Public transportation is often viewed by commuters as a last resort, an undesired alternative that is dangerous, unsanitary or boring. This reputation has helped make cars very popular and reduced …
Public transportation is often viewed by commuters as a last resort, an undesired alternative that is dangerous, unsanitary or boring. This reputation has helped make cars very popular and reduced the ridership of public transportation.
However, public transportation’s reputation is not deserved; in fact, public transit plays a very important role in our society. It can help solve problems of climate change, as well as encourage civic participation.
First, the notion must be dispelled that transit is a dull service that is unappealing to the masses. In Nairobi, Kenya, many of the citizens move around the city in small vans called matatus. Matatus are a mix of a traditional bus line with the entertainment of the San Francisco trolleys.
Two people operate a matatu: One drives while the other leans out of the door and collects money from passengers. The vans offer many amenities inside, such as Wi-Fi and televisions. From the outside, they are loud in every sense of the word. Matatus play music to attract customers and are painted with vibrant graffiti-style designs to separate them from other matatus. These aspects of the matatu culture show that a transportation system can be much more than a service to move people around; it can be a form of art and community enrichment.
The idea of fusing transit with art is not restricted to Kenya. In Montpellier, France trains are painted vibrant colors to attract attention; and in San Francisco, the historic trolleys are popular because of their entertainment value as well as their ability to move people.
Although there are many public transit systems that are not as flashy as trollies or matatus, there is always room to grow. However, low ridership often dissuades transportation agencies from making improvements to their systems. This creates a chicken-and-egg scenario in which the people are not using transit because it is not effective or appealing to them, but at the same time transportation agencies will not make changed because few people use the transit system. When a transit agency fails to step up and break this vicious cycle, it become the responsibility of the citizens to take the first steps. Every person should use public transportation for two very simple reasons.
The first reason is the environment. Climate change is a very real threat to every community around the world. It is, unfortunately, no longer enough to rely on elected officials to address climate change. As individuals, we must look at our own carbon footprint. An easy way to reduce our impact on the climate is to take public transportation. The simple act of not using a car can have a massive impact on reducing a person’s carbon footprint.
The second reason a person should take public transportation is to engage in public life. When people isolate themselves from the public life, it can harm everyone. Participation in community events and group projects brings people together and establishes a sense of trust within a community. Public transportation is an excellent way to engage with fellow citizens and rebuild a communal trust that is currently lacking in society.
By putting ourselves in the public arena, we can have more faith in other members of our community and be exposed to new ideas. Engaging in public life also helps sustain it; by using transportation, we can help push it to improve.
Joe Calodich has lived in Port Townsend for 15 years. He is a high school senior working on a project advocating public transit in Port Townsend.