I stand on Sacramento Street in Lodi with my thumb outstretched, trying to hitch a ride home. Two dozen cars pass me by. No one even slows. One driver sticks his thumb right back at me.
It's only 15 minutes. But this desperate and lonely experience stays with me.
It's part of the week I spent without a car in Lodi and Galt; a News-Sentinel experiment last month to test local transit options in this time of skyrocketing gas prices.
From the outset, I imagined a fun and novel challenge.
I would ride Lodi's comfortable GrapeLine buses, explore the area by foot, bike, train, taxi … the options seemed endless.
I'd save a few bucks on gas, and some wear on the environment too, right?
The reality wasn't so chipper.
It was a mad-scramble week, deciphering bus schedules, tending to sore feet and thighs, and missing a long-scheduled doctor's appointment because of a transit mishap.
As for saving money? It didn't happen.
$27: Cost for bus, Dial-A-Ride and taxi fares for the week.
12: Miles biked to and from work Tuesday and Wednesday.
6: Number of buses ridden during the week.
5: Number of pounds I lost during the week.
3.5: Miles walked to work Monday morning.
2: Times my wife drove me during week.
1: Doctor's appointments missed.
0: Miles I drove.
- News-Sentinel staff
The financial cost of driving, at a glance
Drivers will pay an average of $8,121 to own and operate a new car in 2008, according to an April report.
That assumes one drives 15,000 miles during the year. It's the average cost for five top-selling sedans, in three size classes: small, medium and large.
The total cost is up nearly $300 from last year.
The average cost per mile is estimated at 54.1 cents, up 1.9 cents from 2007.
Of course, the report was calculated well before gas broke the $4 per gallon barrier.
It used a $2.94-per-gallon national average from late 2007.
Source: American Automobile Association
Local transit services and contact info
- Lodi GrapeLine: The city's fixed-route and Dial-A-Ride bus system; fixed-route fares are $1 each way for the general public and $0.50 for seniors, disabled residents and Medicare recipients. Dial-A-Ride reservations made the day before cost $5 each way for the general public and $1.50 for seniors, disabled residents and Medicare recipients. Fares for same-day Dial-A-Ride pickups doubled June 1. Call (209) 333-6806 or visit www.lodi.gov/transit for routes and schedules.
- South County Transit: A regional fixed-route bus system that serves Lodi, Galt, Elk Grove and Sacramento. Fares for the general public are $2 each way for each city-to-city connection. Fares start at $1.50 each way per connection for seniors and disabled residents. Galt fixed-route and Dial-A-Ride services are also offered. Call (209) 745-3052 or (800) 338-8676, or visit www.sctlink.com.
- San Joaquin Regional Transit: A fixed-route and Dial-A-Ride bus service serving communities throughout San Joaquin County. The service can pick riders up in Lodi and connect them with Stockton's ACE train station. Call (209) 943-1111 or (800) 469-8674, or visit www.sanjoaquinrtd.com.
- Greyhound: The national bus line picks up at Lodi Station on Sacramento Street. From there, residents can travel to locations including Sacramento, Reno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Call (209) 333-6806.
- Amtrak: Riders can take a bus from Lodi Station to the Stockton or Sacramento Amtrak train stations. Call (209) 333-6806 or (800) USA-RAIL.
- City Cab of Lodi: The city's only taxi service; fares in Lodi run $2.60 per mile. Service is available to surrounding communities including Galt, Lockeford, Woodbridge and Acampo. Call (209) 327-2963.
- Carpooling/park and ride lots: The regional rideshare program
Commute Connection links carpoolers together throughout San Joaquin
County. Contact it at (800) 52-SHARE, (209)468-8960, or visit
There are several park-and-ride lots in the area, including two
straddling Victor Road east of Cherokee Lane, and one in Flag City
at Highway 12 and North Star Street.
- News-Sentinel staff
Voices on transit
"With my income, it's just a lot easier taking a bus … With gas prices, I think a lot of people are going to start taking the bus, or biking or taking a horse."
