The People vs. Public Transportation

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Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His next project War Machine 2 is slated to be released June 5th and followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe

Every week in I'm Just A Rapper, Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.

There was once a chapter in my life that deeply relied on public transportation, and I am still known to catch the MetroLink from time to time without shame.

When I first started rapping I relied on the Metro bus to get me back and forth to the studio. For a brief spell in my life I would buy an all-day train ticket and sleep on the MetroLink during the day when I had no place to technically call home. I truly appreciate the St. Louis public transportation system. I've caught the bus to shows and rode the Metro Link to hip-hop battles. I often used my time to on the bus to clear my head and memorize my lyrics. The public transportation system has played a huge role in my musical career.

Things have changed for me on a few levels these days and I often reflect back to those hunger years. The Metro bus helped me shape the worldview I instilled in my music. I would ride the bus and venture into portions of this city I had previously never seen. The public transportation system me has shown me a version of St. Louis many will never see. Fist fights, knife fights, robbery, gambling, gunshots, you name it I've witnessed it or experienced it thanks to public transportation.

I don't care to go too deeply into this story, but I was assaulted by a group of guys with box cutters at the Central West End MetroLink station. I ran home with blood all over my shirt and discovered I had been cut by one of the box cutters. I tell my friends all the time, "When you drove by the bus stop in your car, I was probably right there standing with some of the craziest people in the world." I depended on the bus to get me back and forth to work.

But I believe public transportation can be valuable. The conversations people have on the bus about the things currently going on in today's world are amazing. I and many other people have always said there is no bus line the country like the Grand bus. Riding it is like having an open invitation to the crazy people party bus. The Natural Bridge bus is its own living reality television show.

When you're running late and a person runs the bus down and holds the driver for you, they are suddenly humanized. When the bus driver shows you a little compassion by giving you directions when you're lost, your heads nods with gratitude. A subtle reminder dawns upon you, and we suddenly remember everyone isn't heartless. Riding Metro has put my life in danger but it also helped save my life. Metro is very unique transit system, which strives off of buses and transits trains carrying St. Louisans to work, sporting events, summer concerts and weekend parties.

In the summertime the heat can be troublesome as you wait for the bus or train, but it's still bearable. However, in the wintertime catching any form of Metro is flat-out torture if you're a regular rider. As a regular rider using MetroLink for survival I was kind of annoyed on the days the train would be filled to capacity from Cardinals and Blues fans heading back and forth to the downtown area.

Metro, however, loves these people and they rightfully should because all parties help keep the system alive. Since the start of the column I've been searching for subject that relates directly to St. Louisans without going too deep into politics or music minutiae only a handful of people would understand. Inner city blacks, whites, Hispanics, etc. keep metro alive in St. Louis. We are grateful for the system but it often appears that Metro is not grateful for our patronage. Bus routes from the most needy communities are often cut. Over the years bus fare has risen without true concern for the community. Public transportation legislation and modifications have been passed with little regard for the actual bus riders. Black people ride the bus but black people don't vote in primary elections, so when a chance to fix the system touches the ballot nothing happens.

North County has had a booming increase in its population within the last decade. The need for consistent bus routes to jobs outside of the North County community has drastically increased. If you live in North County and rely on Metro to get you to work then surely you can relate to this.

My parents live off of Chambers Road, and I can testify to you that it was hell catching the bus from the North Co. Most of the jobs I held as a teen were in West County via Chesterfield Mall or the West County Mall. I can vividly remember riding the bus and transit for at least two hours every day going to work. If I took the same exact route on my way home then add another two hours to my travel time. Certain portions of North County are like "No Man's Island" in terms of quality bus service. I've walked miles in the name of getting to the MetroLink while going to work. There is always some form of controversy surrounding the Metro's budget and expansion issues.

