BART – One Person’s Journey Towards Sustainability

Big ideas are grand by their very nature. They have to be. Otherwise, what’s the point?  They allow us to envision beyond the scope of our daily lives to something much larger than ourselves. What is at the root of big ideas? More importantly, how do we get there – to the point of implementing our big ideas, our grand visions?

Little ideas. Small steps. Simplicity. Maybe it starts with “me,” not with “we.” Whenever I’m presented with a big idea, my mind immediately shifts to, “How can I help us get there?” As Ghandi said, “We need to be the change we want to see in the world.”

We talk a lot about sustainability at Northland College – what that means to us as in institution, what it means to our region, what it means globally, and most importantly – how we get there.   I think it starts with buy-in at the individual level. That’s where the idea of “me” comes in. Let’s look at transportation, for instance. Northland College makes it easy for students, staff and faculty to tackle this small piece of the sustainability puzzle.

All students, staff and faculty can ride the Bay Area Rural Transit (BART) bus for free by showing their Northland ID. The BART bus has curb-to-curb service anywhere in Ashland, as well as established city and regional routes. You can go travel all across the Chequamegon Bay just by flashing your ID. Even if you don’t have a Northland ID, BART prices are still incredibly cheap – much cheaper than you can drive yourself.  Simple.  Small.  Effective.

I am a frequent BART user. It’s easy and saves me money. I get on the bus in Bayfield at 7:02 a.m. I arrive on campus around 7:45 a.m. On this early morning route, I don’t even have to transfer. The bus brings me right to Fenenga!  After work, I get on the bus at Fenenga at 5:20pm. I transfer at SuperOne Foods and am back in Bayfield by 6:35 p.m.  You might be thinking, “Wow, that makes for a long day! You could save a lot of time by driving.” While you might be correct on the time aspect, it’s no contest when I figure in the economic benefit of riding the BART bus.

Let’s talk about the checkbook side of things because that’s where I most feel the impact of my decision to ride with BART. My commute, with no extra errands during the day, is a total of 55 miles round trip. My SUV averages 27 mpg, and my car averages 37 mpg.  I can’t ride every day due to obligations I have after BART routes end, but let’s say I ride the bus an average of three days per week. It cuts the number of miles I drive by 60%. That’s 165 miles per week and 660 miles per month that I’m not driving!

#gallons to drive 660 miles Cost to drive 660 miles@ $3/gallon Cost to drive 660 miles@ $3.50/gallon Cost to drive 660 miles @ $4/gallon
SUV 24.4 $73.20 $85.40 $97.60
Car 17.84 $53.52 $62.44 $71.36

The cost to drive is significant.  And it’s more than just gas money.  I’m keeping just under 8,000 miles per year off my vehicle. That’s two oil changes and a tire rotation, almost $60, not to mention wear on tires, filters, belts, vehicle depreciation based on mileage, etc. What if, at Northland College, just five of us who live in Bayfield took the BART bus? That would mean 3,300 less miles driven per month among the five of us, and an astounding 39,600 miles per year!

There are other reasons I ride the BART bus, too. I see people on the bus that I never see anywhere else, even people who are my neighbors. We exchange pleasantries and engage in conversation. The drivers are caring, friendly, and willing to help. I’m getting to know my community a lot better.

I get time to decompress after work. Sure, I could do this in my own car while driving, but it’s even more effective if someone else does the driving. I can listen to music or podcasts, watch the world go by, or take a nap. I love the ride during the full color of fall leaves, the glistening of a fresh winter’s snow, the new green of spring, or a picture-perfect summer day when the channel in Bayfield is full of sailboats. I don’t see these things when I’m driving.  Plus, the bus has heat and air conditioning, so I’m always comfortable regardless of the weather!  In winter or heavy rain, I don’t have to endure the stress of driving, or risk my vehicle getting in an accident. Never underestimate the power of a stress-free commute to wherever it is you’re going!

Plus, I’m supporting sustainability beyond the environmental component. Yes, my vehicle is one less on the road, but my decision to ride the BART also supports a small, local business that employs local people and serves local people. BART’s existence and its success are important to our local economy. I don’t need BART to exist, but others in our region do. I want it to exist. We are so lucky, given the rural nature of where we live, to have this form of transportation available. Students can get to school in another town. Residents can get to the ski hill in the winter. Concert-goers can get to Big Top in the summer.  It comes full circle and is truly beneficial to our community.

You can go online and see the schedules at or call for information.  BART can be reached at (715) 682-9664.  The friendly staff is ready and willing to help you!

Give it a try. Take a small, simple, effective step that inches us closer to implementing a big idea. It starts with you. It starts with me. Let’s start an avalanche of small steps that take us to big places. In his song “Gloria,” Michael Franti writes “When many little people in many little places do many little things then the whole world changes.” It’s like what Ghandi said, only bigger!

Respectfully submitted by Heather Rickerl

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Welcome to the Northland College Sustainability blog!