- Jerry Pokert of Galt
"(Car drivers) want to feel freedom. You can feel freedom even walking - I can't do that anymore."
- Jim Schrader of Lodi, whose Parkinson's disease has made him wheelchair bound and reliant on transit for more than a decade.
"It hardly lasted six months. It was too slow. He got snickered at and laughed at. So, he sold it and went back to the car. That fad left quickly."
- Viola Lippert of Lodi, speaking of the scooter her husband bought for commuting to work in the 1970s.
"No. 1, it's not convenient. The infrastructure is not there … No. 2, it's not easy to change their habits,"
- Amy Liu, a sociology professor at Sacramento State University, on why more people don't use mass transit. Students in her class recently surveyed commuters in the Capitol region and found 37 percent tried a new mode of transit at least once, either walking, biking or bus instead of driving from February to March.
"We want to provide (bus) service to everyone, but then there's that question: Does the ridership sustain the cost?"
- Tiffani Fink, Lodi transportation manager
- News-Sentinel staff
One look at the environmental cost of driving
Exhaust from automobiles can be measured in weight. Two medium-sized sedans emit more than 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year - pollution that adds to the greenhouse effect.
SUVs tend to release 40 percent more exhaust than smaller cars.
Driving cars and daily electricity usage are Americans' top two pollution-causing activities. Airplane flights are also a big source of pollution.
Source: Environmental Defense Fund
And time? I lost a lot of it.
Still, there was joy.
Throughout the week, I met courteous bus drivers. I got countless travel tips from locals without cars. I biked down deserted city streets, entertained by a chorus of croaking frogs and enlivened by the cool night air.
My wife wasn't so amused.
She imagined a week where she'd fill in as my taxi service.
Driving me home from the Sentinel's office the night before my experiment, Jen quipped, "I have a feeling I'll be back here again soon."
She was right.
Monday: Sore feet
It's 8:02 a.m. when I start my walk to work.
I have less than an hour to make the three-plus-miles from my Sylvan Way apartment in southwest Lodi to the News-Sentinel building on Church Street Downtown.
"You're going to be here on time, right?" I remember my editor asking me the previous Friday.
"I'll be on time," I had promised regarding my 9 a.m. start time.
My pack is pressed tight against my back and shoulders, carrying my dress pants and shoes, water bottle, lunch, camera, deodorant and notepad.
It's not the ideal way to travel, especially on an unseasonably warm May morning.
I'm excited nonetheless to challenge myself - to try this experiment in transit.
Fuel tankers, GrapeLine buses and commuter cars zoom past me on Kettleman Lane as I plod along.
I am one of the few non-drivers hitting the road this morning, the sun already high in the sky.
A lone bicyclist pedals past me near Mills Avenue.
A handful of bus riders wait for the GrapeLine as I trek up Ham Lane.
Turning east on Vine Street, I think I've spotted my first fellow walker.
"If I lived close, I would be walking or riding my bike everyday," Debi Arellano says, informing me she's driven - not walked - the 18 or so miles from her Iselton home.
Arellano parks her car a few blocks away from Lodi Memorial Hospital, where she works as a nurse. She walks to get some exercise.
I move on after a short chat.
By 8:30, I can feel my back drenched in sweat.
I pause for a quick interview with retiree Vida Lippert on Crescent Avenue. She tells me about her husband buying a scooter in the 1970s to save on gas. Then I high-tail it toward the News-Sentinel.
The walk is longer than I expected, and I've got to hustle to make it on time.
The smell of roses guides me up Hutchins Street. A light breeze cools my body, now nearly running to work.
I arrive at the Sentinel's front door at 9:05.
It wouldn't be my only frustration this week.
I greet my coworkers and sit down to work, embarrassed about being late but invigorated by the walk.
On the way home, I take the GrapeLine's Route 4 from Lodi Station.
It's punctual and clean, though empty. Sam Mejorado, a pleasant bus driver, drops me off a block from my apartment.
Time: 63 minutes to walk, 25 minutes by GrapeLine. I can sometimes drive the distance in less than 10 minutes.
Cost: $1 for the GrapeLine fare. The blisters from the walk and the extra time do add up.
