Misunderstood Mass Transit
08/27/10 by Kacey Hoover
People have become accustomed to the comforts of driving in their own vehicles, with their own music and on their own schedule. As we enjoy the comforts of being alone in our four-door SUV, our health and well being are suffering from the pollutants of idling vehicles in traffic. However, this does not have to be our everyday commute. The great irony is that everyone is already aware of the solution, which is currently in place to combat this traffic dilemma. It’s a bit of a taboo, but mass transit isn’t as scary as many people think. Mass transit is easy to navigate, affordable and convenient.
A common misconception is that mass transit is thought to cater toward low-income communities, the elderly and the disabled. In order to help change that mindset and establish the idea that mass transit is for everyone, I decided to take a ride on the transit myself and see what all the hoopla was about.
Although the schedule wasn’t completely intuitive for first-time riders, the customer service was quick and helpful in assisting with scheduling questions. Additionally, the schedule was available via the Internet and the newspaper, both of which provided detailed maps with stopping locations.
After mapping my route, I parked my car safely in the Rowan County Health Department parking lot. The parking lot was crowded with employee and patient cars, but there was still enough room in the back for me. Once I hopped aboard the Rowan Express East (REE), I discovered that the air conditioning was better and the seats more comfortable than my Nissan. My $1 fee would take me as far as I needed to go, and if I couldn’t get there by REE, my driver, Ernest Sharpe, would offer me a transfer pass to Salisbury Transit, Cabarrus Kannapolis RIDER or Rowan Express South.
The ride was smooth and quiet; nevertheless, it became apparent I would be one of only a few to enjoy it. The first few bus stops were empty. Alone, I watched as two, three and then seven cars drove past us as we picked up ghosts. Ultimately the bus averaged only a quarter of its capacity. This could be because my trip was taken later in the morning and I may have missed the early commuters. However, the few people that I did get a chance to meet on the bus were sociable and encouraging.
First I met Lillie Mae McKenzie, a retired Rockwell citizen, who informed me how convenient the service was for her to make it to the grocer and medical facilities. This trip, she used the transit to take her to the grocer to pick up her necessities. Then there was Carol Ames, an office manager at the Salisbury Mall, who rode at least five days a week. She recently had her car in the shop and was pleased at how inexpensive and easy the transit was, especially transferring to Salisbury Transit. Every work day she was picked up at the Brinkley Center and taken to the Salisbury Transit site, then finished her commute at Salisbury Mall. The only improvement the riders suggested was instituting more frequent stops, which would require funding for drivers and new buses.
After my one-hour commute back to the health department, I felt reassured and relieved that transit was simple and comfortable. My only concern is that if more people don’t utilize this service, then the service may not have the funds or demand to expand into its full potential. It is possible for buses to arrive every 15 minutes as opposed to every 45 minutes or hour.
This is a system that needs the support and involvement of its community members. Transit is designed for the community and officials encourage feedback from you! The question is what would it take for you to ride transit and should companies offer incentives to their employees who take transit? My experience made me realize that mass transit is created by people and for people like you and me.
Kacey Hoover is the air quality outreach intern at the Center for the Environment.