My Transit Story: Be a Little More Human

A guest blog from Transportation Riders United Board Member, Kelly Kozlowski

For many people, public transit is a necessary way to get around. For me, it’s a way to understand other people.

As someone who owns a car and can afford to keep it insured and fueled up, I understand I’m speaking from a place of privilege … and also from a place of isolation. 

Photo caption: It’s rare that I’m the only one waiting at a bus stop, but this was early on a holiday.

Earlier this year, The Guardian published a column titled “Cars are killing us.” One of the examples of this claim was that “cars change us … cutting us off from each other.” That’s precisely why I started riding DDOT and SMART buses from Birmingham to Detroit five days a week. I wanted to be closer to the people impacted by the Detroit nonprofit I worked for. I wanted to understand the challenges faced by others. I wanted more human connection.

When I use a car to get around, I’m disconnected from people. Sure, I get to control the temperature and music and seat position. I can cruise at a leisurely pace or dart through traffic to make good time. But I’m alone the entire time. I miss out on the impromptu conversation with a grandmother who gets her grandson off to school before boarding the bus to go to work. I don’t get to hear a bunch of old-timer Detroiters talk sports on my way home from the office. And I start and finish days with a little less awareness and empathy for others. 

There are plenty of arguments to be made for better public transit in Southeast Michigan, and Transportation Riders United is steadfast and effective in advocating for so many of the changes that our region needs to pursue if we are to ever have a hope of achieving equity and opportunity in transit.

But in addition to the fight for practical, equitable, and reliable options, I’m interested in what transit can do to better connect us to each other. 

I’m not trying to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I want us both to wear our own shoes and walk together. That’s how you really start to understand a person — by following their route while they tell you their story. That’s how you understand an issue like transit. And after spending years as a nonprofit executive riding the bus, I have collected so many stories and experiences that have layered important context around my understanding of transit while also reinforcing my love for Detroit and its people. Because you can talk about people in demographic percentages, or you can actually spend time with them, learn their names, ask about their kids, give them change for a buck when they need it, and connect. 

You can step away from the SUV and onto a bus, and I promise you’ll be better for it.