Riding the Bus with ADHD

Peter Vader, a Minneapolis resident, and Jeb Rach, a St. Paul resident, wait at the Wayzata Park & Ride for the midnight bus departing Wayzata as the operator prepares the bus for the trip. Over the weekend, Metro Transit eliminated the trip because of low ridership.

Peter Vader, a Minneapolis resident, and Jeb Rach, a St. Paul resident, wait at the Wayzata Park & Ride for the midnight bus departing Wayzata as the operator prepares the bus for the trip. Over the weekend, Metro Transit eliminated the trip because of low ridership. (Edit: Boo!! late buses are great!) Photo: Henry Pan


I have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. It is an invisible brain-based disability that affects my attention span. I have a hard time directing my focus, and maintaining that focus on things that are routine or boring. I also have the superpower of being able to ignore (not being able to remember) needing to eat or sleep for over twelve hours if I’m reading a good book or playing a really cool new game or focusing on a work-thing that is super cool and exciting. It also comes with executive dysfunction which means it can be very difficult for me to switch gears or figure out what I need to do next. This can express itself in a strong need for routine or familiarity with a process. ADHD is a varied thing and part of neurodiversity like autism or anxiety or other brain based disorders. Many people express or experience ADHD in a lot of different ways, here I’m talking about my own personal experiences with how my brain works.

My ADHD affects my ability to get around the city in interesting ways. My preferred mode of transportation is by bus. But… that can be really hard with how the city runs the bus system. Currently buses run much more frequently during rush hour: a typical get to work around 8-9am, go home around 5-7pm. However, I’m a natural night owl. I’m more likely to need to go somewhere or want to do something in the evenings to late at night. Often I’m not looking to go grocery shopping or get dinner until 8:30pm if not 10pm. Or I’ll need to start heading home around 10pm or later. The city doesn’t run buses past 1:30 am for the most part and only runs about every half hour after 8pm (at least for the local buses, like the 11 which is the closest to me and my personal favorite). One of the big issues I have as an ADHDer is time blindness and forgetfulness for objects. I don’t realize how long it takes me to do things like find my phone or wallet or go-card. Or I’ll forget something and have to walk back home “real quick” just as I’m getting to the stop. I forget to check for delays and detours or expect them to be still in place depending on if I’ve gotten used to it and it’s part of my new routine. The time blindness manifests in expecting a walk to take me less time than it does, or waaay more time and i’ll be at the bus stop either 5 minutes late or 17 minutes early depending on how the day is going. If the headways are 15 minutes that’s not too bad, but if they are up to 30 minutes or an hour I could be waiting in the cold or wet or too hot for a long, long time. Or I just miss it entirely and get stranded needing to find an alternative mode of transport in the dark.

The forgetfulness also means I tend to be less prepared for bad weather or severe weather changes. I’m more reliant on frequent service or safe and dry bus shelters to protect myself. Sometimes I get into a good groove on a phone game or conversation and I miss my stop or get off too early ’cause I’m unfamiliar or anxious about a transfer to another line. That sometimes means needing to call for a ride because our headways are 30+ minutes and I need to get to the doctor’s appointment sooner than that. These unexpected transfers caused by my inability to pay close attention and use working memory (which is a very limited resource for ADHD folks) to make sure I’m at the right stop even with a Google map means that I spend more time on transfers than a neurotypical might. I can memorize routes and routines really easily though. Once I know how the system works it’s very easy for me to get from one point to another.

I love how sociable the bus can be, and also how anonymous. I love being with people and hearing the noises and conversations people make without being obligated to talk to anybody. It’s a great sort of stimulation for a brain starved for stimulation. (One of the issues for ADHD folks is that our brains process things differently and so sometimes we need extra stim so we bounce our legs or need to talk out loud to ourselves because we don’t have strong internal voices.) I love being able to help people find where they are going, or to recommend a new restaurant. I’d love to be able to get off at a stop for a new store without worrying that I won’t be able to get back on with the rest of my trip. Spontaneity and social adventure can be huge for ADHD folks, and we need transit that supports that.

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Picture of a bus stop pole sign for the 11 and 46. Look at that awesome tiny route map! So great!


I rely on urgent, present, and preferably visual, or at least short, and in-my-face reminders to remember to do things. Alternative means of transport need to be obvious and have visual reminders. If there is a bike share on the next block tell me on the same sign with the bus postings. Better yet have the two co-located so i can just look at the bikes and go “ahh yeah, i should try that instead” if there’s a big delay. “On the 3’s” is a better conveyance of when I should be at a stop rather than a big timetable that might not even be accurate. A map with the route works a lot better than a list of places. I’m great at understanding the connections between things and leaping through the possibilities to know what I need to do when the information is presented as a big picture, but I have a very difficult time building that picture of what “finished” looks like by myself without reminders of all the possibilities.

