Many of you living in the Asheville community have probably seen the new ART buses driving around town, but how many of you have used them? Maybe you have ridden in the past, but not recently. So, you may or may not know that the bus system in Asheville is changing thanks in part to the dedicated members of the Better Buses Riders Assembly, an initiative of Just Economics of WNC.
The issue of improved public transit is one that affects many of those in the Kairos West community, and it is our goal at Kairos West to empower those in our community by increasing social justice to decrease isolation and build connections. There is a bus stop right outside of our location, with many in our space relying on it to navigate around. We heard from those in our community about the issues they have had with the ART buses, through casual conversation and group discussions. As interns at Kairos West, myself and Nicole wanted to learn more, and Milly suggested we attend the Better Buses Riders Assembly on behalf our Kairos West community to learn more and relay their concerns.
Two weeks ago, my colleague Nicole and I had an opportunity to attend the Better Buses Riders Assembly, a public meeting on February 1 at the United Way. I am new to the area, so I had not yet ridden the ART buses, but like many others, at times in my life, I have relied on public transit to get around. This meeting was an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of the bus system in Asheville, the new changes that have taken place and the continued plans for improving it in the future. It was also so refreshing to see citizens engaged in meaningful change through asset-based community development leading to increased social capacity. Or, in other words, building on the strengths that already exist in the community – AKA the people – and bringing them together to help inform emerging community leaders on the steps to enacting change.
For members of the Better Buses Riders Assembly, this looks like holding public meetings, joining the transit committee (an advisory board appointed by the multimodal transportation commission), speaking to elected officials, holding rallies, and voting for change at the ballot box. As Social Work graduate students, we had the pleasure of learning from those in the community what reliable access to public transit means to them; how increased hours of operation, safer bus stop locations, and the addition of stops in high traffic areas can determine the success of so many in our community. I advise that we all take on the role of more active citizens finding an area of interest that you can sink your teeth into, whether that be public transit or not. But I do suggest you do learn more about the issues facing your community, and if you live in the Asheville community, that might mean attending a Better Buses Riders Assembly meeting! In more urban areas like DC or New York, public transit is a way of life and, as Asheville continues to grow, this will be true for us too. For those of you who have not yet ridden the bus, I suggest taking the time out and try the bus system taking note of its pros and cons – I know I will.
Kairos West Intern