WAITING FOR CHANGE: A Baltimore Teen Perspective on the MTA

WAITING FOR CHANGE: A Baltimore Teen Perspective on the MTA

Illustration by Alex Fine

Over the years, the Maryland Transit Authority has lobbed a variety of ad campaigns at the public in the hopes of increasing ridership. “Gas too expensive? Use the MTA! Tired of the commute? Use the MTA! Love the Environment? Use the MTA! No parking downtown? Use the MTA!” At a time when Baltimore, like other cities across the nation, is seeking to increase ridership to address the need for more fuel-efficient and socially just modes of transportation, an overhaul of the MTA is more urgent than ever. Those of us who regularly ride the MTA and are dependent, if grudgingly, on the system, are joining the calls for change to create a functional, dependable, safe and efficient public transit system that will be used by Baltimore City residents and visitors to the region. To shed light on the realities people face on their daily commutes through the city on the MTA, we invited a group of young people to Kids on the Hill to be interviewed about their experiences. Of all the modes of mass transit the city offers, the bus system elicited the most anger and frustration from students. Buses tend to be viewed as perpetually late, unreliable, and uncomfortable. Abeni Nazeer, a City College high school junior and member of Kids on the Hill and Algebra Project, reports that she spends three hours on the MTA on an average school day, either waiting or riding. Megan Sherman (16) nods in agreement: “I live near Cedonia and commute to City College High School, as well as Kids on the Hill in Reservoir Hill and the Algebra Project in Charles Village after school. I spend about three hours a day waiting, transferring, and riding the bus. Waiting late at night and in the cold is no fun.” Chris “Bootz” Hughes, who lives in Reservoir Hill and works in Charles Village, also reported a daily routine “of wasting an hour on the bus”. Joey Odoms, 18, adds, “The most frustrating thing is the wait for the bus and scheduling around the bus….and a lot of times you just don’t feel safe.” The sociology of the public transit environment received innumerable comments. The MTA is known for its unruliness and lunacy, not just its leisurely speed. From crack-heads to alien stories, the MTA does not seem to fair well for the calm, cool and collected. Tyree Grant, a high school student enrolled at Frederick Douglass, vividly stated that “it was this guy and he straight started smoking crack on the bus. And then a half an hour later he got off the bus and we stopped at a red light and he started yelling ‘Aye b****, aye!’ and he then got beat up by some guys.” Haliyma Foster, a junior from Western High School, shared another classic MTA moment: “So I’m coming from the Algebra Project on the number 3 bus and the bus smelled like beer and this man, after waking up, stands up to face the back of the bus and says, ‘Oh my God, gotdammit I done pissed myself!’ and sits back down. Then he got off a couple stops later.” The MTA has also been in the news for violent and nefarious episodes, like the recent story of students from Robert Poole Middle school assaulting a woman on the bus. Carl Peck Jr., a member of Kids on the Hill, and Odoms both reported having witnessed people involved in sexual activities on the subway. Given these reports, it is not surprising that the MTA crowd has often been stereotyped in the media as junkies and illiterate people riding aimlessly, or as moody old folks. While there are many of these types of people riding public transit, a large segment of the riders are just indomitable working-class people going to and from work. Jordan Jones, aspiring MICA student, said of the MTA crowd, “It’s the people who go to sleep, the junkies, one crazy person in a clique of friends on the bus, plenty of normal people, young teenagers going to the mall…” Jones also preferred the bus over all the mass transit options (unlike the other interviewees), commenting that, “The bus is my favorite you can see where you're going…” The bus ironically did not receive some of the same high ratings for scenery as the Light Rail despite the fact that buses cover more surface area in Baltimore than the Light Rail. The general impression of the Light Rail among those interviewed was one of tranquility and peace. Indeed, the MTA is the closest to anarchy for a bureaucratic system. The fireball of apathy and suppressed anger present in Baltimore always seems to erupt among bus drivers or the rowdy transit customers. It is always a wonder who is really in charge: the driver, the paying customers, the freeloaders who hopped the transit, or the junkies. To be certain, those in love with a quiet and predictable routine will likely not find it on the bus, subway, or Light Rail. Let us hope that the pace of change for our public transportation system will be swifter and the path more efficient than a city bus ride through Baltimore. Babatunde Salaam is a member of Kids on the Hill and a student at Baltimore City College.

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