The Carpool Lane: USC must do more to support its commuters

Prior to attending USC, I made a simple, yet uninformed, deal with my parents as I looked toward the next four years. I would live the “freshman experience” by residing on campus a year, but afterward, I would live from home and commute.

The only resource that I personally looked at was a single Reddit page on r/USC titled “To commute or not commute.” Apart from that, it has been word of mouth on essentially everything else throughout my freshman year on campus. So, after spring break ran a bit longer than expected, I finally embarked on my commuter lifestyle last June, working at the University over the summer. 

At the time, the “honeymoon” phase — the freedom of going practically anywhere in my car — got to my head. Now, a semester in, I have my quarrels but will refrain from mentioning the word “regrets.”

With gas prices through the roof, cars that park over the lines and the $500 price tag that comes with a parking pass for the year, it often feels pointless to try and commute. What’s the point of swinging by campus if I have only a single class for the day, or if I know that I’ll be caught up in traffic if a club event runs long? Certainly, the hybrid modality that came with the pandemic was a temporary solution, but eventually, we’ll all have to make our way to campus.

There shouldn’t have to be a tradeoff in choosing to live away from campus, especially if that choice isn’t yours to make. Sure, it’s not all bad. I save a bit of cash that will eventually be thrown at a medical school (hopefully), and I get to spend more time with my family and my dog. But, that stress on debating whether to make the drive, knowing that the University will do nothing to help alleviate that for you, can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Even when I do try and pack all of my classes together to avoid unnecessary drives, the responsibilities with extracurriculars or work-related events still force me to haul down the freeway.

In retrospect, I do not have a particularly intense commute, but the nature of going to and from the University can be exhausting, considering that it seems like everyone else on the road is out to get you. Being the managing editor or just working on the paper in general is exhausting. As I stroll out of the newsroom at midnight and make my way up the stairs to the parking structure, I can really feel the life drain out of me, and soon after, comes the sudden realization that I have to drive myself home. However, I’ve been grateful just to have a space to rest and stay for a while. 

Especially for those who purely rely on the public transport system, the commuter lifestyle can pick at and wear you out physically and mentally. As many avid and starry-eyed freshmen come to learn, the Metro or Big Blue Bus or Culver City Bus lines aren’t the most fabulous by any means, nor is it the most convenient, but for many, it’s all we have. 

That’s not even mentioning the social limitations of being a commuter. In many ways, I’ve lost time that could’ve been shared with my friends or just relaxing with them. That feeling of FOMO really snuck up on me, with thoughts that, maybe, if I was in their position, it would be a bit of a hassle to ask the commuter to make their way back down and then wait for them. It stings even as I write this article from home. The thought of missing out on spending time with my friends hurts as they live five minutes away from each other, while I would have to fight the traffic just to get there. 

Members of the Undergraduate Student Government previously advocated on behalf of commuters, including the creation of a commuter hub similar to that of UCLA’s. However, that conversation has been happening even prior to my first steps on campus. Whether it’s meeting people who want to carpool to save a bit of cash or having a place to sleep for the night when you can’t drive home, we must actually establish a place that allows commuters with the long haul to rest while simultaneously helping those who are new to the lifestyle. 

So when you’re driving your kids or grandkids to school, think “Back in My—” Actually, maybe just focus on the road. Drive safe, besties.

Lois Angelo is a junior writing about the perks, downsides and necessities of the commuter lifestyle in his column, “The Carpool Lane.” He is also the managing editor at the Daily Trojan.