Three recent events – so different – that I hesitate to group them – caused me to think about something we often times take for granted and don’t think about how it links us all together – for good or for ill – transportation and specifically public transportation.
The three dissimilar and non-equivalent events – – the fatal tragic accident on Metro-North outside of NYC; the 15 minute lateness of a personal trainer for her session at the gym and my moving only a few miles from behind Columbia University to in front of Grand Central.
The commuter train accident: Lives were lost in an instant in a tragic accident. Seemingly all train systems and personnel were functioning well. We will never know, this side of heaven, the thought process and decisions of the SUV driver at the center of the accident.
Ordinary Subway delay: A hardworking, intelligent, conscientious no-longer-recent immigrant scheduled an early morning fitness training session with an early rising client – only to be thwarted by a subway system with unforeseen and unexplained delays. Not a tragedy – but cast a negative karma over the whole day, because she was counting on the reliability of her subway line.
My Moving: not very far, but far enough to force me to use new subway routes. The result has been a re-awakening of a long-held belief in the intricacies, extent and sophistication of the NYC subway system. It gets you to walking distance to almost every part of NYC. Caveat – there are places particularly outside of Manhattan that it does not go, some areas have sparser service and many times a bus ride is needed to compliment the subway to get to the desired destination.
Disclaimer – we who have lived for many years in Washington Heights, Harlem Heights and now Midtown always need to be conscious there are 4 boroughs of NY other than Manhattan.
So here’s my three-point take on this:
- These transportation systems link us all together. Few don’t use these public systems. And even solo drivers in private vehicles have to deal with them at crossings – sometimes tragically. Yes, the lines do often cluster by ethnicity race and class – no mistake about it. But very often black, brown and white are together, Rich and poor are together. Immigrant and native born are together. Diversity abounds: sometimes as co-commuters, sometimes as passengers and workers.
- The men and women who make these systems run generally do an extraordinary job of keeping us safe and on-time. The systems are remarkably reliable. They are not perfect and as each of you is now recounting your own horror story. I have my share of unprintable words when I have been caught up in a delay or cancellation, (don’t get me started about airlines last year!). Yet the exceptions prove the rule.
- These transportation systems touch almost all of us. They are essential to us “getting from here to there” that remains a critical part of our lives – even as we telecommute and distance learn. Thus the work of those operating and managing these systems almost approaches being “a sacred calling.” It is a calling and a challenge to keep us safe, on-time and foster respect for one another. Yes, it is about paychecks and working conditions, but it is more than that. A system that touches so many, so regularly, impacts our world pervasively. Transportation has the potential to impact us to build up or tear down the fabric of our cities and suburbs. A good ride can be healing, comforting or at least reliable and dependable. A bad ride can be hurtful, upsetting for ourselves and a fright for friends, family and colleagues we have to deal with afterwards. Reflect on your best and worst commute and I’ll bet this resonates with you.Death on a railroad crossing, inappropriate touching and bumping on a subway or bus, the soothing or cacophonous sounds of underground musicians impact us all, the slush splashing of a bus pulling into a stop, the clear or garbled instructions of a conductor, on and on… Each of these impacts us in ways that casts karma – good or bad over our entire day and those whom we meet. And whether we are willing to admit it or not – the ethnic and racial diversity of these systems cause us to form judgments about entire groups based upon the actions of one individual whom we encounter as we travel.
Some, not all, of this is within the scope of individual workers. Some, beyond the control of individual workers, is within the scope of management and executives who run our transportation systems. And there are ways that we individual commuters act that impacts – positively and negatively on others. Need I mention more than the classic example of the 2-seat wide male leg posture.
It’s more than about getting from here to there. It’s about more than transportation. It’s about helping to build up the common good – or tear it down. It’s about the men and women who operate these systems. Thanks and don’t ever fail to strive to do a better job. Be a good influence on your colleagues. It’s about you and I who use these systems. We need to be respectful of one another. We do a pretty good job and we need to do better and we need to be a good influence on our fellow riders. It’s about building the common good – a more compassionate and reliable place to live.