Sweating over the GRE, agonizing over a personal statement, applying to graduate school, taking out loans, writing research papers, studying for tests -- all were predictable stress points for a Wake County public school teacher on his way to getting a master’s degree in school counseling.

What Billy Lane didn’t anticipate before starting classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the day after Memorial Day was the extra helping of anxiety that commuting more than 30 miles on Interstate 40 from his home in Raleigh would add to his plate every weekday.

“It was intermittently awful,” says Lane, a former social studies teacher at Apex Friendship and Broughton high schools. “There were parts that were textbook stop and go and parts that flowed freely. But, to boil it down to a word, it was stressful. And eating 7 or 8 dollars a day for parking was not sustainable, either. After half a week of commuting on 40, I was done with it.”

Exploring his public transit options beforehand never occurred to Lane, who had lived close enough to Broughton to walk and whose high school schedule had spared him the worst of the rush-hour commute to Apex. When a fellow graduate student mentioned that he had been using a Chapel Hill Transit park-and-ride lot and taking a bus to campus, Lane resolved to investigate it.

“I did reconnaissance after class one day and parked at the shopping center and waited for the bus to come,” says Lane, who took an unpaid yearlong sabbatical from teaching to complete his master’s degree in 14 months. “I went up and asked the bus driver questions, and he was exceedingly generous. He pulled out his notebook with times. He allayed my concerns about parking there because all the signs say parking for customers only. It was my interaction with him that confirmed my decision to try it.”

‘A quality of life issue’

The welcome ease of parking free and riding to campus spurred Lane to wonder what else the Triangle’s ever-expanding transit network might offer to help uncomplicate his life. Voters in Wake, Durham and Orange counties all have approved half-cent sales taxes dedicated to transit, and each year the counties roll out more service to better connect residents to opportunities.

One of the more popular of the regional services is GoTriangle’s express route between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. For Lane, discovering the CRX and its park-and-ride lot 8 miles from his apartment and the GoPass, which UNC offers certain students and employees to travel free with any Triangle transit agency, was like winning a jillion-dollar Get Out of Jam free card.

What he could never put a price on, he realized after taking the CRX for the first time, is the amount of time he’ll get back each day for reading, writing or relaxing by letting GoTriangle do the driving.

“This is a grad school summer session, which means the work is flying fast and furious,” says Lane, 40, an 18-year teaching veteran. “Every minute I get to work on schoolwork is worth cash money. Given how accelerated my particular program is, I need to be intentional with every minute of my day, and 25 or 30 minutes one way or the other is not an insignificant amount of time if you’re spending it doing work and not driving.”

What also is not insignificant is the amount of parking and gas money he’ll save, especially given current gas prices and his lack of income. And taking transit even could lengthen the life of his 17-year-old truck.

“There really is a quality of life issue, too,” he says. “As you’re driving in the morning and traffic gets worse, there’s a multiplier effect on your mood and your state of mind. Seventy minutes of a relaxing commute with time to work is much better than a stressful hands-on commute. And I have a 2001 pickup that I do need to last through grad school and maybe a little bit beyond.”

‘Just listening and relaxing’

On the morning of his first ride on the CRX, the still-leery Lane made sure he had some cash in case there was a problem with his pass, which he had picked up from UNC’s transportation office the day before after signing up for it online.

“I wasn’t sure whether I’d have to show my student ID, too, so I had them both out,” he says. “The driver had to politely instruct me where to scan it and where to put the card in. I did engage a couple of regular bus riders. One had been riding for years to her job at UNC. And on my first CRX commute, we drove on the shoulder twice.”

That’s called the Bus on Shoulder System, or BOSS, and it allows public transit buses to bypass traffic jams on I-40 by traveling on the shoulder.

After six hours of high-intensity classes, Lane headed back to his CRX stop in Chapel Hill that afternoon knowing he had hours of writing ahead that night. He decided to use his afternoon bus ride for a much-needed respite.

“I relaxed a little bit, listened to a Dan Le Batard podcast,” he says, mentioning his favorite ESPN sports show. “That was my little bit of self-care for the day. I treated myself to those 30 minutes of decompression. I was just listening and relaxing, and before I knew it, there’s Wade Avenue.”

Dump the Pump today

As the nation celebrates National Dump the Pump Day today, Lane hopes more people will take the time to discover how to make it an everyday event like he did.

“What I’ve already noticed is, the more you use you transit, the better you get at it,” says Lane, who taught civics and economics and honors law and justice for most of his career. “And the better you get at it, the more useful it is.”

He has already motivated a fellow grad student who lives in Wake County to get a GoPass and take the CRX to Chapel Hill with him. Being able to help kids understand the benefits of public transit now will be part of Lane’s life repertoire when he lands a job as a school counselor next year.

But first, the second summer session of graduate school awaits. His next classes are in a different part of Chapel Hill, and Lane has already started charting his route.

“It’s going to require more stops and a longer trip, but I think I may come out ahead,” he says. “Not only in terms of time, but in peace of mind.”

National Dump the Pump Day today

The yearly event was started by the American Public Transportation Association in 2006 to encourage people to ride public transportation instead of driving alone in a car.

Want help figuring out what your transit options are? GoTriangle offers individualized assistance here. We give you a personal step-by-step process on how commuting in the Triangle works. With so many people moving to this area, we’ve tried to alleviate the hassle of getting around by walking potential transit users through their options: be it bus, carpool, vanpool and even finding a park-and-ride lot.

Are you eligible for a GoPass?

Many employers and schools in the Triangle offer a GoPass or other transit subsidies to workers or students. Find a list of participants here.

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