Friday, March 18, 2011

Transit Causes Cancer

There are times in our lives when we have a moment of clarity, when we realize all that we had believed up to that point in time is essentially a sham. This usually occurs when new wisdom is bestowed upon us that contradicts what we have always believed and instead of kneejerkedly rejecting it, we instead give it ponder and conclude something like ‘Holy Mother of Sweating Jesus – I was WRONG.”

This is not one of those stories.

I work for a large transit system in central Florida. My job is to design, implement and modify bus routes. Mobility of my customers – bus passengers – is my raison d’etre. And we have a lot of them – 26 million riders took our buses this past year. Eighty-two thousand a day. If I make a change to a route that is unfavorable I am a targeted man. If they like it, I am deified.

I have always been of the belief that a clean, efficient, modern transit system is a major asset to a city. Mobility of people so they can avoid paying four bucks a gallon for gas & preventing their carotid arteries from bursting while they drive I-4 is a good thing. The entities that fund our $112 million a year operating budget surely agree, and they revel in the goodwill and opportunities that our buses provide to their constituents. Whisk them to jobs at Disney, get them to doctor’s appointments, even going to visit their friendly parole officer, whatever. We keep people out of cars. Good for the community, good for the environment, all good.

Except when I place a bus on a street where non-transit riders live.

This happened a couple of months back when I modified one of our bus routes off a two-lane bricked street with roundabouts over to a four-lane road with apartment complexes. Seemed like a good idea. Until some residents of that four-lane roads that have never stepped foot on a bus found out about our plans. Then something extraordinary happened. These fine people caused me to have a moment of clarity. How? Well, all that stuff I just wrote about the benefits of transit? Seems that’s all wrong. Transit is not an asset to the community; on the contrary – it is a scourge. A pox. It’s big-government intervention shoving something they didn’t want down their throats.

Worse yet, it brought those people to their neighborhood.

You know those people, yes? The smelly. The dirty. The non-medicated. Those that, either through a conscience decision or through a combination of life-choices use public transit. People that don't own cars. People that like the convenience of not driving. The elderly. The poor. Those people. Yes, by bringing transit service to their bucolic setting I turned their world upside down. To hear them tell, crime rose, children’s safety was threatened, trash appeared. People they don't recognize, clearly members of the those people brigade, walking through their neighborhoods. I even had one homeowner tell me that we contribute to obesity by not making those people walk. I am sure that by now they have tied my decision to the meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan and as a result I am to blame for cancer-causing cesium raining down upon them. It’s all so clear to them.

I wish I had such clarity.

Alas, I don’t. I have only done this gig for 25 years so what do I know? I am a product of my now-ridiculed paradigm that transit is good. It’s not! Clearly! Those homeowners now have my head spinning as to what is true in this world. Up is down. Cats sleep with dogs. And transit makes people fat.

So where do I go from here? There is, as I see it, one of two possibilities. Either I am an altruistic public servant blithely led astray through a quarter-century of force-fed facts on transit's benefits...or they’re xenophobic racist assbags.

You decide.