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“Good news! You get to work the holiday! Time and a half for you!”

Yes, that almost brings my income up to a living wage—I spend a full 50% on housing—but the news still leaves me feeling like shit.

The poorest people, the most desperate, those without seniority, those who must accept any job offered, those working second and third jobs, are those who work weekends, holidays, late nights, and graveyard shifts.

We’re the ones who ride two, three, sometimes four buses to reach our job site and another two, three, or four to return home.

We’re the ones whose commute jumps from 90 minutes to 2 hours and 15 minutes when buses switch to their weekend and holiday schedule.

It almost feels like a deliberate attempt to make the most miserable people even more miserable. Because it is deliberate. Tax codes don’t evolve naturally out of the primordial slime.

I lost one job because the shift ended at midnight and the last bus out of the neighborhood departed at 11:07.

People with options have the privilege to see things through windshield-colored glasses.

I needed three buses to reach another job, except on Sundays. On Sundays, I only needed two buses.

Why? Because one of the buses I usually rode didn’t run on Sunday mornings.

I had to leave the house at 5:45 a.m., walk fifteen minutes in the dark, or in the rain or cold, to reach what was normally my first transfer point. Then I caught the second bus at 6:05, reaching the next transfer point at 6:25. The third bus didn’t arrive until 6:45, so I waited in the dark in a “bad” part of town until it showed up.

I couldn’t simply choose to arrive later than 6:25 because the next arrival of the bus that brought me was 6:55. The miserable wait was unavoidable.

After boarding the last bus of the commute, I finally arrived at my final stop around 7:05. Now I only had to walk three blocks down darkened streets, stepping over homeless people asleep on the sidewalk, to reach my job site. One hour and twenty-five minutes after leaving my home. All within city limits, and not even halfway across the city.

At the last Public Transit Advisory Board meeting I attended, I listened as one of the board members boasted that because of their efforts, any resident in the city could arrive at work within forty minutes.

This was a well-meaning board member, volunteering his time. It was just that he and some of the other board members, while strong advocates for public transit, only rode when doing so was convenient. At other times, they drove their cars.

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People with options have the privilege to see things through windshield-colored glasses.

“Lightly traveled” routes are routinely sacrificed, even during weekdays. Those of us who use them during “off peak” days, of course, are deemed even less deserving, possessing only part-time humanity.

Riders fortunate enough to be housed are grateful. Riders fortunate to have jobs are grateful, too. But we still resent that the rich who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes depend on our gratefulness, depend on our fear of losing everything, to keep us quiet, pretending we’re happy with the scraps thrown our way.

“Bus drivers need vacations, too, you know. They want to relax with their friends and family, too.”

We get it. But “the public” still has needs. We know because we still have to serve them. Grocery stores are open. Hospitals are open. And our workplaces are clearly open as well.

“There’s not enough money in the city or county budget to keep buses running all the time.”

Oh, we’re quite aware of that, too.

Every day, we hear in countless ways that we’re just so much shit to be tolerated, part of the sewage system infrastructure to keep the houses of the lightly taxed smelling fresh and clean. Sub-human Morlocks serving the Eloi. We may not all be “educated” enough to get the reference, but we sure do get the message.

Really, though, most of us are okay with working weekends and holidays. We’re not asking to sit under beach umbrellas eating bonbons. We just don’t want lawmakers and those who lobby them making our commutes any harder than they already are.

In a world facing an increasingly desperate climate crisis, we must invest heavily in public transit and high-speed rail, phasing out fossil fuels far more quickly than any current proposal. But aside from greenhouse gases, equity is also at stake. As Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogotá, once pointed out, a “developed country” isn’t one where more poor people own cars but one where rich people ride public transportation.

Weekend and holiday transit schedules may not be our top priority—universal healthcare and tuition-free college and vocational training certainly rank higher—but if it takes a three- or four-hour round trip to access any of that, public transit is not a separate, isolated issue.

The wealthiest 5% of our fellow citizens—wealthy because we come in to work for them on regular workdays, weekends, and holidays—expect us to be grateful to wade through their sewers because it beats not being incinerated outright in a waste facility. But we aren’t, in fact, “happy as a pig in shit.”

We’re as unhappy as people in shit.

We all know that freedom isn’t free. Equity isn’t free, either. Neither is a sustainable climate.

It’s not that we “want” these things or feel “entitled” to them. We need them to have a functioning society and avoid the collapse of civilization.

Johnny Townsend

Advocates and allies must do more than look on the bright side. We must demand funds from the only source that can provide them—corporations and wealthy individuals who, even in the midst of all this need, aren’t being asked to do anything more than simply pay their fair share.

Johnny Townsend