Before returning to the United States a little over a year ago, I spent three years living and working in China and Southeast Asia. I sold just about everything, including my car, and boarded a plane bound for Shanghai with 100 pounds of luggage, ready for a new adventure. Besides questions about food, the question I received most from friends at home was "how do you get around in these third world countries"? My answer? Rongyi! That means easy in Chinese!
China Rain Network Timetable
China has an amazing network of high-speed trains, subways, and busses, all with mobile apps in English and easy pre-pay cards that made getting around a snap. And if I couldn't get there via public transport, I rode my bike along the wide bike paths, furiously ringing my bell Chinese-style, or jumped in an affordable taxi.
The Fast Train from Beijing to Shanghai
Chinese Train Ticket
Taxis, taxis everywhere!
My second home base, Bangkok, also has a plethora of transportation options. Whether you want to travel in the sky via the Sky Train, underground via the Metro, or by bus, boat, tuk-tuk, motorcycle taxi, or regular taxi, getting around this amazing city is simple.
I also spent a significant amount of time in Vietnam where practically the entire country travels via motorbike. Rarely do you see crosswalks or a break in the traffic to cross the street and pedestrians definitely don't have the right of way. Instead, you simply walk into oncoming traffic and it "magically" swerves around you. It takes a while to get used to but once you lose the fear, it's a lot easier than crossing Kennedy Boulevard, where there are also long stretches of blocks without crosswalks, any time of the day.
Rush hour in Hanoi, Vietnam
When I repatriated, I must admit it was wonderful, but also a bit foreign, to have my own wheels again. I lived in a walkable neighborhood in Atlanta so I was still able to ditch the car and walk to restaurants, shopping, bars, parks, and a nearby MARTA stop that whizzed me to the Southwest check in counter at Hartsfield in 16 minutes flat. In February, I came back to my hometown of Tampa and that's when my reliance on my wheels kicked in again.
While I love Tampa to the bottom of my heart and soul, we have a long way to go in the public transportation department. Even though I've never really liked to drive, it wasn't really a problem because I could always call Uber or Lyft if I needed someone else to take the wheel for an evening. And then this happened:
My happy-go-lucky girl around town self had surgery and lost her wheels for 8 weeks. That means no driving to the office, the grocery store, Trader Joe's, my packed event calendar, doctor appointments, physical therapy or those thousands of errands that always seem to pile up. The first couple of weeks weren't so bad, I was working from home, had good ride karma supplemented by Lyft and had stocked up on all the essentials. But as the weeks crawled by, things got harder and harder. My workload increased, my events picked up, I started running out of everything and had to get to physical therapy three times a week. While I love using Lyft, it really starts to add up when it's your primary source of transport.
I needed another alternative so I consulted 813area's Man About Town, Jeff Zampitella, otherwise known as @MySkypoint on Twitter, for some help. He asked me to give him two places I travel to the most: CoWorkTampa which is seven minutes from my house via car and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa which is about 15 minutes from my house via car depending on traffic.
Jeff looked up the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority (HART) bus routes for me and this is what he found for CoWork Tampa:
Not too bad, 23 minutes on one bus versus 7 minutes by car BUT 12 of those 23 minutes are spent walking, almost half the time and in the beginning of my surgical adventure, I wasn't exactly up for long walks, especially with my own personal heater around my neck.
Next we checked out getting to the casino, here's what we found:
This one is a whole different story, 14 minutes walking, 2 buses for a total travel time of 1 hour and 27 minutes for a normal 15 minute car journey. And considering I usually go there at night, this is something I'm not exactly comfortable doing in the wee evening hours. I'll leave this journey to Lyft.
But all is not lost. Luckily, I live close to Kennedy Boulevard and stumbled onto route 30 which gets me to International Plaza for shopping and Downtown Tampa for physical therapy and fun, as long as I don't get killed crossing the street first. And once I get downtown, it's easy to connect with the Streetcar and head into Ybor City.
While it's strange that I find it slightly easier to plan my trips and travel on public transportation in Asia, HART's online travel planner and mobile app One Bus Away have helped me plan my routes and times, especially when I have to make it to an appointment.
But, in the end, transportation in this town needs a lot of work. While this has been the subject of countless government agendas, news articles, town forums and social media rants, we still haven't made it too far. Yes, I LOVE the Riverwalk but this isn't exactly useful for my day to day transportation needs. How fabulous would it be to hop a train from downtown to the Airport or St. Pete! Or to have a real way to get around South Tampa via public transportation.
What say you Tampa? What's the best way to fix our public transportation needs? Is it really more freeways? Or is there a better way? Let us know in the comments below.
Until then, I'll continue to be #StrandedInTheCity.