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True tales of local transit

Since last March, "Transit Tales" has been canvassing Pittsburgh for stories about local transit — how it serves and shapes the region, by connecting us to our jobs, our community and each other. 

The project — an effort by Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group and Bricolage Production Company — seeks to raise awareness of transit as officials in Harrisburg debate transportation funding this fall. Organizers hope to build support for Senate Bill 1, which would fund transit with $510 million annually. But they also hope to build a sense of the ways that transit not only serves a community, but helps build it.

These stories were edited for length by Chris Potter; full-length versions of these and other tales are available at www.youtube.com/user/TransitTalesPgh. Find out how to submit your own story at www.transittalespgh.org.

Everyone wanted to make sure that I would be OK

I was at work, which was in Downtown Pittsburgh, and at the end of my workday I had a meeting that I had to go to. I had an ACCESS ride scheduled, but it was a beautiful clear spring day, and [handicapped-]accessible buses had only been running a short while. And I thought, "I'll just take a bus." It was rush hour, so there were maybe 25 people standing at the bus stop. A bus that I knew would get me to Oakland pulled up, and the driver opened the door. I said, "I'm going to Bellefield and Fifth Avenue in Oakland," and he said "Lady, the lift isn't working." He hadn't even tried it. I said, "Would you give it a try?" And he said, "The lift isn't working." All of the sudden, 25 strangers said, "Well, that isn't right. That's not fair. Why isn't it working?" They were saying "Could we help you somehow?" I said, "I'll be fine, there will be another bus coming along in about 10 minutes." 

Nonetheless, no one got on the bus. Everyone wanted to make sure that I would be OK. Ten minutes later, another bus came along, and I said to the driver, "I'm going to Fifth and Bellefield in Oakland," and he said, "Well, I can take you there," and he deployed the lift. Twenty-five people that I have never met cheered loudly. The bus driver looked sort of startled: He didn't think he'd done anything heroic. I got on the lift, I got in the bus, other people got on the bus. And I was sitting there thinking, "Only in Pittsburgh would this happen." I smiled all the way to Oakland.

—Lucy Spruill, Squirrel Hill

A rite of passage

It was a rite of passage for a young man to be able to go on the bus by yourself. That was big-time. When we were around 5, 6, 7 — right in there — me and my brother got the opportunity.  Either my grandfather or grandmother walked us up to the bus stop that was nearby, and we were to get off at the end of the line, where my dad would pick us up. But nobody told us an important detail: that the bus may not stop at the end of the line. In fact, it started back over at the beginning of the bus route. We didn't really figure this fact out too much, other than me and my brother were figuring we were going a little bit too long. We also noticed that some of the stops we had seen before. Behind the scenes, of course, my mother and my dad were going nuts: "Where are the kids, oh they didn't get off the bus. Oh my God, oh my God." 

Finally the bus driver [was on] the final route of his day, so he was at the final stop, and he turned around, and saw us and was like, "Oh my God." He got the story from us, [and] he went back to the bus stop that we got on, and there was my frantic mother, and grandfather and father. We got a little bit of heck, but a lot more laughs. 

— Russ Fedorka, McKeesport 

Jesus was there on the bus

I was a freshman at Duquesne University, and for my work-study job I had to take a bus to the University of Pittsburgh to go to a bunch of different libraries. And there was a man dressed like Jesus Christ, trying to get me to believe he was the son of God and walk with him for eternity in the garden of good. It was very bizarre and I didn't know what to do, and I was 18 and I was coming from a Catholic university, and Jesus was there on the bus and all I felt was fear. So I got off the bus at a stop that wasn't mine, and then all I felt was guilt. 

— Gab Bonesso, McKees Rocks

Crowded and crazy and funny and scary

When I hear the words "public transit," the first thing that comes to my mind [is] the great mass of humanity, squeezed into a small place. How crowded and crazy and funny and scary they can be, all at the same time. It's really kind of amazing that so many people can be packed into so small a space, and still coexist. The variety of people that you see packed onto subways and buses, and they're all getting along, because they don't have a choice. It's really an amazing testament to how we can, when we have to, cooperate with each other. 

— Joe Schultz, New York City (formerly of Shadyside)

When you drive, every day is a little bit terrible

I think my quality of life is really, really improved by having the bus, and particularly the P71. Riding the P71 is faster than riding in a car. If you tell people from other places that there's a limited-access highway and only buses go on it — and there's never a rush hour, and you just zip straight Downtown — they're kind of blown away by that. Every now and then there's a day when it's terrible, the bus doesn't come. But it's so much better than driving, because when you drive, every day is a little bit terrible, and the cumulative effect is so soul-deadening. 

[The last time Port Authority was facing service cuts] I really got worried, because the value of our home is going to fall. We specifically stayed in the neighborhood for many different reasons, but a really big one was being able to get to work so quickly and easily. And I was like, "Not only is our life going to be worse from day-to-day if we lose this bus, but our home is not going to be worth as much."

— Paige Forster, Regent Square

"We got plenty of food, you want a plate?"

I love the people I meet [as an ACCESS driver], especially when you get people on a regular basis. I'm surprised how many people I've met that were teenagers and children during the Depression and can tell me how Lawrenceville used to be and how everybody got along together, or our special-needs people telling me about how they're able to go to work and just be independent. And always "What are you doing for the holidays?" and their families coming out: "What are you doing working today? You know what, we got plenty of food, you want a plate?" 

One of the most beautiful things I've seen is to be on Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington and seeing a full moon over the three rivers, over the stadiums. This truly is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And I can honestly say if it wasn't for ACCESS and transit, I'd have never been able to see all these things, nor be able to help all these people to be in a position to see all these great and wonderful things. 

— ACCESS driver Jared Hill, West Mifflin

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