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Name: Sheila Manalo

Route: 101 bus from the VA medical center near UCSD in La Jolla to the Oceanside Transit Center

Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

If Sheila Manalo could have your ear for a few minutes, she might convince you to leave your car keys on the table and hop on the bus, as she preaches the merits of public transit.

A faculty assistant in the computer science and engineering department at UCSD, Manalo benefits from the university’s subsidy program for commuters. A couple of months ago, the plan expanded to completely subsidize any staff member or student’s travel on bus route 101 — the route connecting UCSD, University Towne Centre and the VA hospital with several North County communities, including Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside.

When Manalo bought a condo to be near her parents in Oceanside in 2003, she made sure it was near a bus stop so she could avoid hitting the daily traffic jams of Interstate 5, and the $75 monthly parking cost at UCSD. For a while, she took the Coaster every day, which totaled $132 monthly after her $10 subsidy from UCSD. At that point, gas prices were lower and the transit trade-off was “kind of a wash” — but as prices have increased, even the Coaster is cheaper than driving. (Nothing, though, beats the zeroes on her commuting costs since the school started covering the 101 route, she points out.)

She leaves Oceanside at 6:00 a.m. daily, arriving at the university at 7:15 a.m. In the afternoon, Manalo usually leaves the Gilman Drive bus stop around 4:30 p.m. and arrives back at the Oceanside Transit Center at 6:10 p.m. Though she lives just a mile or so from the transit station, she leaves her car in the station’s parking lot so she doesn’t have to walk home in the dark.

To accommodate a reporter tagging along today, Manalo started her afternoon commute from the VA hospital, a couple of stops away. We accidentally got on a bus that had its end-of-the-line stop a few minutes after we got on, so we had to wait for the next one, and didn’t make it to Oceanside until 6:42 p.m. Such is life when you’re at the mercy of the transit system and your own understanding of the bus schedules and route maps.

Manalo, 41, grew up on Whidbey Island in Washington state, went to college in Olympia, and crossed the country to New York City for grad school. Since, she’s lived in Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego.

New York, she said, “opened my mind to the great joys of public transit.” She thinks fuel dependency is “kind of stupid” and sees great environmental and personal benefit in her choice to ride public transit. Here, when her car needed repairs, she found a mechanic along the bus route so she could easily get home and back to pick it up.

“I went without for a weekend, and I didn’t die,” she said. “I think people here — I hate to say it — are wimps.”

But, she added, “I really feel sorry for the people who don’t have another alternative.”

While she sits on the bus, she listens to podcasts from National Public Radio on her iPod, or tries to learn French from the audio lessons she’s downloaded. And, she said, she gets “plenty of entertainment” from the people on the bus.

She sees a mindset contributing to the daily freeway gridlock in San Diego that she thinks is a fairly typical mindset in the United States.

“I’m not optimistic about San Diego ever getting its transit act together,” she said. “They think, ‘I have my car and the freedom of the open road’ — even if you’re sitting for 30 minutes in a traffic jam, going 5 miles an hour. If that’s your freedom of the road, don’t let me stop you.”

Sometimes, jaws drop when she tells people she commutes, by bus, from Oceanside to La Jolla and back every day, she said. But the views from the bus windows do something to recoup her losses.

“If I lived in Mira Mesa, I’d be stuck in traffic for 45 minutes, and where would I be going?” she said. “The fact that this is along the ocean did not escape my attention.”

KELLY BENNETT

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