October 1, 2008

Guest Commentary - Get on the bus


When the alarm goes off at 4 a.m., I ask myself, Why am I doing this? Why am I getting up early to ride 200 miles on TARC buses for the next 13 hours?

Four years ago I learned about World Car Free Day on the Internet and decided I wanted to bring it to Louisville. I saw the addiction we have to cars and thought it would be good for this city to start Step One: admitting we have a problem.

World Car Free Day started in 2000 in Europe. It has since spread to more than 1,000 cities, challenging people to go for one day without their cars. Looking for a sure way to find out if you’re addicted to something? Try giving it up.

The Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation (CART), a local advocacy group, helped promote the event in Louisville. That first year, we held a press conference at the boardroom of TARC and no one came. Eventually, we promoted the event with fliers and posters, organized rallies and posted web pages. But it’s still tough to measure how many people are actually biking, taking the bus or telecommuting on World Car Free Day (Monday, Sept. 22). 


It’s still dark as I head to the bus stop. At Bardstown Road, a photographer from the neighborhood association is there to document my start. She apologizes for driving. 

It’s 5:06 a.m., and the No. 23 bus arrives on time. I ask the driver to radio ahead to make sure I make my next connection because I know I’m cutting it close. She does this without hesitation.  

At 5:20 a.m. I’m standing in the dark TARC lot where anyone going away from town on the express routes waits. There are five other commuters at the lot, including three guys dressed for construction work. Only one woman joins me on the bus to La Grange, which is a few minutes late. The driver knows she can make up the time on I-71.

My lone fellow passenger sleeps so I talk to the driver about my quest. He tells me he rides 200 miles on a bus every day, and gives me a look that says, Why would you want to do this and not get paid? 

Fifteen people join me for the return trip to town, most from Park ’n’ TARC lots in Oldham County. It’s not exactly car-free, but at least car-light. 

Back at Fourth and Broadway a few minutes early, I drop by the Brown Hotel to get a cup of coffee. I see the European Ryder Cup team loading into charter buses for their return home. I guess they’re car-free today, too.

On the street a television cameraman is waiting for me. He does a quick interview and films me boarding the next bus for the 8 a.m. news.

The Prospect bus driver is Carl. He’s been a driver for 30-plus years, mostly on this route. Everyone knows his name. They ask about the television camera, so I distribute fliers and tell my story about World Car Free Day, knowing I’m preaching to the choir. One guy waves me off and tells me he doesn’t own a car.

It’s 9:15 when I return to Fourth and Broadway, where another television reporter and cameraman await, along with Cathe Dykstra, executive director of Family Scholar House, an organization that helps single parents earn college degrees. Because the group gives TARC passes to its clients, I decided to turn today into a one-man bus-a-thon to raise money for them (I raked in more than $2,200 in pledges). On this day, Dykstra joins me on the bus for the trip to Jeffersonville and back. We talk about how important it is for her clients to have good public transit, and the fact that one in five households in Louisville doesn’t have a car. 

I then head to Middletown, St. Matthews, Jefferson Mall and back to St. Matthews, where CART President David Morse meets me for an interview for his blog. 

The last leg of my journey is on the Eastern Parkway bus from Oxmoor to Shively, then back to the Highlands. It’s the last 40 miles of my trip and it will take more than two hours. This is by far the most crowded bus. I count 46 people at one point, and about 10 have to stand.  

Finally — 13 hours after embarking on my journey — I de-bus at 6:05 p.m. Back to the start.