Bring Back the Buses

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

"And earlier this week, somebody had messed with the bike trailer. And the hub assembly had started to come off. It was really scary. It came off, the bike went flying, the back tire went flying opposite, and I wound up late for work by an hour because I had to go to Target and get some stuff to get it fixed."

At first, her kids loved the bike. They'd race out the door in the morning and stand eagerly by the trailer, helmets on, squealing, "Mommy take off and go wheee." Now, as the bus strike enters its second month, it's a different story. Now they stall as long as they can to avoid getting into the cramped trailer, where they pout and elbow each other and often cry all the way downtown.


Last Monday, I hauled out my bike and joined them on their ride. Sondra was on schedule to get the kids to day care by the center's cut-off time of 9:30. She'd dressed them, packed her lunch, and belted Xahira into the trailer, but Xavier wanted nothing to do with it. As Sondra unlocked the bike from the chain-link fence it sits next to in the front yard, the boy slammed the gate and ran to the backyard. Sondra had to go corral him.

"C'mon, Boo-Boo," she pled, using his nickname, while carrying him under her arm. The boy half-heartedly kicked and squirmed, and finally let his mother put him in the trailer.

She lurched off on the bike, her legs waddling more than pumping, her face impassive. She stayed on the sidewalks, giving a quick wave to cars that slow down for her at intersections. The trailer's plastic orange caution flag flapped noisily in the wind, harmonizing with the sound of kids crying, rush-hour traffic, and--what's this?--a dull flop-flop coming from the trailer.

The right-side tire on the trailer had gone flat. Sondra pulled into a convenience store-service station on Lake Street that sits kitty-corner from the Metro Transit's Nicollet Garage. The tire was shot, so she called the day-care center to say she'd be late. The kids were cold and wailing. Sondra got back on the bike and pedaled back home.

There was still one chance to get the kids to day care before cut-off time. Her neighbor, a woman who helped her get the job at Cub, owns a "beater" car. Sondra explained what had happened and asked her for a ride downtown. Before they left, the woman turned to me. "I'm a witness," she said. "This woman has put on hundreds of miles in the last month. She goes downtown, then to work, and back again. Three times a week."

This time, Sondra's piecemeal transit system got her to day care and therapy. That night, after putting the kids to bed, she did what she usually does to relax: a little time in front of the TV watching the Sci-Fi Channel or the home improvement show Trading Spaces, the theme of which last week was couples trying to win enough money to pay off their mortgages.

Her dreams are modest these days. She's thankful for her job at Cub, and for the welfare assistance she receives, but she'd like a better job. She'd like her kids to have a better life. She'd like tickets to the Prince concert. She'd like the buses to start running again.

Buses Don't Matter: Rider Stories
Unless You're a Mother or a Student or a Worker or Someone Who Likes to Breathe Clean Air


Jill, age 31, temporary employee

I could've had a good-paying job commensurate with my experience, but instead I have a temporary, lesser-paying job without benefits because I couldn't get to the job interview, let alone the job. I believe the state's trying to gut mass transit so it can be eliminated. That's just sad. A city without mass transit is not a city. Fairly soon, we'll be a suburb of Milwaukee. Just you wait.


Patricia, age 19, student

I am a full-time college student at MCTC. I used to ride the bus back and forth between school and home (three miles one way)--now I have to ride my bike to morning and afternoon classes. But for my Monday night class, I take a cab because I will not ride my bike at 8:00 p.m. I also work, and so I walk every day and then one of my co-workers gives me a ride home. It's only a mile away, but it still sucks! My mother used to ride the bus to my grandmother's house and then go to the grocery store with her, but now she has no way to get to my grandmother's so we have to go to a nearby store, which is expensive, and with the money we have there is not a lot we can get! They need to get these buses up and running because my mother and I cannot afford to take cabs everywhere and I am getting sick from riding my bike in cold weather.


John, age 42, salesperson

I'm one of the folks who chooses to take the bus--it isn't my only option. My family makes $90,000 a year and we live in the suburbs. My wife and I both take the bus four days a week. With a transfer in the middle, my bus ride is about 75 minutes each way. Why do I choose the bus? It's relaxing--I can read, listen to music, talk on the phone, and count the car drivers not wearing seatbelts. It saves me about $120 per month in gas and also wear and tear on my car. It's safer than driving, especially in winter/rain, or when I'm drunk. It's better for the environment. I feel pretty smug riding the bus, because I'm part of the solution, not just another complacent asshole on the road. I figure every time I start my car, it is a vote for Big Oil and Detroit, things I'd rather not support. My main disappointment isn't with greedy suburban Republicans like David Strom, but with the general population: Why doesn't everyone understand that riding the bus can give you a sense of superiority over others? Self-placed limitation is satisfying because you're always sticking it to the man!

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