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At a meeting this summer, some of our teen writers mentioned that they wanted to use public transportation to help the environment, but that it was hard to get around the city on the bus. So we challenged them to go a week without riding in a car. That meant no driving or rides from parents or friends. They had to use the bus, train, a bike or their feet to get where they wanted to go. Here are three teens’ experiences getting around Los Angeles without polluting as much. If you want to take the bus, go to to look up bus routes and plan your trip.

As a first-time bus rider, the experience was easier than I thought

By Alana Folsom, 16, Marshall HS

Day 1

My Los Angeles exists in a 10-mile radius around my house, which is a little northeast of Dodger Stadium. For this challenge, I confined my world to places I could get to on the 176 and the 780 buses, along with the Red Line subway and Gold Line train, roughly from Pasadena to downtown.

The last time I had tried to ride a bus, I waited at the bus stop at the bottom of my street for an hour before I gave up. When I went online, I learned that the 176 bus didn’t run on weekends. No wonder the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is so unpopular.

This time, when I trekked down to the stop I had timetables, maps and $3 (it’s $5 now) for a day pass, which lets you ride any bus or subway in the MTA system all day. I feared that I would get lost and end up in some foreign place. The bus driver eyed me suspiciously as I nervously smiled at him and sat down. The bus was seven minutes late.

I took the 176 to the Gold Line’s Highland Park Station feeling a sense of accomplishment. Then I rode the Gold Line to Union Station, caught the Red Line to Vermont and Wilshire and got off. I walked about two blocks and met my friends, albeit 20 minutes late, at Machos Tacos. I could have gotten to Machos in about 10 minutes from my house by driving. Instead it took nearly an hour by bus and train.

Day 2
The voyage to my clarinet lesson posed a major threat to “Operation Transportation” (my code name for the no-car challenge). First, my mom got mad at me when I insisted that I take the bus, and second, because it was out of my 10-mile radius. Once again equipped with my maps and timetables, as well as better walking shoes (ballet flats may be stylish, but, man, they didn’t bode well for long-distance traveling), I hopped on the trusty 176, and smiled at the bus driver, thinking he would recognize me from earlier. Wrong.

I took the Gold Line and transferred to the 91 bus, which I took to Foothill Boulevard. I thought the bus driver would announce each upcoming stop like they do on the train, but there were no announcements. Do I tell him where I need to get off, brave the stare and maybe him laughing at me? Or do I sit here and hope that I will recognize whatever I see out the window? Embarrassed, I walked to the front and told him. He was really nice and dropped me off right at my lesson.

Day 3
I took the 176 to the Gold Line to meet my friend for lunch downtown at Olvera Street. Surprisingly, I got there 10 minutes early. After lunch I walked back to Union Station and tried to find the Gold Line. I saw the trains to Santa Barbara, but the Gold Line seemed like Platform 9 ¾—accessible only to wizards in Harry Potter’s world. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. I wandered, going down random tunnels bustling with people. I finally found the right tunnel, but it was about 30 minutes and a panic attack later.

Day 4
While waiting for the Red Line someone asked me for directions. Unfortunately, 10 minutes later I realized that I had given her the wrong information and the automated voice was announcing stops for a different line, the Purple Line. I didn’t know there was a Purple Line. I got off and found that the Red and Purple lines had split three stops ago. I backtracked and tried to find the Red Line in vain; there was no one to ask and no signs. I asked a janitor and he led me down a set of stairs I hadn’t noticed before to an underground floor.

While I was waiting for the correct train to arrive, a woman started yelling at me about how Jesus ate his brothers and how since my shoes were black, I was black. Finally a woman sitting near me told her to leave. I finally got on the train.

Day 5
After spending all day cooped up, my mom came home and told me we had to be at my school in 10 minutes for an awards ceremony. We didn’t have time to ride the bus, so I got in the car, reluctantly, and rode to school. Cars are good for one thing: they can get you where you want to go fast.

In retrospect, the bus wasn’t as bad as I envisioned it. Now I know that, if time is flexible, which it usually is for me and my friends, the bus is an option.

I even got my parents to take the bus

By Emily Clarke, 14, Palisades Charter HS

Day 1
When I heard about the no-car challenge, I pictured myself exploring the city, jumping on buses as they flew past and getting to know the bus system like the back of my hand.