Tips: When walking, take some of Lodi's quieter avenues like Crescent or Fairmont. You're more likely to see another walker, and less likely to suck in fumes from passing big rigs and buses.
Tuesday: No way home
My challenge today is to get to Galt and back without a car, all to cover the 7 p.m. Galt City Council meeting.
The first leg isn't too bad: I bike up Mills Avenue's wide bike lanes, then east on Pine Street, arriving at the News-Sentinel 22 minutes later, again in need of some deodorant.
A few knowledgeable bicyclists tell me I can bike to Galt by going up Lower Sacramento Road. The plan sounds doable. But the ride back, 45 minutes in the dark on an unfamiliar route - on deadline - gives me pause.
Catching South County Transit's Highway 99 Express bus, and leaving my bike at work, sounds like a great alternative.
It picks me up at 5:45 at Lodi Station, and drops me off 15 minutes later in front of Galt City Hall.
I've made it to Galt without a car!
But wait … there's no late bus returning to Lodi.
"You could follow the railroad tracks back home," I remember my editor suggesting, half-jokingly.
"Or hitchhike," he added.
The meeting is over quickly tonight. Galt leaders and the public file outside by about 8:30.
The place turns into a ghost town.
I weigh my options - which are few - along with my story commitment, and reluctantly call my wife.
Jen agrees, grudgingly, to pick me up.
She arrives a short time later.
We drive back to Lodi quietly, where she drops me off at the Sentinel and I file my story.
Tired from a full day and night of work, I hop on my bike about 11:15 for the three-mile ride home.
Lodi's streets are empty.
I cut down Mills Avenue again. I'm cheered by the music of the night creatures along the irrigation canal that snakes through the city.
Seconds after crossing Kettleman Lane, I glance at the moonlight sparkling across Mallard Lake, then I'm home.
Time: Bike from home to work in 22 minutes; trip on South County Transit to Galt is about 15 minutes. My wife doesn't spare the gas pedal. Her taxi service takes about 10 minutes.
Cost: $2 for South County Transit fare. (I later learn a real taxi service could have brought me home from Galt for about $30).
Tips: For bicyclists, Mills Avenue and Elm Street each have wide bike lanes and less car traffic than most city streets. South County Transit is a convenient service to and from Galt; just don't depend on it at night.
Wednesday: Dial-A-Ride disaster
It's midday and I've got an empty feeling.
I've missed my 11:30 a.m. doctor's appointment - scheduled months ago - because of a foul up with Lodi's Dial-A-Ride.
The consequences of not having a car are sinking in.
I had called Dial-A-Ride - the city's curb-to-curb pickup service - a couple hours prior to reserve a ride.
I learn that's not an option.
Dial-A-Ride doesn't make same-day reservations. You can call the same day, but there's no guarantee they'll be able to pick you up on-time.
In my case, I had asked for a bus with a bike rack - so I wouldn't have to request a second pickup.
That didn't work. A bus with no rack showed up at 11.
The driver said I could not bring my bike inside on the empty bus.
Another Dial-A-Ride bus, with rack, would come by shortly, the driver assured me.
At 11:34, a bus with a rack pulls up.
After attaching my bike, I hop on and hand over my $10 bill to pay the $5 fare.
Dial-A-Ride doesn't make change.
The driver offers to take me to a store to do so.
Because I'm late, I decline, wince, and hand over the $10.
Off we go.
It's 11:47 when I arrive.
The doctor has already left the office.
The day's silver lining?
I bike around Lodi Lake with the time I would have spent at the doctor's office. Later in the day, heading to work for the afternoon shift, I battle to stay on my bike as stiff winds nearly blow me over.
I cover the 7 p.m. Lodi council meeting, file the story and bike home.
Time: Once the correct Dial-A-Ride bus arrives, it's a quick 10 minute trip to my doctor's office on Ham Lane, with a professional and sympathetic driver.
Cost: I'm out $10 today ($5 for the fare, and $5 because Dial-A-Ride doesn't make change). On June 1, Dial-A-Ride increased its same-day fares to $10 each way for the general public, aimed at reducing same-day requests.
