My Transit Story: Growing Up with Transit

A guest blog from TRU Board Member & Secretary, Julie Tschirhart.

My father, Richard Tschirhart, and I circa 1996.

When I was six years old my mom was in a car accident that totaled her car. We couldn’t afford another, so my dad, being the transit and bicycling enthusiast that he was, decided to give his car to her and be car-less in the Motor City. Thus began my education in public transit.

Living in Oak Park, an inner-ring suburb of Detroit, my father and I would make frequent trips using the SMART and DDOT buses. We’d take the 740 to Birmingham or Somerset, eating sliders at Hunter House or browsing the maps at Rand McNally’s (or beanie babies at FAO Schwartz for me!) Or we’d take the Woodward Bus south, spending the day at the DIA or the Detroit Public Library. I have fond memories of these trips, learning to appreciate the landscape in the unique way afforded by riding transit.

But I also remember the waits. The missed buses. The cold in the winter. Though my dad could make any trip feel like an adventure, traveling by bus in Metro Detroit could be long, onerous, and unpredictable. In almost every scenario, taking a car was shorter and more convenient. But we didn’t have that luxury, and nor did the numerous people I saw waiting for the bus around town.

Posing proudly before a train in Canada.

I didn’t know many other people who took the bus. When I got to be a bit older, middle-school aged, I remember having to convince my friends that we didn’t need our parents to pick us up or drop us off if we wanted to get to the Barnes & Noble in downtown Royal Oak or see a movie at the Palladium in Birmingham–we could take the bus! Having the ability to get around before having a driver’s license was liberating.

My experiences as a transit rider in Metro Detroit have taught me a few things:

  1. Access to the places you need to go–school, work, the doctor, the grocery store–should be possible whether or not you own a car. This access should be predictable, convenient, and connective.
  2. There is a sense of empowerment and integrity in being able to get around. For kids, seniors, or anyone else who can’t or can’t afford to drive, we need to invest in options that make life manageable without access to an automobile.  

We were the Motor City–let’s be the Mobility City. We can lead the way, or at least jump on the train (or bus, or scooter, or bike).

On the bus with my Walkman, peak 2002.

I am an advocate for public transit because I want to increase access to opportunity for everyone. To me, investing in public transit and non-motorized transportation infrastructure is about expanding options. Being able to pick the right mode for the trip. Having agency no matter what your ability, income, or age.

I know we’ve been the Motor City for many years. But just because cars were the dominant mode for the last 50+ years doesn’t mean they always will be. Detroit has always been a laboratory of social and technological change. Things that happen in America happen here first (the assembly line, the middle class, the automobile). We were the Motor City–let’s be the Mobility City. We can lead the way, or at least jump on the train (or bus, or scooter, or bike).