makes me motion sick. But I kinda like the built in down time. Driving isn’t downtime in the same way.

  12. Marthajoy

    Be careful which books you choose to read or listen to–I thought I had a perfectly “safe” book and suddenly was listening to a very racy sex scene, not something I would have chosen to hear in a public setting!

  13. Jody

    Another vote for biking or walking is the health consideration. I read in an article awhile back (may have been here, might have been in Slate) that Americans are on average about 30 pounds overweight. And in addition to personal health problems that extra weight means more gas burned in vehicles.
    So it stands to reason once you’ve bike or walk-commuted for awhile you’ll be more carbon-friendly when you find you do have to drive somewhere.

    Are there stickers or buttons available (like TerraPass bumper stickers) for bikers or users of public transportation so we can promote the message of carbon-friendly commuting?

  14. Adam Stein

    Nope — but there probably should be.

  15. Daphne

    I always carry crossword puzzles; they are small and fit in a pocket or the daily newspaper.

  16. Jodi

    I live in an average sized city that has a decent bus system. However, the only people I see using it is the working poor and the mentally ill. The bus rolls by my house at all times of the day and night with 2 to 6 people on this vehicle the size of a tractor trailer. I often wonder if this is the best my city can do with encouraging people to use the transit system that it might be more environmently friendly to send each of those people their own private cab. Does anyone have any idea how much fuel a bus uses in comparasion to car? I was just wondering.

  17. Richard Senior

    I commute to work on my bicycle, though I would tend to disagree that “bicycling and walking are both inherently enjoyable leisure activities”. Especially when it’s raining. But, by listening to podcasts and audiobooks on my iPod, I find I can learn or be entertained while pedalling. I used to listen to music, but the spoken word is a lot safer, as you can hear the lorries and buses as they get closer. It’s a lot cheaper, more environmentally friendly than any other form of transport, plus you get a free work out. Also, the excercise gets your body and brain moving, so you’re on the ball when you get to work. A win – win, if ever I heard one.

  18. Phil in Lakewood

    I liked Sustainable Radio Diva’s comment: the hardest thing for many of us to to do is nothing — but it’s often the most beneficial. Taking some time to just sit with ourselves our look around at the world can be good both for us and the people that we come in contact with.