Tips: Make your Dial-A-Ride reservations a day in advance. There's no guarantee they'll pick you up in time if you call the same day. Have your exact fare ready.
Thursday: Ready for a break
I hustle out to the bus stop at 8:05 a.m. - with correct change this time - and board the GrapeLine's Route 4 bus a moment later.
Nelson Elgario, who has driven the city buses for the past three years, tells me the 8:06 a.m. pickup is my best bet if I want to make my 9 start time.
The next pickup isn't until 8:50.
The lack of frequent stops is the No. 1 complaint about the GrapeLine, according to Tiffani Fink, Lodi's transportation manager.
She's hoping the city can devote more buses to the GrapeLine's fixed-route system soon, increasing the number of pickups.
Recommendations for how to make the system more efficient will be voted on by city leaders later this summer.
Until that time, I'll have to leave for work 40 minutes earlier to catch the bus than to drive my car.
I'm glad this morning, however, to sit back and relax on the GrapeLine's soft-cushioned seats.
For the first time this week, I won't show up to work wet and sticky.
To get home Thursday, I decide to call Lodi's only taxi service - City Cab of Lodi.
Keith Weidner picks me up promptly at 6 p.m. in his silver '07 Buick LaCrosse.
Business has dropped off quite a bit for Weidner in recent years. He reduced his cab fleet from three cars to one.
He blames Dial-A-Ride for eating into his fares.
"It's hard to compete against the government," Weidner tells me, his hair neatly combed back, the smell of cigarette smoke thick throughout the cab.
While he's a pleasant guy to talk with, Weidner's $2.60 per mile fare makes me think twice about using his service again.
Time: It's an 18-minute bus ride from near my apartment to Lodi Station. The cab takes about 12 minutes to cover roughly the same distance.
Cost: $1 for the GrapeLine fare. With tip, I shell out $12 for the taxi - by far the most expensive way to get around Lodi.
Tips: You can always call GrapeLine, at 333-6806, for help figuring out its routes and pickup times. The phone number is posted at each bus stop. City Cab of Lodi operates from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week throughout Lodi, Galt and surrounding communities. Weidner doesn't make advance reservations. Call him at 327-2963.
Friday: No luck with the thumb
I wake up today knowing I'll try to hitch hike home. It's an unsettling thought on this last day of my experiment.
I've never tried that form of transit - I hope I won't have to in the future.
The morning starts smoothly. I'm greeted by Elgario as I board the 8:06 a.m. GrapeLine bus once again.
Marta Gomez is already on the bus, one of just handful of fellow bus riders I see this week.
She's a regular on the GrapeLine. She's headed home after some early morning shopping at Food4Less.
For many shoppers, students, seniors and disabled residents, the bus is their only way to get around.
For me, it has been a comfortable, if not especially efficient, way to get to and from work.
After my shift at the paper, I walk over to Sacramento Street near Lodi Station.
I call my wife to let her know I'll see her … hopefully soon.
I stick out my thumb as I walk down the street toward Lodi Avenue.
Workers leaving the post office's parking lot zip past me. Drivers young and old continue on, glancing my way only briefly.
I'm sick of the experiment at this point. But I keep trying, wondering what it would be like for someone who really didn't have a way home.
Another dozen cars pass by.
I call it quits.
The last GrapeLine bus is leaving Lodi Station in five minutes.
I walk over and hop on board,
My transit test is nearly through.
For others, however, like Maria Mercado, life without a car won't end.
The elderly woman wearing a pink head scarf and red-and-black sweater takes the GrapeLine to church nearly every night.
She then walks home.
Helping people reach their destination is a point of pride for driver Mike Ferri.
"People are depending on us," he tells me, moments after dropping Mercado off.
Time: About 18 minutes each way on the GrapeLine. Who knows how long I would have spent trying to hitch a ride?
Cost: $2 total for the two GrapeLine fares.
Tips: Avoid hitchhiking if possible. It's not only illegal, but lonely and nerve-wracking.