I read with great interest Eric Roper’s article on the Metropolitan Council members who rarely take the services Metro Transit offers, even though for them they are free (“Cars rule for Met Council members,” Oct. 21). The sentiment did not surprise me; nor did the comments from council members in the suburbs who said bus service is too infrequent. Nor did Council Member Gary Cunningham’s reasoning that he has too many meetings to attend to take the bus.

 

But that kind of reasoning is like a minister who doesn’t pray, a doctor who smokes or an advocate for social justice who doesn’t share space with the poor.

Until last January, I was the latter.

In the middle of last winter’s polar vortex, the heater in my car went kaput. The cost to repair it was prohibitive, so I made the decision not to fix the car or buy another. Instead, I would ride my bike and take the bus and light rail for my work as the pastor of a church with a membership that stretches from Lindstrom to Prior Lake to Burnsville to Maple Grove.

It was not an easy move, but it has provided me with the deepest educational experiences since my divinity school days 15 years ago.

Liberals like me talk a good game about the importance of diversity and economic equity — but rarely spend time with the constituents of those communities. Yet every time I step onto a Metro Transit bus, I am transported into the midst of the most diverse cross-section of this metro area — a Somali woman reading “Nickel and Dimed,” a father of four en route from his night job at the Mall of America to his next job at a fast-food establishment, an elderly man who had to give up driving but is not about to stop visiting his favorite Lake Street coffee shop.

Knowing such stories, and thousands of others like them, should not be optional for Met Council members. If council members are going to create public transportation policies, they should intimately know the people — and the struggles and the hardships they face. They should have to walk four or five blocks to a bus stop in subzero temperatures, or while it is raining, and wait for a late-arriving bus. They should have to navigate a transit system with limited English skills and try to make sense of the confusing numbering system: The No. 5 bus traverses Chicago Ave., the No. 4 runs on Bryant Ave. and in between the No. 18 goes up and down Nicollet Avenue.

They should have to go to a meeting, shop for groceries, stop by the library, pick up their kids at day care and go to the doctor’s office — all in one afternoon using only public transportation.

The Twin Cities metro area is a beautiful place to call home; it is full of talented people. If ever there was a place in America that could tackle the problems of economic disparity, racial tension and climate change, it is the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

But it will not happen if elected, appointed and community leaders do not follow the admonition of none other than Pope Francis: “Get out from behind your desks and spend time where the people are.” The bus and light rail are great places to conduct a meeting; they are also terrific places to hear about the struggles of working people and to see the possibilities of a thriving metropolis. What takes place at the bus stop, on the light rail and on the way to and from them are transformative moments. Our public leaders need to be a part of them.

To remind us all, perhaps every Metro Transit vehicle, rather than being wrapped with ads, should be wrapped with a message like the one engraved on Pete Seeger’s banjo: This Machine Surrounds Disparity/Racism/Division and Forces It to Surrender.

 

G. Travis Norvell is pastor at Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis.