Monday, August 08, 2005

BART is a peaceful, economic commute from Solano County

Article Launched: 08/07/2005 07:41:33 AM

BART is a peaceful, economic commute

By David Henson/Staff Writer

I hate driving to San Francisco and having to slalom across four lanes of accordion-style traffic with the morbid feeling that I'll never see my wife again.

And yet, until last week, I had never considered riding Bay Area mass transportation a legitimate option, using excuses like it's too time- consuming, too restrictive or too confusing.

But after a couple of co-workers and I tested three methods of commuting in a friendly race to downtown San Francisco, I'll gladly hand over my car keys next time I make the trip.

While it took me an hour and a half to travel by Vallejo bus and a BART train to Embarcadero Street,

I did something I have never done during any commute, regardless of its length.

I relaxed.

From our starting point at the Fairfield Transportation Center, I traveled stress-free on a bus bound for the El Cerrito del Norte BART station, feeling modestly superior as I looked out the window at lone motorists driving fossil-fuel-burning vehicles and with cell phones shoved in their ears.

I wasn't the only one on the bus enjoying a peaceful commute, either. The Route 90 express was half-full, with most passengers catching an extra 45 minutes of blissful sleep or quietly rustling through a newspaper. No one was teetering on the verge of road rage, straining to see which lane was moving the quickest or communicating through a series of rude hand gestures.

"I like this. It works for me, and I like the flexibility," said Abdullah Ahmed-Falol, a well-dressed Fairfield man and 10-year faithful mass transit commuter. "In the beginning, it was hard for me to give up my car. It was a mental thing. But once I switched, I didn't want it back."

Just before boarding the bus at the transportation center, Ahmed-Falol told me that he chooses public transportation over driving because it's easier and less expensive - at around $11 a day with a local monthly pass.

My commute was wonderfully uneventful, and all I had to do to survive my much-feared transfer to BART in El Cerrito was to harness my inner lemming. When in doubt, follow the crowd, since everyone's going in the same general direction - west. Of course, it nearly got me into trouble when I almost boarded the wrong BART train. But, it was a mistake easily corrected by asking someone dressed for office work in my best commuter voice which train went to SFO/Millbrae.

And if you happen to query someone like Earline Ahonima, of Vacaville, you might end up having a nice conversation while you wait for the correct train.

Ahonima told me she is a firm believer in mass transit, particularly for a culture with "too many damn cars." Still, she added, there are drawbacks, especially for Solano County commuters for whom mass transit often means less time at home. But that time is of better quality since she can spend her commute unwinding.

"It's easy, but it's very long," she said of her commute. "But it's a nice buffer zone for my day. I can have chill time on the bus."

With that, the BART train squealed into the station. I boarded and promptly tucked into a book of short stories and chilled. As I disembarked 45 minutes later, I decided that if I lost our friendly race to San Francisco, I wouldn't care one bit.

As it turns out, I arrived in second place, behind my colleague who drove his car. Of course, I spent less money and did less damage to the environment.

David Henson can be reached at

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Time: 1:30

Avg. Daily (with monthly pass): $11.40

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