Seven Moments in the Life of a Transit Rider

1.

I grew up with wanna-be hippie homesteaders for parents.  My early childhood was spent on a rural forty acre farm in West Virginia, and my later childhood in rural Idaho on a twenty acre farm, 10 miles from the nearest little town.  My parents had dreams of living off the land, but the pressures of family, finances, and career ambitions left their dreams half realized and we became a commuting family, largely reliant on our car. 

In Idaho, kids can start getting their drivers permit at fourteen and a half, a policy that is rumored to be for all of the “farming families” that need their kids to help out around the farm.  When I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with epilepsy.  In Idaho, you are unable to drive unless you have been seizure free for one year.  In Washington state, its two years.  As a fourteen year old, who can almost taste freedom, this was a serious blow.  I managed to obtain my license when I was sixteen, but did not remain seizure free for a year.  This left me reliant on my parents to drive me the ten miles into town for everything.  And our town Moscow, although a walkable and wonderful community by Idaho standards, had only one short bus that looped around the town every hour.  I was at an age where independence was so valued, and also developing, and yet I was forced to be reliant.

2.

I left for Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington at the age of eighteen.  College is a lesson in independence in itself, but for me, the Whatcom Transit Authority gave me the freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted.  It was powerful, and empowering.  I celebrated my newfound ability to not have to rely on a friend, parent, or sibling to leave.  For many the bus is a choice, one you make on a moral grounds, This is the right choice because it helps the environment or it’s a choice you make because it’s the financially responsible one Taking the bus is much cheaper in the long run! or it’s a choice you make out of convenience, Parking is so hard to find downtown!  These are all valid reasons, and by no means less important, but for many others, and me it’s a choice you make out of necessity.  Later this year will be the first time I will legally be able to drive in Washington state.  I have lived in Washington for seven years. 

3.

Through my education at Western Washington University and at the University of Washington, I heard the merits of public transit.  I also learned about the challenges facing public transit.  I can’t help but make these personal.  Without the bus, how could I get to work?  How could I get to job interviews?  Or school?  Or the doctors?  Or the grocery store?  Although I don’t want to speculate, I am sure that for many people with epilepsy the bus serves as their car, as it does for me.  

Aside from those necessities during my day, I have used the bus to get to know the city that I now call home.  It’s scary to think what I would have done without the bus. What I may have missed out on, and I am talking about experiences and in my own development as an independent person.  I love my afternoon commute home though Wallingford from the University.  A troop of elementary students gets on the bus stop every day, without the supervision of an adult.  Sometimes they have takeout or Molly Moon’s with them.  I can’t help but think to myself, with a bit of nostalgia for a childhood I never had, how amazing it is that these ten year olds are starting to find their own sense of comfort and independence in the city at such an early age, all through bus rides.

4.

Due to an impending $75 million budget gap, King County Metro is facing having to cut 17% of bus service.  This includes a proposal planning on deleting 74 routes and making changes to 107 routes.  Only 33 routes will remain unaffected.   On Feb. 24, the board of the King County Transportation District (made up of City Council members) approved a resolution to put a transportation funding measure, Proposition 1, up for a public vote on April 22. If this funding measure passes, Metro’s proposal to reduce Metro’s proposal to reduce bus service will be withdrawn. 

My life in Seattle today revolves heavily around the Metro run busses.  I take the number 5 or 5X bus twice a day to work on weekdays to my job downtown from Phinney Ridge and the 44 to the University of Washington.  These routes are all facing proposed changes due to the funding gap.  The 5 and 5X run north-south from Shoreline to downtown and are very crowded busses.  When I get on the bus it’s about an 85 percent chance that its standing room only.  The 44 is always busy as well, as it is the main east west rout from Ballard to the University.  Proposed changes to the 5 include having longer wait times between buses (from 15 minutes to 20) and also ending service before 12 a.m. (the 5 now runs until 2 a.m.).  The 5X, which runs during peak hours with fewer stops but along the same route as the 5, is being deleted.  The 44 is facing the fewest proposed changes, with service being ended at 1 a.m. instead of 2 a.m.

5.

For the past few years, riding the bus has just been a part of life. But the proposed cuts have challenged not only the way that I live day to day in the city, but also larger principles that I hold close.  Not being a confrontational or person, the challenge was to find how much this meant to me.  How much does accessibility, equality, sustainability, and community mean to me?  Enough to let the people know about the issue.

6.

After printing five fliers out from the Move King County Now website the night before, I went to my regular bus stop at 7:30 Friday morning.  My plan was to talk on the bus, but as I walked to three blocks, running over my few talking points in my head, my stomach got knotty and squirmy.  God, I thought, I hate people talking to me in the morning on the busPlus, I am short and its so crowded on the 5 that I am usually squished against some guys shoulder, I’ll have to scream to even be seen!  So I gave into my fears and modified on the fly.  I’d talk to the people at the bus stop.  The bus stop on the corner of 43rd and Fremont usually has about 5-15 people waiting at it in the morning, depending.  I have been taking this bus almost every morning for nearly a year, and have never talked to any of my fellow transit riders.  It was terrifying, despite me knowing that this was obviously an issue that everyone there could probably get behind.     

I arrived and kind of went into panic mode.  I walked up to the stop and said shakily to the group of about seven and said, “Could I have just a moment of your time?” and launched into a hurried spiel, saying that I am sure everyone had seen the sign in the bus, why they are facing it, and also that the 5 and the 5X are facing cuts and how on April 22 there will be a vote to help save bus service.  I ended my speech, right as the 5 was cresting the hill, with, “I have a few fliers if anyone would like more information.  Thanks!”  Ugh. 

Surprisingly, two young women who I have been standing with almost every morning, asked for a flier as we boarded.  Another man who always is chain smoking and listening to music, asked for a flier when we were on the bus.  We talked a little about what the cuts to the 5 and the 5X would look like before we got reshuffled and I ended up slammed against the back door.

7.

As I rode the bus downtown, I thought about just how much I rely on the bus system.  I shouldn’t have had to be pushed to take action, and I shouldn’t have been quiet in the first place.  I am fully aware of all of the benefits of a transit system.  But for me the motivation (or validation?) and final influx of courage came from understanding and contemplating what my role in the whole system was.  Public transit has allowed me, and others with restraints placed upon them by health, finances, age, or circumstance to experience the city on their own terms….give or take 15 minutes. 

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