Who is public transportation for?

February 12, 2015


by Emma Ignaszewski


If you’ve been on Facebook this week, you might have seen the story about James Robertson, the man who walks 21 miles a day for his commute to work.


Last week, you might have heard about how New York City is raising its subway fares, and we here in Cortland County are looking at a potential increase in bus fares as well.


And three weeks ago, you might have seen photos of Eclipse, a black lab, taking the bus to the park. By herself.


All of these stories remind us that, as many of us scrape our windshields and switch on our seat warmers, there are many people (and pets) who rely on things like sidewalks, buses, and the network of public transportation as common good.


Public transportation is for everybody. And it’s not just buses – it includes sidewalks, and bike lanes, and pedestrian signals at intersections. It includes roads – the whole spectrum – from the gravelly country paths that kick up dust in the summer, to the wide highways built up to the horizon that carry cars over rivers. 


Wanting to do good, a GoFundMe campaign was set up to raise money to buy James Robertson a car. That’s an incredibly nice thing to do – and I’m sure it makes James Robertson (and the rest of us) feel really good about the way we can collectively solve issues in the connected world.


But as journalist Ben Adler pointed out, buying James Robertson a car is a very expensive solution to a much larger problem. Because James Robertson isn’t the only James Robertson.


There are millions of James Robertsons across the nation - people who cannot afford to live near work, people who cannot afford a car. There are teens who are too young to drive, but whose parents don’t have time to chauffer them to after-school jobs or volunteer work. And there’s even the occasional dog going to the park (and we know we’re not ready to see any labrador retrievers behind the wheel quite yet).


Is there a solution to the James Robertson problem that would be in everyone’s interest? Of course there is - investing in public transportation.


Neither Cortland County nor the City of Cortland currently contributes funding to our public transit system. Our roads get redone after the snow lets up in springtime, but our buses are still depending on a matrix of support from the state and federal governments, in addition to the fare box. And, across the nation, the public is riding transit more than ever.


Have you been on the Route 4 bus on a weekday afternoon? It’s packed. We need the buses to get people to the grocery store.


Have you been on the Route 6 bus on the morning run to TC3? It’s packed. We need the buses to get people to school.


Have you been on the Route 7 commuter bus to Ithaca? It’s packed. We need the buses to get people to work.


We need public transportation as an economical and smart solution to the issues we know people face every day in our communities. Remember – James Robertson didn’t walk to work until his car stopped running. Once we face issues in our own lives, we realize how quickly the common good becomes just…good. 


This article was featured in the February 6th edition of the Cortland Standard.


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