Here, in the place where I live, the local buses run free, literally free. The storied history of this situation is long and boring, but basically, the town spent tax-payer money on a public transportation system that has yet to be completed. Thus, they’ve decided to force the overarching public transit system (of the larger metro area) to no longer accept payment for local public transit rides as a way to recoup the losses for which the taxpayers have already paid for public transit services. The services in question are supposed to be lightrail services, but the bus, in my opinion, will do for now. I did not live here during the taxation for the larger public transit operation/promise. Thus, I have lost no personal finances to the cause. This means that riding the local bus around here is absolutely free! for the likes of me and my body buddy (i.e. lifemate).
Yesterday, we rode the free bus for the second time, since we’ve moved to this place. We take it out to a larger, broader shopping area that has all of the big box stores Americans love. As dwellers of the downtown area (despite the town being quite small, there’s a bit of sprawl that makes living car-less a bit of a challenge, even with the free bus system), we use the buses to get to shops and such that we might need on any given week or month. We absolutely do not use public transportation for any of our daily needs, that would be nearly impossible with the inefficient, albeit free, system that exists currently. But the worst part about riding the bus here in the town in which I now live revolves around the people who require (are sustained by) the local bus system here in this town.
I am lucky and privileged enough to be able to be floated by my middle-class family, if/when need be. My decision to not have a car reveals a bit of that privilege. I can afford to live in the more densely populated area of the town, right downtown where all the “stuff” happens. I have chosen to not have a car, and I am capable of living without said car by utilizing public transit when I want it, and I live close enough to my daily needs (my place of employment, the Chamber where I take meetings, etc.) to walk everywhere else. I can also simply rent a car on days when I need to travel regionally, out of the town, to the larger metropolitan areas. I understand that this is not the case for most of the local public transit users here in my new hometown.
Case in point, a woman got on the bus yesterday and the bus driver recognized her. After a brief exchange of niceties, the bus driver asked, “I thought you worked at Wal-Mart?” We were on the other side of town from Wal-Mart. Frustrated, she spoke, “I hate that place.” After a short explanation we (my body buddy and I) overheard, we learned from the fellow passenger that she began making too much money from her job at Wal-Mart; she was going to be evicted from her low-income housing. So she quit … on her birthday … because she had had “enough of this bullshit.” The thing I realized right then and there was that she existed in a world that I have never known. And in that moment, I realized that public transit is even more important for towns that want to have an economically healthy population.
This woman on the bus is trapped in an economic system that forces her to remain poor in order to survive. She’s smart enough to know that even though Wal-Mart pays her more than is allowed to be “low income,” Wal-Mart does not pay enough to live among the middle class. Or perhaps she’s merely lazy and doesn’t want to work, and so, she’d rather take her low unemployment and live in low-income housing for forever. This is the argument, is it not? Are poor people poor due to their own laziness and affinity to leech off the larger American economic system, or are they trapped by the system that has pitted them against billionaires?
To hear with my own ears the way in which she described her desperation about making too much money made me cringe. Her options were to be employed but homeless or unemployed in a house. She sees no other way to live, no other way to get out of this hell hole trap that she is trapped inside. Yes, she seemed a bit immature for the look of her, and she definitely seemed like she lacked higher-level education, but she’s surviving. She’s found a way to work within the fucking terrible system within which she is trapped. But is surviving enough? In These United States, is our goal to merely survive? I think not. I think that the situation this woman on the bus is clearly trapped within speaks to a larger degradation of the larger state of our country. We are all on our very own in this “Land of the Free.” But this is not the way that life here in These United States needs to be.