In reality, I traveled within a six-mile radius of my house in West Los Angeles. The bus carried me to places within Santa Monica and Westwood where my parents usually drove me or I had taken the bus to before, but never new places. Still, it was interesting thanks to random moments, like on the first day when a man grabbed the strap I was holding onto. He didn’t appear to care that he was practically holding my hand, or that my armpit was near his face, but I did. So I let go and planted both feet on the floor, though not without swaying at stops and starts.

Day 2
My dad and I walked home from UCLA, his workplace. That was really fun. We talked about my great-great grandparents and what they were like. He told me that my grandpa’s grandpa kept locks of his wife’s hair because he wanted to hold séances. Still, I learned that flip-flops might not be best for a three-mile walk.

Day 3
The first few days were easy. But on the third day, I planned to go to a memorial service for my cousin’s grandmother in Whittier, but my parents told me transferring buses in downtown L.A. was unsafe. I used the “Girl Power!” argument, the “I’ve Got to See For Myself” argument, the “What Does That Say About Our Bus System And City” argument, and eventually fell into the “This Is So Unfair!” yell. My parents also said things wouldn’t change when the week was up, that I’d just go back to riding in cars. Maybe if I were a black belt in karate, they would have let me take the bus.

Day 9
Because I had failed on day three, I kept the challenge going for a couple more days after the week was over. On the ninth day, I got on the 720 bus to go to UCLA, turned my iPod up and opened Crime and Punishment. Small tip: Never, ever, get on a bus when you’re not paying attention. You will miss your stop. (Also, don’t sit next to someone who looks sleepy. They will slump in your direction and at one point their nose will be two inches from your thigh.)

I got off at the next stop and called my dad. A man walked by, motioning for a smoke (I’m not sure he was asking for the legal kind). I felt a little disconcerted. My dad told me I just had to cross a couple streets and take the bus in the opposite direction, until I hit the Westwood stop. Back on the bus, I was worried I’d miss my stop again and go too far in the other direction. Fortunately, 10 tense minutes later, I was on familiar ground.

The public transportation system is a wonderful service. The buses are usually on time, the drivers friendly and bus stops marked clearly. I advise using to find out which buses you need to take and then looking up the intersections on Mapquest, because the map on is too small.

Driving may be the only option for some trips right now, but we can definitely cut down on greenhouse gas emissions if we ditch cars for the common trips. My parents now take the bus together to and from work. My family hasn’t given up cars completely—I failed again because I wanted to go to Ralphs with my mom and she was planning on buying a 50-pound bag of charcoal. I still think we should have taken a shopping cart and walked it home.

I went all the way to Pomona, no problem!



Victorino Martinez, 18, Daniel Murphy Catholic HS (2007 graduate)

Day 1
The bus has been my main means of transportation for the past few years. I’d go from my house near USC, just south of downtown, to my old school near The Grove (seven miles), to my girlfriend’s house in Beverly Hills, to Santa Monica and even to Pasadena (which takes one bus and two trains). Starting the no-car challenge, I thought it would be easy even though I had to go 30 miles to my college, Cal Poly Pomona, to turn in some paperwork. The bus ride took an hour and 35 minutes to get there and about two hours on the way back. I spent $4.80 on bus fare, which was a lot cheaper and easier than driving. I’ll be making this trip to Pomona two to four times a week in the fall. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

Day 2
I had to go to L.A. Youth. I’ve made this trip more than 100 times. It’s easy and relaxing.

Day 3
It’s hard to keep up with the challenge when you have an upcoming trip out of the country. My mom needed to go to Target and she wanted me to accompany her. We couldn’t take the bus since we had to buy kitty litter and large gifts for our trip to visit family in Mexico. I was sad that I had to break the challenge.

Day 4
I had to help my mom at her office. We could drive or walk, since it’s about a 15-minute walk from our house. We decided to walk. It was good exercise and we even ate out near her office, which we usually don’t do. Later I took the bus to my girlfriend’s house, which took about an hour. I arrived around 5 p.m. and we walked to the Beverly Center from her house (about 20 minutes). Even though it was a busy day, I had no problem taking the bus and walking to all of these places; it’s easier since you don’t have to worry about finding a ride.

Day 5
The last day of my no-car challenge. I was stuck home all day. The challenge taught me that the bus is more than just my transportation—it’s also eco-friendly. It saves gas and protects the environment! Sometimes you have to drive, like for supermarket shopping or carrying big things. But the bus can get you to most places you need to go.

