Thursday, March 17, 2011

2007: the year we will decide to respect public transit (Dec. 31, 2006)

Current mood: hopeful

For far too long -- at least three generations -- Americans as a class have looked upon public transit as the poor stepchild, used only by those who cannot afford a car, or some sort of stupidity. Just to compare, think of the ego boost of such phrases as "big-block Chevy", "check out my new ride", "You're 16 now? Are you driving yet?" Cars dominate our culture, and not to have one, and not to use one, somehow denigrates one in others' eyes.

I dedicate my life to the concept that one does not need a Hummer or a 'Vette or a Caddy or even a Prius to indicate that one is a real person, a patriotic American. It is not, or need not be, necessary to commute with a car, nor even to own one (or two or three). In my circle of friends are several who never have owned or even driven a car, and in no case do I consider their lives limited, or some lower class of life form.

In my own case, my family owns only one car, on the bumper of which is a sticker that says "My other car is a Port Authority bus. Support Pittsburgh public transit."

We will never conquer our dependence on foreign oil unless and until we decide to use transit to get around instead of personal automobiles. Not that we need to get rid of our cars, just not drive them.

In absolutely every instance of needing to get from A to B, we need to ask:

  • Can the need for this trip be accomplished without actually traveling somewhere?
  • Can this trip be accomplished under our own power (walk or bike)?
  • How can we accomplish this trip by use of public transit?
  • What can we learn from taking the trip by transit about how to get around by transit next time?
  • What can we learn from not taking the trip by transit about how to get around by transit next time?

Transit is demand driven. Service might get better if we use it. It won't get better unless we use it. Service will get better if a whole lot of us regularly use it. By this I do not mean merely commuting at rush hour by transit, though that will help, but to somehow make use of it at other times, in particular the off-hour trip, the mid-day trip, the evening trip, the one-way trip.

I cannot count how many times that someone uses a car to make a two-way trip where someone else nearby is making an almost identical trip by car. At least one of them could carpool, or at least one of them can take a bus for the return trip.

Another thing we Americans as a class need to get over is our fear of everything and everybody. It starts young, admonishing children not to talk to strangers -- often a good thing, I'll admit -- but the fear grows as the kids do, and we end up not knowing how to trust or who to trust, the kids eventually become parents themselves, and repeat the process. Do this for three or four generations as we have and we become, as we have, a nation of fearful people. Having a government that rubs our noses in it at every turn only exacerbates that feeling.

I reject it all. I ride buses everywhere, in all parts of the city, at all times of day and night, and talk with everyone. Guess what! They're people, just like me! People are funny, friendly, helpful, generous, just like me! Whether they just got out of the bank associate vice president's chair to commute home, or just got out of jail to go home, they're all looking forward to what the evening and the next day brings. I know, because I've sat in the same bus seat with both at one time or another.

So, plain and simple, fear not, get on a bus as often as possible. Learn how to do it. Learn TO do it. And the next time you have to change residences, choose to be near a bus line so that you can use a bus if the need arises!

Buses are not for the lower classes, they're for all classes.

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