Shortly after moving to Minneapolis, my family and I began biking and taking mass transit. Biking brought us new health and a geographic sense of the metro area. While taking mass transit opened our eyes and soul to depth and beauty of people of the metro area. As the Minnesota Legislature considers cutting funding for Metro Transit, please do not look at transit simply as a way to get from point A to point B. Instead, I ask my fellow Minnesotans to both support and view Metro Transit as something much more valuable then transportation: as vehicles for democracy.
I know some will point out that user fares do not cover operational costs and therefore it is an inefficient service, deserving cuts. However, if one looks at Metro Transit from a holistic approach, one will see a service that more than pays for itself when user fares are added with the reduction of wear and tear on our roads and bridges, and with the reduction of our CO2 emissions. Also, consider the value mass transit provides both job creators and eager workers with affordable and dependable transportation. Metro Transit pays for itself and then some by promoting and encouraging democracy.
A democracy laboratory
Every time a mass transit door opens, a welcome mat for a democracy laboratory is extended. Where else in the metro area do a businesswoman, a homeless man, a high school student and a recent immigrant share space, even for just 10 minutes? Where else do strangers look one another in the eye and see the humanity in each other?
For four years I have used the services of Metro Transit for my job as the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in south Minneapolis. I’ve taken the Green and Blue lines, the BRT A line, and the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 14, 18, 21, 22, 23, 46, 84, 94, 111, 113, 133, 135, 146, 515, 535, 537, & 552 buses all over the metro area (and called or helped parishioners with Metro Mobility).
Along the way I have seen sights and heard sounds that prove the worth of this service. On a bus en route to St. Louis Park I watched a woman with a hijab and a thick East African accent ask in broken English, “hospital?” The bus driver nodded yes. The woman sat near the front of the bus next to a blond-haired, tattooed young man who, with patience and compassion, showed her the stop and pointed her to the entrance. Another time on the No. 18 I saw an elderly woman being harassed. Before anyone could react, a young African-American male stood between the woman and the harasser and told the man to leave the woman alone and get off the bus. After the harasser exited the bus the entire bus gave the young man a standing ovation. Or the time an elderly woman entered the bus only to find two of her friends on the bus as well. For 30 minutes I couldn’t help but listen with a smile as they talked about their aches and pains, their families, and how they missed their favorite bus driver, “St. Teresa.”
Getting along, welcoming the stranger
For sure, not every ride is a beautiful and smooth experience. Nevertheless, mass transit functions as a testing ground for democracy, where people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic means, age, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, gender, education, and abilities learn to share space, welcome, and get along. In our day and age, getting along, welcoming the stranger, and sharing space with others is the pearl of great price on which we cannot affix a dollar amount.
I invite every member of the legislature, before voting on cutting funding for Metro Transit services, to ride the bus or light rail with me. Ride in the morning and meet those commuting to work. Ride in the afternoon with high school students (it can be kind of smelly). Ride in the evenings at the end of a work shift and meet the tired eyes. Ride late at night and hear the tunes folk hum from the clubs they attended or played. Listen, engage, and learn (and invest) on the vehicles of democracy.
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