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On The Bus

I am an NFTA rider since I lost my car in the winter of 2009. Actually, I didn’t lose it; I know exactly where it is, or was: the city impound. When the city towed it from my street, with its spent battery and spot too close to the crosswalk, I knew that would be the last I saw of it. I was unemployed and destitute. Having “lost” my job the previous May, I struggled to pay rent, I could barely afford food and my gas had been shut off since July; if I couldn’t afford to fix it, how was I going to be able to afford the ticket and impound fees? I received no unemployment, had no health insurance and was ineligible for Medicaid. The car was just the next in a whole string of things to go. I assume it was sold at auction. There were a lot of “firsts” for me during that time—learning to ride the bus was one of them.

Inconvenience and bad weather aside, I’m happy to be among the many in this city who depend on NFTA to get any- and everywhere we need to go. I have had experiences and met people I would never have had the good fortune to connect with had I not been forced to ride the bus. I went to one of the hearings at Central Library to protest the proposed route reduction and supported a 25-cent fare hike rather than be further crippled by cuts to the existing, limited service area. I wanted to know I could get to Lackawanna if I had to.

I have cried many times on the bus, but never because another rider has abused me. Sunday’s trip to Michael’s was one of those times. It wasn’t because I had to take three buses—first downtown, then to university, then, on the occasionally running #34—it was because of what I heard and who I saw that, at the end of the day, had me crying. I am not a mental patient.

After a guy got on and off after getting a $5 day pass, I asked the woman behind me how much the monthly pass is now. I used to have it taken out of my paycheck, which was convenient and a pretty good deal, using pre-tax dollars, until I “lost” my job in March.

She told me $77. $77! I thought, knowing how hard it can be to come up with any money, let alone that much, at the beginning of the month.

“Who can afford that?” I asked.

“No one,” she laughed. “That’s half rent!”

I admitted some days I had to choose between food and a $5 day pass if I needed to get somewhere.

“Oh honey, I always choose food!” she laughed.

“But really, how are poor people supposed to afford $77? Per month. Just to get around the city.”

And then she gave me a tip I will not share. I don’t want to get anyone busted. This is an option I will most likely take advantage of.

The woman across from me with a four-year-old timidly joined the conversation. She spoke so softly I had to have her say it again. What she said was that she just came from the Chicago area and that monthly passes there are $18. We all shook our heads.

I didn’t start crying until the trip back from Michael’s. It wasn’t because I had to walk 0.4 mile to pick up the #35 by Wegmans on Alberta Drive, although I was glad I didn’t buy anything bulky or too heavy. It was because that trip back, no fewer than three passengers had problems with the fare; one heavily accented couple, in dishdasha and hijab, didn’t know the fare and, as it turns out, didn’t have change; they had survey the riders before they could ride; another woman got on, but had to get off after a block because she only had a dollar and the bottom of her purse yielded no more; the driver had to let her off; a third man, waiting and broiling in the 90-degree sun, pleaded with the driver to let him ride for all his money—which was less than $2. She had to say no. All riders know the drivers have to stick to the fare and nobody blamed her. That was when I felt the tears starting to burn.

What is wrong with this city, this country, where the poorest of the poor are forced to yield more and more of what little they have to go on about their lives with a modicum of dignity, being denied the freedom to move about in their world—the limited “service area” of NFTA—without having to sacrifice something that most people take for granted.

More and more people ride the buses every day. And very few do so to save money on gas, as the slick Metro ads promise. I never intended to ride the bus; as I said, I’m happy to do so—it has enhanced my life—and I doubt I will ever get another car even if I could afford one. I know I will be okay; I’ll make it regardless of the riders have a vote on the NFTA board. I wish I could say the same for everyone else.

I mentioned I am not a mental patient, to somehow make my experience of crying on the bus of more legitimate concern.

In point of fact the vast majority of those who struggle with mental illness in our area depend on NFTA to maintain some semblance of recovery. The majority of those people are on restricted, or fixed, incomes which barely provide for their subsistence. This adds another dimension to the problem of no citizen voice on the NFTA’s board—one to advocate for those least likely to advocate for themselves.

> Barbara Coady, Buffalo

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