Unfortunately our bus system is built around the daily commute for a neurotypical 9-5 office worker coming from the suburbs or the outer city to downtown. Which means a lot of the time I have to drive because I’m already running late and missed the bus or will be out too late for the bus to get me home again. I try really hard to be actively engaged when i am driving. The best parts of driving are that I can just decide to go somewhere at any time of the day and be on my way within 3 minutes. Actively moving towards that goal and getting there in a reasonable amount of time. The worst parts of driving are everything else. I can’t have deep conversation or read a book. I’m often by myself which sucks cause i’d rather be social. There’s a lot of anxiety about possible car accidents or hitting a person by accident. I’m stuck in traffic. I’m causing air and water pollution. The two ton metal box I’m stuck in needs a lot of money to run. I don’t get to look at the cool crow or the sunset or the fall leaves. I miss out on a lot of what’s actually going on around me because I have to make sure I’m not too distracted and get hurt. Some people might say that automated (electric) vehicles would solve those problems, but it won’t. I still won’t get to talk to my city mate about the latest Twins game or exchange Pokemon Go friend codes. We’d still have the pollution problem of microscopic rubber particles in our water and the materials costs of digging up the metals to make all those vehicles. I’d still have to buy and maintain or wait for a vehicle to be available. And I would still be really worried about a vehicle that I have no control over hitting a young kid running after a dodgeball into the street. A-EVs don’t solve my transportation issues.

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Picture of my front sidewalk facing south on a beautiful fall day with leaves and plenty of space for future dodgeball players to safely play in their own neighborhood once we #bancars.


Frequent, reliable, free-fare public transit does though. Using a social vehicle that pools and strongly reduces my carbon impact while being able to reliably get anywhere in the city at any time of day is my dream. I need 24/7 15 minute maximum headways, and more often 5-10 min, that lets me get anywhere in the city within 1-1.5 hours without having to carefully plan and schedule my entire day because with my ADHD something will ALWAYS come up that prevents me from keeping that rigorous timetable. Whether it’s forgetting my wallet or staring at a really cool leaf or talking longer with my friends at the bar than I intended. Those are part of my life, and I need public transit that supports my ability to live my life to the fullest. So let’s demand it and fund it.

Brit Anbacht

About Brit Anbacht

Brit Anbacht is a millenial policy wonk and general nerd. They work from home full time. Brit sometimes drives but ever more frequently takes the bus for errands. They live in south Minneapolis, and can be found occasionally on twitter @britvulcan.

21 thoughts on “Riding the Bus with ADHD

  1. Elizabeth Larey

    Everything has a cost/benefit analysis done. The cost to run buses all the time is prohibitive. If you want service whenever you want it maybe you should bike in the winter.

  2. Maria Wardoku

    Thank you for sharing your experience! “Frequent, reliable, free-fare public transit” would benefit everyone.

    1. Brian

      I’m sorry, but as much as I think transit could be better I don’t want to pay to run empty buses at 15 minute intervals at 3 am in the morning. They shouldn’t be free either. There is a huge percentage of Minnesotans who will never have access to transit within walking distance of their residence that shouldn’t have to pay for those in Minneapolis/St. Paul to get around for free.

      1. Pine SalicaPine Salica

        “i dont use it so my taxes shouldn’t cover it”…
        i’ve never been to bemidji so i shouldn’t have to pay for the roads and bridges there!

        1. Brian

          My chances of driving on a road in Bemidji are higher than the chance I will ever have transit of any sort within walking distance of my home. Outside of work I would have to walk much further to catch transit than to just walk to my destination. I would be shocked if it took me less than three hours to get to a bus stop for a bus that operates evening or weekends.

          I take the bus to work every day, but I drive to the park and ride. I don’t think I should ride the bus for free.

        2. Tim

          People on this site bring up cost and empty buses nearly every time suburban bus service is discussed, for example, so it’s not a new line of argument. I don’t agree with it in either that context or this one — we need more transit service across the board.

      2. Brit AnbachtBrit Anbacht Post author

        If we want people to not drive when they go out drinking, we need to at least have busses running frequently and reliably til a little past closing time (2am). People need to get to and from third shift and first shift jobs. (5-6am). Their job may be on the other side of the metro, etc. etc.

        This is the crux of the catch-22 that is public transit. Is it empty because people don’t want to use it? or is it empty because it is unreliable and people cannot use it? While i agree that the late night/early morning hours may be used less, and it may take some time to triangulate exactly what our very late night frequency should be I think we can all agree that the current system is set up for commuting not living.

        As for “how do we pay for it – and why should the metro area get fare-free transit” 1. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties account for 30% of the total state population by themselves. We are a large chunk of the population and a large chunk of the state’s transportation emissions due to daily driving trips. 2. We can create a locality tax that is located to the metro area (tho realistically the metro pays relatively more for transportation costs already, see strib) to make up the relatively small portion of the public transit costs that is currently covered by fares while also having the savings on fare enforcement that is unequitably burdensome on poc and low-income transit users right now. This is a justice as well as increased ridership issue.

        However, for fare-free transit to actually lead to a reduction in total vehicle miles travelled the transit system needs to be usable for daily trips to the grocery or a resteraunt or to the bar. It currently is not designed for that. That is my main point here. 15 min reliable headways means that just like my car I can get ready and just go rather than have to think thru every interchange or risk getting stuck ’cause i’m “out too late when nobody uses the bus”.


