An Equitable Regional Public Transportation

Back when I lived in Spartanburg South Carolina in the seventies, I shared a car with my husband. One nice day while he was at work, I decided to go downtown to shop for clothes.

I walked the eight blocks downtown in the morning and bought some clothes. When I took them to the counter to pay, I was refused a credit card by the biggest department store in town unless my husband signed for it.

Disgusted by the store policy and reluctant to walk home in 100 degree heat, I boarded a bus.

The bus started by going in the opposite direction away from our apartment. As we wound for a hour through the outlying suburban areas the bus eventually filled up with African-American men and women. I looked around – startled to realize I was the only white person on the bus.

Spartanburg’s public transit served only black maids and gardeners hired by wealthy white people. Given this purpose it was the most efficient public transit system I’ve ever ridden.

All each worker had to do was walk straight out of their employer’s house or yard to the street where the bus stopped to pick each one up and drop them off in front of their home. However, it didn’t serve me, a consumer. because it took me an hour to get six blocks to my home.

Most urban public transit systems in this country aren’t equitable. They primarily exist to serve workers who don’t want to drive long distances or hunt for parking spaces, students, and poorer people.

Why follow a straight and narrow path?

Almost all public transit systems I’ve ridden on go in long straight paths from point A to point B. They do not serve the needs of neighborhoods, disabled people, or most glaring omission of all, consumers.

When I lived in the inner city Philadelphia as a student, I had to take a half hour long bus ride to get to the nearest large grocery store.

Once there, I found that the store served black migrants from the South to the North. Being born and bred in the North I had no idea of what to do with the vegetables and packaged goods on the shelves.

Worse yet, riding a crowded bus with two bags of groceries was an ordeal.

A better way

My suggestion for public transportation in this country is to focus more on consumers rather than workers. Everyone has to eat. It’s one of the things we all have in common.

The way to do that is to think in terms of circles, not straight lines and link the circles to shopping centers with retail groceries, farmer’s markets, and/or restaurants.

Almost all urban areas have distinct names for neighborhoods, places that can be be circled around by bus routes and can overlap with each other in order to enable riders to go from one bus to another over very long distances.

Most neighborhoods in urban areas have shopping centers which includes large grocery stores and restaurants.

I once created a map connecting major shopping centers to each other around three San Francisco East Bay cities. Shortly afterwards, the city I lived in, Emeryville, created an oblong bus route called EmeryGoRound.

This bus route connects the city’s shopping malls, BART subway stations, Amtrak, and transit buses to the Oakland airport. See the map of service routes here.

This free Emery Go Round shuttle system serves employees, travelers, and residents who can get to shopping malls within Emeryville without needing to drive.

If adjacent cities were to develop bus circles within their boundaries to connect with the EmeryGoAround at the proper times to connect with each other and with buses from other cities, everyone could have convenient access to efficient public transportation.

With a larger customer base public transit buses could be run much more often and collect more fares, thus reducing total costs.

Traffic congestion and pollution could be eased. Buses would enable shoppers to make short round trips to the store or longer trips to distant shopping areas by redesigning buses with space for their purchases.

Main Street retail stores as well as big box chain stores, especially those with over-crowded parking lots, would benefit from the extra business brought in by buses—preferably electric or solar powered.

Most importantly for the future, if gasoline usage drops or ceases, gas tax revenues will too.

Rather than having drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles bear the brunt of the tax costs for public transportation, the costs would be shared by all local tax-payers to encourage us to use public transport.

That’s because all of us who are consumers and have to eat would have more incentives to use public transportation instead of cars.

Why reduce the number of cars on the road?

After watching the series of hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes this summer, it seems clear to me why a public transit system that really works well for everyone is vital to saving lives—even in times when there is not a natural disaster.

During a recent hospitalization in San Francisco I heard a nurse repeatedly screaming at a doctor’s assistant that a patient would die in the ambulance before reaching his hospital because protesters at one of the two bridges into San Francisco had forced that bridge to close. The nurse insisted the ambulance sent by the blocked bridge.

I was being wheeled out of the hospital at that moment, so I couldn’t ask, but I heard the doctor’s assistant repeatedly say that her doctor’s orders had to be obeyed.

Isn’t it time we opened our hearts and minds to doing things in a better way for all people?


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