People are depending on these services to help keep the economy of St. Louis vibrant. True to our nature as a segregated city, a few people have made this a racial issue more so than an economic issue.Rumor has it West County Mall rejected Metro servicing the Mall until the establishment fell into financial trouble. All of a sudden bus routes from the St. Louis City to West County became plentiful. In other words: Get those young, ignorant inner city kids that ride the bus out here so they can spend some money. We also need people willing to work for minimum wage in our food court so make it happen.Once again this is only a rumor passed down to me from a old grumpy bus driver but who knows he might be right. I've heard the stories similar to this one from other drivers about different scenarios as well.

Close to 40,000 residents of our region use public transportation to travel to work. That's in addition to college students, the elderly, disabled citizens alongside their families and caretakers, all of whom depend on Metro in their day-to-day life. In 2008 through 2009 Metro, facing drastic budget shortages, cut over 2,300 of its 9,000 buses and trains. Businesses suffered and the local economy felt the burn. So service was partially restored, but not to its full glory. All true bus riders know the city's bus lines have never fully recovered from this blow.

Since the '60s, minority communities have had an estranged relationship with public transportation. The civil rights movement was actually spearheaded on the heels of fighting for public transportation equality. Rosa Parks heroically sat on the back of the bus and refused to give up her seat. This is a simple yet interesting social dilemma concerning public transportation that changed the world. Most people don't realize most of this story was fabricated. We have been taught to believe she boarded the bus tired and broken down. We've been taught to view her as a defenseless woman the community jumped to rescue. The truth is she played bigger role in this story than we give her credit for. Everything about Mrs. Parks refusing to give her up seat was pre-planned and aligned with a greater agenda. The plan was to boycott the bus system and force them to show compassion to the minority passengers. Rosa Parks and her cronies organized every part of the plan. The events that took place during and after the day she refused to give up her seat played a role in bringing about an eventual change that was drastically needed. The public transportation systems realized how valid a role the people played in maintaining their survival, and eventually the law was changed. The times have changed but we still live in the same world. In St. Louis the public transportation system will need to see action in order for them to feel the wrath of its customers. I spent a bit of time working for Russ Carnahan as a canvasser, because I believed in his desire to fix the problems our public transportation system is facing. The following pretty much explains the unsung saga of public transportation in our town from a political science standpoint.

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO), working with Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette, has introduced a bill that would help put more buses on the streets. While federal funds are often restricted to capital projects, Carnahan's bill would allow transit agencies, during times of crisis, to use some of that money for operating expenses, like paying bus drivers.

The bill would allow local agencies to expand service, or at least minimize cuts, at a time when more and more people are coming to depend on transit. And it would not increase federal expenditures in the process.

"Folks across the country rely on public transit to get to work and businesses rely on those services to get their employees to them," said Carnahan. "But we're forcing transit agencies to lay off workers even when funds are available.

Similar bills have been introduced since the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008, but this time around the proposal appears to have bipartisan support. The Local Flexibility for Transit Assistance Act has 89 sponsors from both political parties, and Carnahan expects more to join shortly. After all, the bill decentralizes decision-making and doesn't cost anything - popular themes among Republicans.

St. Louis is a city that is governed by red lining and political misunderstandings. The quality of public transportation is one of those issues that affects us all whether we know it or not. If George on the North side can't make it to Chesterfield to work his station at the all you can eat restaurant, someone's family diner has been cancelled. If teenagers can't catch The MetroLink to the movies this weekend, then the theatres eventually close. This is one of those issues where we can't afford to not care about each other. We can no longer afford to be immature and uneducated about issues such as this on a local level. We as voters must educate ourselves and take action to preserve the quality of life we have afforded ourselves. In any modern functioning society people need access to employment. They also need a means to travel to their place of employment. Recreational hobbies such as shopping, weekend trips to the Art Museum, History Museum, and St. Louis Zoo also help better the quality of life we enjoy as St. Louisans. These are a few of the things that help us maintain a social identity as a growing city. Our downtown cannot currently handle a lack of visitors from the metro area. I strongly advocate public transportation reform.

I would also suggest that Metro considered being more cautious about its treatment of potential voters. A day will come when their future is in our hands, and I would like to think that our support would help improve the public transportation system. We all need each other and the day St. Louis realizes this we will return to our days of glory. This is one of the many lessons I've learned from my years as customer of our town's public transportation system.

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