        1. James Kohls

          Great article, Brit.

          I am one of those people who would use the bus more if it ran more often. I have been looking to get rid of my car for years, but am unable because of poor transit. My N/S service is every 30 minutes, but none after 7 and E/W is every hour and none on Sundays.

          I don’t have kids, never have and probably never will. I am happy to pay for schools and other education taxes. One might say, that I’m paying for people in my community to become educated and support the economy, but the same could be said of transit. People have to get to their jobs—they have to get to the stores, doctors appointments and other destinations to be productive members of society.

          I pay for roads I never use as well. Lots of roads. I pay for free parking so residents can store their cars on the streets instead of their driveways.

          What gets me are people who complain about paying for transit, then complain there’s too many cars on the road. What better way to reduce traffic than actually making it practical not to drive a car? I know I’m not alone in my desire to reduce or eliminate car driving miles.

          1. Brian

            I don’t have an issue with taxes paying for more transit. I have an issue with transit being free. There is a constant argument that drivers don’t pay 100% of road costs, but transit users don’t pay 100% of transit costs either.

            Better and more frequent transit would likely do more for transit ridership than free fares.

            1. James Kohls

              It certainly isn’t an insignificant cost. About $104m was raised from fares in 2018. Reducing fares or changing MT’s existing Transit Assistance Program (TAP) to free and/or expanding its reach could also help (currently only $1m of fares are TAP based).

              Of course free-across the board would probably mean a significant savings in not having to manage a fare program or pay to enforce fares, maintain fare equipment, manage go-to cards, etc. If those savings could reduce MT’s operating costs by an equivalent amount, it may be more feasible. Unfortunately, I don’t see any good data on what those costs are.

      3. Scott Walters

        There is a significant proportion of Minnesotans who don’t use (fill in the blank public good) and so shouldn’t have to pay for them. I don’t want to pay for your favorite, whatever it might be. I’m sure I don’t use it.

  3. Tom BasgenTom Basgen

    Moderator here. A couple of comments have been deleted here because they were all attitude and no substance. In addition, the comment bemoaning the volunteer moderators not doing exactly what you want on your timeline has been deleted because it was melodramatic, self aggrandizing and unhelpful to our conversation. There are still a few borderline comments I left up that have too much attitude for my liking, but never the less were trying to make a point.

    In the future please be respectful of each other and understand that the moderators of this website are unpaid volunteers.

  4. Brian

    Is there any data that shows 3 am buses would be full of riders if they had 15 minute headways? It seems the primary reason 3 am buses would be mostly empty is because there is almost nobody out at all at 3 am. On the very rare times I have been out at 3 am the streets are empty.

    I certainly think we need better transit options with more frequency, but running all routes 24×7 at 15 minute headways is a waste of money.

  5. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    What a lovely essay, Brit! Your dream of increased frequency and access is one I share. Trying to decrease (personal transportation) fossil fuel emissions is difficult when the options are so starkly disparate: long transit headways & limited service hours vs. “drive almost anywhere, park as close as possible to destination, anytime of any day.”

  6. Trent

    90% of this article is an interesting insight into the authors situation and provides a nice perspective on the considerations of driving vs public transportation and the opportunity costs of each.

    Where things go off the rails is this phrase: “I need 24/7 15 minute maximum headways, and more often 5-10 min, that lets me get anywhere in the city within 1-1.5 hours without having to carefully plan and schedule my entire day because with my ADHD something will ALWAYS come up that prevents me from keeping that rigorous timetable”.

    Public bus service, like any public service, is a common good, optimized for no one but available to everyone with some adjustments required to make it work.

    I would like it if the library was open till midnight on weekdays. It’s not, so I adjust my schedule.

    I have to go out of my way around the lakes on the bike trails because of the direction they are designed.

    The author may just not be at a point in life where public transportation can deliver what they need. Perhaps Uber Pool or other approaches between driving and MTC should be considered in the landscape of travel options.

    1. Julie Kosbab

      I would like it if the library was open till midnight on weekdays. It’s not, so I adjust my schedule.

      The tech is there to allow libraries to stay open longer hours. It’s in use in a lot of places. Obviously, far different use case than higher frequency for busing.

  7. John AbrahamJohn Abraham

    Overall a great article and a much-needed perspective. Perhaps some of the comments (before they got deleted) were mocking your perceived inability to take the bus or something; bravo on your bravery for being upfront about your cognitive difficulties. I also applaud your trending in the direction of #bancars. I know this is a hideous, unproductive and terrible idea to serious adults who know exactly what it’s like to commute from the suburbs to our “dangerous” city, but for those of us who acknowledge the reality of climate change this is literally the least that will be required (a huge draw-down of fossil fuel based vehicles). This is going to need to happen whether we like it or not, and the discussion of how to fill in the transit gaps once we don’t design cities and society around fossil fuel based vehicles will be very necessary.

  8. Andrew Evans

    Thanks for the article! It’s always nice and interesting to see how others are going through ADHD and their perspectives.

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