Transit can frustrate normal people, adding autism adds anxiety to every part of the process. Let’s start with busses running late, or, even worse, early. It seems like busses up here have that Pacific Northwest mentality about schedules; five minutes late is on time. But they run even later, and sometimes early. Not knowing if you’ve missed your bus is frustrating. If you’re on the spectrum, such deviations from the expected are anxiety inducing. If I get to the stop exactly on time, uncertainty nags at me. “Did the bus come early? No, it’s just running late. But what if I did miss it? It’s never on time. But you’re the only one here; the bus picked everyone up already.” When the bus finally comes five minutes “on time”, I’m already a nervous mess.
If the bus and I arrive at the same time, then comes the next problem: knowing when to get off the bus. This is harder than it seems. For a while, my route home had me get off at the Russell Rd. stop. Unfortunately, there were three Russell Rd stops. So I look out the windows to see the stops. But this is Seattle; rain and fog, especially at night, can make seeing out of the bus impossible. Sometimes, you trust to luck and walk the extra block or three if you time it wrong. But again, there’s the extra anxiety from being autistic. Missing a bus stop weighs much more heavily because of how we think.
The routes themselves can be confusing. For example, routes 71-74 all seem to go to the same place. The only difference between routes 158 and 159 is the size of bus. But then 166 and 169 go to completely different towns. Get on the wrong bus without realizing, and you can be a river, two lakes, and many miles away from where you meant to be. Yet another source of anxiety
The last is personal, but I doubt I’m alone. Not knowing where I am really freaks me out. It has to do with my sense of direction. My mental map isn’t geographical. It’s more relational. I know specific paths to get to specific places. I may know how to get from A to B and from A to C, but B to C might be a total mystery, even if they’re only blocks apart. Take me outside my memorized paths and I can become profoundly lost. IF the streets are in a numbered grid, and IF I know the address of one of my known locations, I can maybe find my way, but I would be in a constant state of fight or flight until I reached someplace I knew.
And all of this doesn’t even touch on the sensory issues of transit.
So if I can’t drive in Seattle, and the transit system is so terrifying, how is it that I get around? With the help of my favorite piece of assistive technology: my smartphone. A smartphone takes most of the fear out of using transit.
1. Busses not on schedule: There’s a lovely app named One Bus Away that tells me what busses are late, what busses are early, and by how much. It updates every couple of minutes. If I get to a bus stop four minutes late, I’ll know if I’ve missed my bus before I even get there.
2. When to get off the bus: Every smartphone has GPS these days. One Bus Away also has GPS mapping, so I can use either it or the native maps app to see where I am and my upcoming bus stop. So not even Seattle’s wet and misty weather can keep me from seeing my next stop.
3. Confusing bus numbers: With Google Maps, I don’t need to know the busses themselves. Google Maps plots a route to my destination and I can take the busses it tells me.
4. Fear of not knowing where I am: Again, Google Maps and GPS make this a non-issue. I have my position on a map, and I can see the locations of all my regular destinations. If that isn’t enough, I can have Google plot a route to get me where I need to go. Always knowing where I am is a tremendous relief.
If I didn’t have a smartphone, I don’t think I could survive Seattle. It’s too big and confusing for me otherwise. But with my phone, I can navigate it like a pro. Such a very small thing, and yet it does so much for me. And I thought I didn’t rely on assistive technology. This is just one example of why I think everyone on the spectrum should have a smartphone.
Do you or someone in your life have trouble navigating big city transit or traffic? How do you manage?