Equity refers to the fairness with which impacts (costs and benefits) are distributed. There are many types of equity to consider in public transportation, including accessibility, reliability, affordability, the ability to create good jobs by expanding public transit, and the ability to protect our health and climate by using renewable energy.
This month’s guest blog post features a conversation on transit equity between a local public transit rider and a transportation planner from the Mid-Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MRMPO).
Sarah Ijadi, MRMPO Active Transportation Planner: After finally getting my second vaccine shot, I sat down with Jennifer Lucero outside at Bamin Bakery in Albuquerque’s International District to have a conversation about her life as a public transit rider, resident of the International District and young person with epilepsy. These are aspects of her life that make her feel cursed and blessed at the same time. Her story below tells us what public transit means to her and how better located, comfortable stops, expanded hours of service and more routes to more places could improve her and her fellow riders’ lives.
Jennifer Lucero, Transit Rider: I haven’t always been bus bound. I drove a car for most of my adult life and know the convenience and luxury of being able to get almost anywhere at any time. I became a transit rider when epilepsy forced me out of the car and on to the buses to continue working. But I was still living in poverty with these changes. I had to find an apartment along the bus route and learn how to haul groceries and water from the store to the stop, on to the bus and off the bus and back to my home all while staying very alert to cars along the way and at intersections. This caused a lot of anxiety and sometimes fear. As a person walking to catch the bus, I’ll admit, I have cursed at cars. But I have learned to communicate with drivers as well. Being a pedestrian has made me feel so helpless. Sometimes I feel like people in cars are trying to kill me when we are not making eye contact. We’re not ghosts, we need to be looked at for safety on the road as well.
It is hard to keep up with middle class friends/ co-workers- when I can’t drive; when I have to rely on the bus. Sometimes I don’t feel like part of society; people say go have a picnic, get fresh air, get away from negativity but it’s hard to get there. Even deciding on a whim to get a milkshake is unrealistic, depending on the time of day. One time, as part of my job, I had an event in the bosque which I traveled to by bus and a lot of walking but coming back the bus passed me and I was stranded for hours. Many of my friends and neighbors who have always been stranded by poverty and lack of mobility don’t think about going to the mountains or going to an art exhibit at the river. Just getting water, food and carrying groceries on the bus takes a lot of time and energy. Sometimes we feel like scavengers. Even if I can get necessities during the day; what if I need something at night? Or if I want to go out socially at night? Buses are unreliable and the route that goes by my apartment stops service early in the evening, even earlier on the weekend.
Riders will skip a bus stops that we know are unsafe which means we have to walk farther. We try to choose bus stops away from speeding traffic; usually we look for ones with a covering. Why don’t all bus stops have coverings? I have never felt so exposed in my life sitting at the bus stops that are just a bench placed in the middle of the sidewalk; cars are too close, racing past you. The cars are loud and your face is at the same level as the exhaust. When I wait for the bus I breath that exhaust and I sometimes feel like a piece of trash. People in cars honk at us, even spit and yell obscenities at us. I am sitting there along with the elderly, mothers and babies! We are trying to keep our spirits up but it’s hard because we don’t have shade, or a tree to protect us.
Sometimes, I’ve had really good conversations with people at the stops that has helped me form a more compassionate world view. Everyone I’ve spoken to were people going somewhere and we shared stories about our lives. Sometimes we shared food if we had not eaten. The bus stop is a place of community. It’s not supposed to be a scary or dangerous place.
Cars are a life force because they equal freedom. People put a lot of energy, time and money in their cars even if they can’t afford it because they can’t overcome their fear of being dependent on public transit. However, if public transit is reliable, fast and easy to understand, I believe our community can view public transit as freedom as well. Freedom to get to work, to an art show, a trail , a friend’s or family’s casa or just to explore beautiful Albuquerque.
Bus drivers and my fellow riders have brightened my day. Some of them really care. Some bus drivers are stressed out and disrespectful but many are kind and professional. As passengers we tend to cheer for each other and will help each other when we are the bus. My advice is to be kind to riders and bus drivers. We are in this struggle together. Many of my fellow passengers are like me; we’re ill, we’re slow but I always feel like once we are the bus my fellow riders will work together to help each other out and we recognize there are angels among us.
The ART bus is a wonderful rapid bus system for our city. I will defend it because it helps me get through my errands so much faster. I wish all buses and bus routes were like ART; its cleaner, shinier, well lit, comes every 8 minutes, it’s great and you know the ART bus is going to stop!! Also, ART bus drivers have their own lane so they don’t have to put up with other drivers- they seem more relaxed. It bothers me that people who don’t ride public transit and the merchants put down ART. Their complaints don’t seem like they consider people like me who don’t have choice and have to ride the bus and have just as many responsibilities as they do.
I use the ABQ RIDE app on my phone but there needs to be more outreach on how to use it. A lot of people struggle with the fare. It would be really helpful if it was free for everyone. Even having quarters means a lot if you’re poor; it feels like a privilege to have the quarters in your pocket to pay for the fare.
We need people to support public transit. I have mixed feelings about Transit Equity Day; it felt like a lot of posers who don’t really ride the bus or know what it’s like to be bounded by the bus on an everyday basis. However, if people who have cars will support improvements to public transit like better, more convenient and comfortable bus stops and expanded hours with more routes to more places our lives will be easier; we could get to better jobs, schools, nature, food and to our friends and family. We would have better health; it would enable us to participate more fully in the economy and society.
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