I was astonished when a woman stopped her big white car at a crossroad in Columbia and asked me for a dollar. In Ukraine, those who drive would never beg because owning a car in my country is a sign of prosperity. But, in the United States, it’s just a matter of survival.
I noticed this fact on the first week of being in America, when I had trainings at the journalism school of the University of Missouri during the first part of my Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship. The other six fellows and I lived for two weeks in a downtown hotel in the small city where the university is located. We saw public buses there just few times, so it was easy to forget about their existence.
The taxis were more common, but they were too expensive. There were also cyclists, but I didn’t notice many bike lanes.
A friend of mine, who is also Ukrainian, studies photojournalism at the university. He lives far from the campus and takes the bus, but he often has to wait for over 25 minutes until his bus arrives. On Sunday this bus doesn’t circulate, so my friend doesn’t leave his residential area on that day. He said he would probably buy a car even though he plans to go back to Ukraine in less than a year. As a photographer, he needs to travel throughout Missouri to cover stories, and the only way to do that is by car.
Eight out of every 10 people have cars in the U.S., while in Ukraine are only two car owners out of 10 residents, according to World Bank data in 2010-2011.
Wide roads, big distances and affordable prices made the automobile a symbol of American lifestyle. But all that driving and carbon dioxide emissions also made the U.S. the world leader in contributions to global warming, according to study by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative scientific network in 2014.
A 2014 study by US PIRG Education Fund highlighted another trend: young Americans tend to be less car-focused than their parents and grandparents.
In Pittsburgh, PA, where I’ve started my internship program at the Post-Gazette newsroom, the buses are often full during rush hours. Local students are the most common passengers because their use of the city’s public transportation is inexpensive. (A small fee is added to their tuition bills.)
On weekdays, the buses arrive every 10 to 15 minutes. In Ukraine, we would call that infrequent, but it’s probably good for the U.S.
But for those who want to travel to numerous neighborhoods of Pittsburgh’s metropolitan area, a car is still the only option. I’ll need to travel out of the city to cover assignments, my editors told me, so I’ll take my drivers license out of a suitcase, examine the local rules and look for a rental car.