It's 8:32 a.m. at the 46th Street light-rail station in Minneapolis, and my people have gathered for another Blue Line trip downtown, or to stops along the way. Some riders, including me, have arrived by bus.
We come in all shapes, sizes, colors and ages. Our melting pot on wheels carries office workers, students, seniors, the disabled and, yes, the homeless. A few of us wear ties or business suits, but not many. We seldom talk with one another, preferring ear buds and reading over conversation. But we share a bond — we use transit, and in the eyes of some that apparently renders us less important than the motorists we see from our buses, often texting while driving and alone in their cars.
Some of my people would likely trade places with those drivers if they could, but the costs of car ownership, insurance and parking make that impossible. Others, like me, can afford those things but enjoy saving a few bucks and, truth be told, like being part of this army of mostly quiet, earnest transit users.
Our colleagues come to work complaining about accidents, traffic jams, weather delays and the cost of parking. A bus may run a few minutes early or late, but for the most part transit is reliable. And the walk to and from the bus stops and stations is good for us, even in the middle of winter.
Transit life is not always ideal, though. Buses and trains can be dirty. It's not unusual to find an empty booze bottle or fast-food wrapper on the floor — or, in the depths of winter, to see a fellow passenger spread across two seats, wrapped in a tattered blanket and sleeping soundly. Count your blessings.
Sometimes teenagers are loud and a little unruly. You occasionally run into a drunk or someone seemingly struggling with mental illness — a more likely occurrence on evening rides. Our urban army has more than its share of wounded soldiers, and it's not for everyone, but it works for us.
We pay our fares, too. Random checks are pretty common; Metro Transit police are friendly but firm, and I seldom see a passenger unable to produce a ticket or pass. Officials say there were more than 82 million rides systemwide in 2016, an average of more than 266,000 a week. That's a lot of people like us going to school, work, the doctor's office, the airport and the mall — and back home again.
There are empty seats on some of the trains and buses — more than those of us who rely on transit like to see. Of course we're not responsible for promoting transit use, setting fares or expanding the system. Elected and appointed legislators and officials make those calls, and some don't care much about our ranks.
Minnesota Republicans, in particular, are dismissive, unless they are in business and need transit options for their employees and less congested roads to move supplies and products. This week we learned that the proposed GOP House transportation bill could slash state funding for local transit by $122 million over the next two years, likely leading to fare increases and service cutbacks.
"This will have a real impact on people's lives," Met Council Chair Adam Duininck told the Star Tribune. Indeed it would.
Economic development experts say transit is critical in efforts to attract the young talent we need to replace baby boomers in the workforce. We've already got some of them in the army — they wear the nicest buds and headphones. But we could use more.
Regardless of age or status, you're welcome to join us on the bus, train or both. Bring your insulated lunch container, backpack and water bottle, and don't forget your cellphone. We probably won't talk to you, but we take all comers and don't discriminate on the basis of, well, anything.
You might want to hurry up, though. It looks like the price of admission is about to go up.
Scott Gillespie is the Star Tribune's editorial page editor.