Thursday, July 13, 2006

A simple way to improve public transit in your area for when you need it.

On Monday afternoon I saw a slender woman struggle onto our bus carrying so many groceries, that the weight from the plastic bags wrapped on her wrists made her hands turn purple. She barely fit through the door.

She squeezed down the narrow aisle to the back of the bus, only pausing to catch her breath once we started moving again. When the vehicle stopped to pick up more passengers, unsecured cans and bottles started rolling forward.

I myself caught a jar of Ragu extra-chunky tomato sauce with my foot before it was able escape out the side door.

After everything was re-collected, I got permission to take a picture of the scene. I won't use her name, but she's a parent with several children.

Too many bags on the bus

You are looking at a weeks worth of food.

On one hand, this mess is her own fault. She should have taken a cab, or, gotten a friend to pick her up at the store. It's probably against regulations to lug this much baggage onto a city bus; but if you were the driver, could you say no to a mother bringing food home to her children?

This woman, without knowing it, was acting as a canary for the rest of us who are still privileged enough to be able to afford driving. Look carefully at the picture again. Does she seem familiar?

She is you without your car.

Is her load any more than what you bring to your family? How would you get needed groceries home if there was a fuel shortage or you could no longer afford to fill your vehicle's tank?

The problem for many people who are new to taking the bus isn't scheduling or comfort - it's the logistics of living in a city that is designed for cars rather than people. As good as a public transit might be, it's still an ordeal to do grocery shopping with it. Buses are ideal for commuting, and, if you plan it right, running errands that don't require hauling loads.

No one in an urban setting should have to walk more than a few blocks to get food. In a well-planned city, this woman could have rented a grocery-cart with rugged wheels; then simply pushed her groceries home.

In the short-term, public transit officials can help by playing a leading role in organizing shopping-trip car-pools and lobbying the city for better zoning. Shopping without a personal vehicle does not need to be an ordeal, even if you do live in the sprawl.

There is a way you can help build such a transit system: Simply take the bus once a month.

That's it.

If everyone who cared about building better public transit took the bus once a month, it would boost numbers enough so that city planners could get more funding to improve the system. Not just for buses and trains, but for logistics systems and advertising to make car-pooling convenient and popular.

It's so easy, it's ridiculous.

Or, when the next fuel crisis arises, would you rather join the woman in the picture above: stuck in a transit system that can't meet her needs?

Notes:

  • For the the entire "Brainshrub Bus Project" series click here.
  • This article was originally posted here.

3 comments:

ash said...

good stuff, 'shrub. keep it coming...

waz said...

been enjoying your posts, good work. i rode the bus for awhile when i first moved here out of necessity, and everytime i'd walk away with a story.

riding the bus reminds you its damn hard to be poor. its easy for rich people to buy $20K alternative fuel cars (with bikes on top that cost more than my car) and shop organic at EarthFare.

while walking or biking from your stops could you report on areas that have no crosswalks! consider major intersections on merrimon, tunnel, and hendersonville roads that have no sidewalks and no crosswalks.

had to vent somewhere guys......

Brainshrub said...

Waz: Tell me about it!

Being poor is tough as nails, and damn expensive. For example: I bought a $30 month pass at the start of July that covers all my bus fare for the month.

There is another guy who also rides the bus as often as me, but he always pays cash. When I asked him why he doesn't pay for the month pass, he said he could't afford it.

That's how hand-to-mouth he lives.

So in other words, his poverty prevents him from even saving up enough money to go to work.

It's starting to piss me off to think how little these people get paid.

I mean, REALLY piss me off.

I used to only get mad at the box stores like Wal-Mart. But I'm realizing that many of the workers at Whole Foods Market live in squalor so those middle-class Liberals can have nice organic apples and the millionare owners can give nice speeches about the virtues of Libertarianism.

It didn't always used to be this way. Americans have forgotten that a grocery-clerk job used to be able to support a family.

What's particularly frustrating is that we Libs pat each other on the back for empty victories, like the recent miniumum-wage hike - while the poor get repeatedly ass-raped.