By: Kiki Schreiber
Myself and everyone else using the “2 Line” of GoDurham! (formerly known as DATA) are often asking each other this question at the bus depot. It’s mostly rhetorical, because we know where it is: it’s late. It’s consistently the last bus to arrive at the depot, often after the other buses have pulled away. If you need to make a transfer, you very well might have missed it. Sometimes people plan ahead, and start their trip earlier than they really needed. In which case, you hang out at the depot until the bus you need comes back around.
There is no point being frustrated with the bus operators; they have little control over the problem. These are problems built into the structure and planning of the public transit system. In my experience, the bus operators do their best under whatever circumstances they find themselves in to move passengers around quickly and safely. However, institutions set up for the public face the existence of structural racism, classism, and ableism. And yes, those interlocking arms of oppression can make a bus late.
The 2 bus line is a bit confusing if you aren’t, and sometime even if you are. There is the 2, the 2A, and the 2B. Each route differs slightly. It’s relatively common for someone to jump up when the bus turns onto Guthrie off of Angier Ave., thinking they were on the 2A and needing to get off to wait for it at the M&M Mart. Also, the inbound 2B becomes the 4 when it comes into the depot. And vice versa, the 4 pulls into the 2 slot at the end of its route. Often though, the digital signage on the side of the bus doesn’t change. So sometimes people who don’t frequent the line, and even some who do, mistakenly get on the 2 when they needed the 4. Or, if they know it is the 2, they are unsure whether it’s the 2A or the 2B. I am not sure when the two sublines merge, but they become just the 2 after a certain time of day.
Are you confused yet? You get the hang of it after a while. Sort of.
Last month marks two years of me living in Durham. Being legally blind, and thus not legally allowed to drive a car, I always get to experience at least part of the public transit systems anywhere I’m living. I haven’t lived that many places, but among them are Portland OR, Manhattan, and a brief stint in Queens. My experience using the transit system here is informed by living in places where the citizens decide that public transportation should be heavily funded, and the local government allows bills to pass that make that possible.
Once, a cluster of people were waiting at the 2 slot of the depot and, yes, bemoaning the lateness of the bus; one man on the phone with his job trying to explain how he would be a few minutes late. I’ve heard people discuss being fired or written up at various jobs because the bus caused them to be late. A woman, who also frequents the 2 line, said, “If we got some white people on this bus, you know they would fix it.” She looked over at me, flapped her hand, and said, “Rich white people, I mean.” She laughed. I laughed too. Certainly she didn’t need to qualify her statement on my account, but part of what was happening was a moment of class solidarity. I am a white woman living in East Durham, where many families are people of color who have lived here for years, and I just moved into the neighborhood two years ago. While my disability and low income does not by any means erase the privilege I have from structural racism and white supremacy, it does change my relationship to it. My albinism, which occasionally causes someone to be unsure what race I am, also affects that relationship.
While this piece is focused on the number 2 line, I want to include an experience of riding the 10B to get to the Social Security Office. Having never been, and as someone who deals with anxiety, I asked the driver if he could tell me when we got to the stop nearest the office. The automated voice announces some stops and/or street names, but not all, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see signs. He agreed, and told me it was actually pretty easy because it is the last stop on that route before it becomes inbound. He was not kidding, because the Social Security Office, a place one goes to do a number of things (such as apply for disability benefits), is on the edge of town. It is not conveniently located at all if you are unable to drive. For many applying for disability, that is their truth (also, the SSO building itself is barely accessible, but that is another article).
There are, no doubt, a number of reasons for the late arrivals of the 2 to the depot. I can only offer factors I’ve experienced as a passenger. The 2 is the line you take to get to and around East Durham, which is a large community of people. The majority of the residents are low income. One result of this fact is fewer folks with cars which means more who rely on the bus as their main, and sometimes only, means of transportation. More people riding means more stops; there is the time it takes people to get on and off, etc. Durham is also a city with a large number of train tracks. Buses are legally required to pause before crossing any set of railroad tracks.
Those pauses add up.
There are a number of elderly and/or disabled passengers who use a chair or walker as a mobility aid. Often a passenger needs to use the ramp, have their chair attached or unattached to the bus, or simply needs more time to safely board or exit the bus. These processes add time and are likely part of the chronic lateness. But let me stress again, none of these are the fault of the passengers or the bus operators. These are realities for both those riding and those working for public transportation, and need to be considered and taken seriously, with a direct effort to resist ableism, as well racism when it comes to city planning and funding. Passengers with disabilities should have access to the bus without always needing to be concerned about time, or deal with frustration from some other passengers who unfairly blame them for the lateness of the bus.
I do not know enough about city planning to offer solid solutions to the problems I pointed out. Whenever I discuss my experiences with others, they ask me what I think should be done. Besides not knowing enough about city planning, the power structures that create difficulties in the daily lives of so many, are at the core of these problems. We can see the connection to these even larger structures of power. This connection is part of why local discussion and actions are so important.
Ever since they changed the name of the transit system, I have had a fantasy that one day, as the automated voice says, “Thank you for riding GoDurham,” that a bunch of us riding would talk-sing the “GoDurham” part along with it. I thought that one time, anyway. But it’s often early in the morning, and maybe it’s raining, and everyone is tired. It is also an overly cheerful name, if one’s daily experience involves the lateness of the bus. Finally, life is not a musical. No matter how much I may wish it so, America overall is not a country where citizens across class lines use public transportation. Public transportation in many places in America, and in Durham, NC, is the means of movement for the people. And the people deserve public transportation that works, regardless of their class status, race, or disability.
Kirstin (aka Kiki) Schreiber moved to East Durham in 2014. She has an MA in Performance Studies from Tisch University at NYU. Kiki currently spend her days in 2016 surviving like many of us are, and she is trying to mix more writing, music, performing, and social justice into what that looks like. She is extremely grateful for the support network she has, the family she was born with and her chosen family.
*featured image by Anki Höglund