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Rubbing Elbows on a Crowded Bus in Alaska

2:30 PM EDT on October 21, 2008

It may look desolate, but business is picking up at the Fairbanks bus depot.

All around the country, local transit systems are seeing spikes in ridership caused by rising fuel prices, and oftentimes straining under the increased demand. As part of our participation in Transportation for America's Build for America campaign, we've been looking around the country for bloggers who are covering these issues and who can lend their voices to the call for more funding for public transit around the country. That's how we found The Fairbanks Pedestrian.

The blog's creator, Paul Adasiak, recently wrote an interesting post on increased bus use in his Alaskan city. He's pleased that more people are riding because it means fewer cars on the road, sure. But when he saw a well-dressed man with a briefcase board the bus, he saw the potential for an even more profound effect:

I’m happy because the bus isstarting to be more of a social leveler, bringing together a widervariety of ages, races, educations, and incomes.  And that’s important.

How many people of another social class, or race, or educationallevel are you likely to meet while at work?  Probably few.  How many inyour home, barring your own parents or children?  Very few.  And howmany while driving alone in your car?  Absolutely none!  For much ofour days, most of have no chance to rub elbows with people who seemunlike us, because we lack space in which this can happen.  Ourstratification and our isolation dim our understanding and dull oursympathies.

I recall, growing up in Anchorage, some ordinance involving expandedbus service came up before the municipal assembly (I think), and MayorTom Fink, speaking against it, said, “Everybody I know drives a car.” Well, wonderful.  That really spoke more to his own social class andhis own isolation from others, than it did to the actual state ofaffairs.

If the privileged leaders of our community — if our City Council andBorough Assembly members, our captains of industry, our professors, themembers of our Chamber of Commerce — got to ride the bus every day, andto rub elbows with their fellow citizens of all classes, no suchignorant statement could escape their lips without consequence.  And Iexpect it would be much harder for us all to hold on to our prejudices.

Photo: drniii/Flickr

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