I was a public transit snob most of my life. My excuse? I inherited bus blindness.
My parents must have taken public transportation to work or school at some point in their lives, but it wasn’t on my watch. I copied what I saw.
We moved to Houston in the mid-1960s. METRO didn’t exist then, but HouTran buses carried maids to my new west Houston neighborhood to clean homes. If any of my friends or their parents rode the bus, I sure didn’t know about it. Park and ride—the bus service that might have attracted commuters from the suburbs—wasn’t in place.
Stephanie, who grew up in Lubbock, also suffered from bus blindness. She can’t recall ever seeing a city bus in her hometown.
One idea about bus non-ridership
I think a reason that many people don’t ride the bus is because they haven’t ridden the bus. And they haven’t ridden the bus because they don’t see the bus. Or, more accurately, they don’t see people in their tribe riding a bus or waiting at a bus stop. And until they do, they’ll default to the car in the garage.
Are there racial and class biases at work here? Undoubtedly.
Bus blindness isn’t limited to WOOFs (well-off old farts) like me. But curing bus blindness among my tribe is important to the overall success of public transit.
“We must also look to change culture of riding buses in Houston. Many people look at transit as only for the poor or hipsters.” — Mayor Sylvester Turner
“Because great public transportation systems are expensive, they only get fully funded when they’re used by both the well-to-do and the not-doing-so-well,” says Samuel Schwartz, in “Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars.” Schwartz is a transportation consultant and former New York City traffic commissioner.
Enrique Peñalosa, the U.S.-born mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, takes it a step further. In his 2013 Ted Talk, he says, “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”
I’d like to think that Houston is on the road to becoming an advanced city.
Photo credit: Houston Metro bus, parked on the edge of the Harris County justice center by Roy Luck, TransMilenio – Heroes station by Jorge Loscar