I learned how much we depend on cars, but I still liked going car free

By Sylvana Insua-Rieger, 16, Beverly Hills HS
This challenge really was a challenge. But to prove to myself that I could sacrifice for the environment, I did my best to stick with the plan.
During the last couple years, I’ve gotten used to taking the bus, mostly alone. After school I usually take the bus home from school, and sometimes on weekends when I go out. So the first two days were pretty easy. I took the bus to my summer school class, walked to the mall (about four blocks) afterwards, and then bussed home. The bus rides never took more than 20 minutes and since I started the challenge on a weekday, the buses ran often and I didn’t have to wait at stops very long.
But by the third day, I got frustrated. I started to miss being able to go anywhere (like the Hollywood mountains, or to Teen Line where I volunteer, or to the Westside Pavilion). I was forced to be prudent about carrying things, even important stuff, like my notebook to study with. After only three days of car restriction, I realized how much I depend on my family’s unglamorous 90s Toyota Tercel.
I slipped up on the fourth day. While getting ready for school, I looked at the clock and I was already 20 minutes late and nowhere near ready to leave. I knew that if I took the bus I’d arrive almost an hour late, and since the class is only two hours long, I asked my mom to drive me. I felt guilty about riding in a car but it felt good to be in the passenger’s seat again.
From the fifth day on it wasn’t too bad. There were times (like in the morning before summer school) when I wished my mom could drive me, but I knew I had only a few days left. Some friends offered to drive me to go out a few times, and I had to turn them down and walk to closer places with them instead, like to café near home rather than a movie theater farther away. They thought I was crazy to go without using a car for a week.
My biggest challenge was having to consider bus/walking times in my schedule. I didn’t like having to start 30 minutes earlier in case the bus wasn’t running on time or had lots of stops. I went to a concert at the Troubador with my friend, and she agreed to walk the 1.1-mile walk with me. The first band came on at 7, so we had to leave the house around 5 just to make sure we wouldn’t miss it. I felt like I couldn’t be spontaneous because my ideas (concerts, lunch, beach) could easily be ruined by a stupid transportation delay. I had to rule out destinations that are too far to be reached by bus, like hiking paths in the Hollywood mountains.
I figured that walking is healthier for my body and the world, and I don’t mind taking the bus because I get to meet really interesting people. My favorite was a man who said he was on a journey across America, and asked me about school and what my favorite subject is. He told me about invisible creatures who watch over the world, and now that he talked to me they knew about me, too. He had a block of wood that he said looked like a different animal at each angle, which, oddly enough looked to me like a parrot, jaguar, woman, baby, snake, and so many other animals when he turned it. I was creeped out by him but also respected what he said about how unfortunate it is that people don’t live in the moment.
Also, being on the bus is, for some reason, a good place for me to be creative. I’ve written a lot of poetry on the bus. A man with tattooed arms and a cane sat in front of me, and I scribbled a poem in my school notebook about his youth wasting away, so he now depends on the wooden cane for support. I imagined that the watch he wore on his hairy arm ruled his life, and that he never lets loose to stop worrying about time. I’m not surprised J.K. Rowling wrote her first draft for Harry Potter on the train—public transportation can be an awesome place to collect thoughts and observe potential characters in a natural state.
I’m passionate about nature and making simple lifestyle changes to help our environment; I’ve chosen public transportation or walking/biking/rollerblading over a car ride before, but the strictness of L.A. Youth’s challenge pushed me to really be committed for a set number of days.
On the last day of the challenge, I felt like I could finally return from my “vehicle withdrawal.” Strangely, the first day of my renewed car freedom wasn’t as exciting as I imagined. Once the opportunities arose, choosing a car over a greener alternative became less appealing. Why sit in the lonely passenger’s seat when I could choose any free seat I wanted on a bus? Why listen to the car radio when I could watch the news, or even cooking and gardening shows, on a Rapid?

Throughout the experience, I began to realize that I hadn’t fully appreciated car rides. I never acknowledged how much I depend on cars, or how much they add to my life (or rather, how much time they save). Since the challenge, I’ve been using cars less often, but almost always daily. I walk whenever I can, and am considering experimenting with the subway. I’m not in love with cars, but, especially after the challenge, I see how much they make my life miles (and gallons) easier.

Click here to read Se’s story about why global warming matters to him and why he thinks everyone, including other teens, should care.

Click here to read the story about cleaning up the beach in Venice.