Nuts on the Bus
Roi J. Tamkin
So they tell me ridership is down on public transportation. In some Northeastern cities, lowest it’s ever been in thirty years. Why doesn’t this surprise me? So they propose a rate increase and a route decrease. As someone who relies on public transportation to get me to work and around town, let me offer some insight and suggestions.
There is no mystery why ridership is down. And it won’t be anything county officials will tell you. Sure, they can point to demographics, or talk about changes in the current routes. Hell, they’ll even blame better highways to the suburbs for their dilemma. But a decrease in urban populations shouldn’t bring any transit authority to its lowest numbers in decades. I have sat in downtown traffic long
enough to know people still work in the city and need an alternative to stagnant traffic to get them there. It boils down to one thing – — convenience. Buses are going to be used if people view them as being convenient. Standing for forty minutes on a packed bus in either extreme summer heat or winter freeze is not convenient. I didn’t pay a buck twenty-fifty so I can stand in the aisle on someone else’s toes while another guy has his elbow up my backside. It’s not good planning when people feel they have to board an already crowded bus because they know the next bus is a half-hour from arriving. Assuming that it arrives on time or will even stop to pick you up.
It is not convenient to pay your fare and then find the bus stopped at a Time Recovery station while the driver tries to make heads or tails of his schedule (the one he ignores). When I pay my money, I want to be driven home, or to work, or to wherever I’m going. None of this pulling alongside the curb, coming to a dead stop and watching other buses zoom by. Let’s keep moving.
And the fare itself is not convenient. I have been to major cities across the country, and I am saddened to pay twice as much and receive half the service as I do in Atlanta ($1.50 in Atlanta versus 85 cents in Boston).
But these perceptions of inconvenience pale in comparison to the story I have to tell. I mean, I can live with the expensive fare. I can almost, sometimes, tolerate a crowded bus, but honestly, sometimes the riders I share the bus with try my patience to an ungodly end.
This is a personal story to which many can relate and appreciate. This takes place back when riding a bus was a new and exciting adventure for me. I had taken this job as a busboy at a downtown Greek restaurant. I shared an apartment with my sister in Wilkinsburg and had to take the bus every day. One day, after work, I boarded the bus feeling very stressed. I had a pulsing sinus headache, my eyes felt like they were ready to burst out of my skull, and because of where I worked, I smelt like a walking gyro. I boarded the bus on Liberty Ave., finding a seat with relative ease. I sighed knowing that within fifteen minutes, I would be home to shower and relax. The bus came to its last downtown stop on Grant Street. And then I saw him step on.
His clothes were old and stained. His face dirty and his teeth only sparsely filled his mouth. Eyes bloodshot from a hard day of drinking liquor. The smell of the cheap booze preceded him. And I knew immediately that he would sit next to me. And he did. As soon as the bus pulled out, he started into it. A chant. Repeating with the same prophetic sing-song voice and tone, “A thousand days and a thousand nights. A thousand days and a thousand nights. A thousand days and a thousand nights… “
Fifteen minutes. I had fifteen minutes from downtown to Wilkinsburg. It felt like fifteen hours. I imagined killing the man next to me fifteen ways. Fifteen horrors I sat through. “A thousand days and a thousand nights… ” I wanted to hit this guy. To get up and shout, “OK, I get the point!” But I did nothing. As did everyone else on the bus. Nothing.
At Wilkinsburg, I exited the bus cursing Port Authority.
This experience is typical. I somehow manage to get the seat next to the smiling madcap mental patient out for an afternoon ride on the bus.
Riding the bus is not a pleasure. It is chaos. There are buses I dread because of the people who may be on them. Catching a bus is a hassle. The commutes are long and boring. Public transportation has become a challenge.
I have a suggestion. Public transportation authorities should give out little bags of peanuts on the bus. This is a great idea that satisfies many problems.
People need to see something for their money. Again, I reiterate the perception of riding the bus. Commuters perceive the bus fare as expensive. People need to see what their dollar is getting them. Give them little bags of peanuts like the airlines do on short domestic flights.
Here’s how I see it: Unsalted during the week, mixed nuts on the weekends, and the coup de grace — honey roasted on the holidays. Package the peanuts in a recyclable foil that people can dispose in a repository by the exits. As you enter, pick up a bag of peanuts; as you exit, deposit the wrapper.
This plan will get more people to ride the bus. It will make the ride enjoyable and pleasant. And with a mouth full of peanuts, there will be no more “A thousand days and a thousand nights.” A win-win situation for all.