By Pat Rakowski

As much as most of us would like to help the environment, it's not always as simple as it might sound. More than 20 years ago, I moved to Philadelphia to be close to where I worked. I was feeling pretty green until 2001, when I started working in New Jersey.

Getting to the new job by public transportation would have involved taking three buses and spending three hours of my time. Getting home would have required three more buses and another three hours. That's when I discovered I wasn't a green-at-any-cost kind of person. Driving down Route 70 in Cherry Hill, I'd see a sign advertising what NJ Transit called its "chauffeur-driven train" to Atlantic City and - I know it's hard to believe - I'd think about how I missed riding the bus.

Sitting at a window on a SEPTA bus, you look down on just about every other vehicle on the road. When a bus horn toots, other drivers usually know to watch out; the bus will be in the intersection when the light for cross traffic turns green. Years ago, a police officer boarded the bus I was riding and sarcastically asked the driver, "Do you think beeping your horn gives you the right to go through red lights?" It may not be fair, but when traffic is heavy, being in the biggest vehicle is a definite advantage.

Yes, there were annoyances. As a friend points out, there are times when you have to wait for buses that are late, overcrowded and dirty. She wonders whether, for the fares we pay, we shouldn't be getting better service and a seat. I can attest to the fact that it's not pleasant to stand in an aisle, trying to keep your balance during jerky stops and starts and swaying corner-turning, while people push past to get off.

Yet on the bus, I've often witnessed how kind people can be, too, helping the elderly, the infirm, and people with children. I've seen drivers patiently answer questions and make sure passengers get off at the right stop. One day, when the bus I was riding broke down, the driver hailed the next bus and made sure none of us had to pay a second fare.

In March, I started working in the city again, and I'm back riding the buses. In case I'd forgotten, the posters in the windows of SEPTA's headquarters reminded me of the advantages:

Each year SEPTA helps households save over $1,399 worth of gas.

One SEPTA rider consumes about half the oil that a private commuter does.

Riding SEPTA helps produce 90 percent less smog-forming pollutants than private vehicles.

Riding SEPTA helps save 1.4 billion gallons of gas each year.

Riding SEPTA helps produce 50 percent less greenhouse gas than private vehicles.

The opportunity to work in the city again came about by coincidence, so I can't really take all the credit for helping the environment. Isn't it odd how sometimes by chance we manage to do the right thing?

Pat Rakowski (pdrakowski@verizon.net) lives and writes in Philadelphia.