Bring Back the Buses

For Chrissakes... Milwaukee's got public transit. (Omaha, too.)

On monday, the one-month anniversary of the Metro Transit strike passed with no public sign that the matter will be resolved any time soon. No doubt it made the ears of a few bus riders ring with the words of Taxpayers League president David Strom: "Transit just isn't that important to the smooth functioning of the Twin Cities transportation system," he said in the first days of the stoppage. "That's the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the lack of chaos engendered by the bus-system strike. Even in areas highly transit dependent--such as the central business districts of St. Paul and Minneapolis--there just doesn't seem to be much difference in traffic when buses are running and when buses are not. The bus strike shows decisively that proponents of transit are simply not telling the truth when they say that transit ridership reduces congestion. It simply doesn't."

In other words, the bus strike doesn't matter because it doesn't make it any harder for people like David Strom, people who matter, to get where they're going.

Meanwhile, though, a lot of the people who don't matter by the reckoning of Strom and countless others like him were having a tougher time of it.

Moms Can't Go on Strike
Life goes on without the bus. It's just a lot harder.

By Jim Walsh

After the bus strike began in the middle of the night of March 4, Sondra Nolan awoke the next day at 6:00 a.m. with a plan. She dressed herself and her three-year-old twins, Xavier and Xahira, fed them, and loaded the pair into a bike trailer for a three-and-a-half-mile trek from her rented duplex at 34th Street and First Avenue South to the day-care program at the 11th and Nicollet YWCA. It was cold, so she wore a winter coat and a hat under her helmet. Instead of riding in the street and competing with the heavy traffic, she took the sidewalks along First Avenue (not too fast, so as to not jolt the kids) down past the Convention Center, and, finally, on to Nicollet.

She stopped "50,001 times" to calm the kids, check on them, break up fights, or give them a snack. Then she dropped them at the day care, kissed them goodbye, and told them she'd be back after work. She climbed on the bike and headed for Portland Avenue, which affords a more streamlined route out of downtown and an easier ride to Cub than does Nicollet and its steep hills, which can look like the Pyrenees to Nolan, who has had asthma all her life.

The bicycle was one of those strokes of desperate ingenuity that working parents have to conjure from time to time. As the strike drew near, a panicky Nolan had called her mother-in-law and convinced her to drive Nolan to a Target store, where Sondra put a $240 mountain bike and kid trailer on her charge card with no real idea how or when she'd be able to pay it back. She makes $7.45 an hour at her part-time job as a Cub Foods cashier in Richfield.

An hour--and roughly 10 miles--after Nolan left home, she arrived at Cub, sweaty and smelly, and changed into her work clothes. After working her shift, she got back on her bike, pedaled past the bus shelter, the one she normally catches her bus from (the one that butts up against newspaper boxes half-filled with Employment News and the Employment Guide) and headed back downtown to pick up her kids and repeat the trip.

The next day she did the same thing, just as she has two to three days a week since the strike started. The day after that, the headline in the Star Tribune read, "First Day of Bus Strike Yields Few Complications."

"I remember somebody from the Minnesota Taxpayers' Association sitting there saying to the people in the Star Tribune that buses don't matter. 'Congestion isn't that big of an issue,'" she says, sitting in the front room of the duplex, where two televisions beam on simultaneously in separate rooms. A bottle of Excedrin and a bottle of prescription drugs sit on the stereo system's speakers, which dominate the room. Family pictures dot the walls; toys are strewn everywhere.

"It's like, 'Hello, people?' It isn't an issue of congestion," she says. "It's an issue of whether or not people who cannot afford cars can get to work, or get to where they need to go. A lot of elderly people need to go to doctor's appointments. They can't afford Metro Mobility. Metro Mobility is three bucks a ride, so that's six bucks for round-trip.

"Our lovely politicians--low-income people don't seem to matter to them. We still vote. To me, that should be enough to get anybody to listen. They're cutting programs that help you get off welfare, and they're cutting it to the point where you don't have any backup anymore, and now they want to cut buses. I know a lot of people from the inner city who need the bus system, more than any other single thing."

Sondra, 38, is one of the estimated 75,000 people who rely on the bus system to get to wherever they're going. Her bicycling Plan B has had its pitfalls. "I've had a couple of accidents with the bike on the way to work," she says. "Right after the strike started, I was really upset because there was the big snowstorm. I had to go to work in that, on the bike, no brakes, almost got hit by some cars along the way, because I had to ride in the street because hardly any sidewalks were plowed or anything. So that was really scary.

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