By Ken Harvey, Community Transit
The things we enjoy should never be taken for granted. Some price was paid; some work was done to make it available. It’s always good to remember that.
Last week marked a quiet anniversary of an important milestone in public transportation. It was a memorial for those of us who try not to take our bus rides for granted.
Every weekday thousands of people in Snohomish County and around the Puget Sound get on or off a bus. Until recently, I was one of them and loved it. Now I have to drive because of where I live.
I recall what it was like to be a bus, train and ferry commuter. I got to enjoy the luxury of letting someone else deal with the traffic until I got off. Most of the time there was a seat for me.
But I also remember growing up in the Mississippi of the 1960s. It was a different America then. And being able to step onboard and sit wherever I chose on a bus (or any other mode of public transportation) was something I couldn’t always count on or feel safe doing. So, the simple act of confidently stepping onboard a Community Transit bus in 2010 is something to appreciate.
February is Black History Month. It is a gentle reminder that our great transit system is an example where the promise of America is real today for so many of us. It’s a place where we can all ride and smile, with dignity, without apprehension, without fear.
You may recall it was 55 years ago that a diminutive 42-year-old black seamstress, named Rosa Parks, boarded a bus, sat down on the first row of the “Colored Section” (five rows back from the front door) and then refused to give up her bus seat to a white rider who wanted her seat. The refusal landed Mrs. Parks in jail.
She insisted later that she did not plan her fateful act: "I did not get on the bus to get arrested," she said. "All I was trying to do was get home after a hard day’s work."
The bus driver who called the police was the same one who had put her off a bus 12 years earlier for refusing to get off and reboard through the back door reserved for “colored” riders.
Her simple act of defiance led to a successful civil rights boycott of the transit system in Montgomery, Alabama, and became the launching point for a young Montgomery pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. Those ripples spread and touched every corner of our nation, society and thinking.
Today, I know I can step onboard a Community Transit bus and find my seat in peace and dignity. I am welcomed onboard and not barred entry because of race or color, age or nationality, ability to walk or need for wheelchair or other mobility device. I know that I will be greeted by a friendly coach operator and may choose any seat and be surrounded by all kinds of people. And that if I give up my seat, it will be because I believe gentlemen should do so and senior riders should be shown additional respect.
Caring, friendly, “smile and ride” service should never to be taken for granted. Nor those invisible transit staff and managers who work behind the scenes to put that caring service into place and keep it going.
Please join me in riding the bus this month and being grateful.