This week, I have found myself in multiple conversations about public transportation.
First, on vacation last week, Hannah and I remarked how trains, trams and buses made tourism so much easier. We walked 30 miles, but we rode way more than that, and were able to see sites all over Amsterdam, and even an iconic windmill in Haarlem, 10 miles away.
Second. You know that each year, I oversee a summer intern program for the Disciples of Christ, and each year it is tricky to match applicants with sites across the country -- each applicant, each site with its own gifts, needs and quirks.
One site, located in a large southwestern city, does its Disciple outreach among an urban population with the unsurprising list of urban needs: food, shelter, health care, community. This week, the site director called to say that they were not able to accept the intern candidate we'd sent because the candidate has no car. To live and work in this major American city, you have to have private transportation, because public transportation is inadequate.
Then, third. This week, Woodsider Judy Luke told me about her experience with public transportation right here in Flint.
I was just going to a moving sale. No big deal. Maybe I find a couple things I need, maybe something with sentimental meaning. The church would get a little change, a couple things not headed to the dumpster or had to be moved to new place. End of story. Then, I try and get on the bus....
Among other things, I bought a garden shovel. When I went to get on the MTA bus to go home, I was told I couldn’t bring it on the bus as it could be used as a weapon. I am 69 years old. I asked the driver what would have happened if I had bought it at a mall, or the like. He said I would have to call someone to come and get me. Wonderful! First, I don’t have a phone. Second, who would I call? None of my friends have a car. I am on a limited budget so a taxi would not be feasible.
I ended up walking downtown carrying my shovel and pulling my shopping cart. In years past, I have made that walk in about 35 minutes. Friday, it took me about 1 hr. 20, as I kept having to stop and rest. I left my shovel at a downtown store, saying I would be back the next day, and took the bus the rest of the way home.
When I got home, I crawled in bed and turned on my electric blanket. I wanted to cry, but was too tired and too sore. As I lay there, I thought how ironic it is that anyone with a concealed weapon permit can ride the bus with ease, but I am too dangerous to be allowed to ride. I also thought about how MTA is limiting what I can own, as anything I buy must be able to be carried on the bus.
Among "banned" items, Judy learned from a driver, are tool belts. It's worth noting that I found nothing on the MTA website that banned any items, except food and drink. I did learn that "MTA is a great way to save money by commuting." Unless you work construction and have to carry a tool belt, apparently. Or landscaping and need shovels and whatnot.
Biggest problem I have, Judy wrote, is that the ones at the top making the decision don't comprehend what a rider goes thru getting around. (Like what happens with so many things affecting an average person.) I should be free to buy what I want, not what MTA says.
There are laws in place. First, there is a law of unintended consequences. And there is a zip code tax. Neither of these is an actual law, you understand. But they are always in play for folks of fewer resources. Maybe we don't intend to penalize people without cars; perhaps we don't mean to make people with less money pay more for daily basics. But here in Flint, more than 7500 households have no access to a car. And that only counts people who live in houses. How are we helping? How are we making it worse?
Going on vacation is an adventure. Providing transportation for a summer intern is a short-term challenge. But what about the people who live in that city? The ones who live in this city? The ones who work, or want to work, who need to take kids to doctors or go to parent-teacher conferences, who need groceries, want to attend church, go to school, have a life?
We at Woodside in our time of transition have been pondering basic questions: Where are we going? How will we get there? What do we need to take along? But even in our asking, we know the answers will come along, stuff will get done, and the need will soon go away.
As we figure it out for ourselves in the moment, let's keep in mind the dire urgency of the questions for people all around us. It matters that cities have adequate public transportation. Changing things begins with understanding things. My thanks to Judy for keeping us mindful.
Sunday, we're processing to our new place from our old place. If you're not inclined to walk, consider taking the bus. But be prepared: You have to have exact change; and we're not sure what carry-ons may get you removed. And don't expect to be on-time; the buses don't run that early on Sundays.