I knew at the beginning of this fellowship that this experience would be filled with learning and growth. However, classrooms manifest in many different forms – the COTA bus system was one for me this summer.
The suburb that I grew up in, like most in our country, was built for single occupancy, internal combustion engine cars. You could walk to a few places, depending on where you live, but the sprawl of the community dictated the necessity of cars to live our daily lives. In contrast, this summer I have relied almost entirely on the COTA bus to navigate my daily life – going to work, getting groceries, socializing, volunteering, etc. I say almost entirely, as I can’t overlook kind friends with cars hauling me around town every once in a while. I can’t complain though: I live close to a number of bus lines that go throughout the city, I have a smartphone with an app that helps me navigate the bus lines and schedules, and when needed I have a bank account that allows me to call an Uber from my phone (all things that are not a given and require abundant gratitude).
I didn’t realize how much more challenging life gets without a car until I didn’t have one to use. I say this not to complain, but to draw attention to how little we can understand about one another until we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (literally, in some cases with transportation). Without experiencing this personally, I never would have fully grasped the extent of how much of a hurdle transportation can pose. Time is one of our most valuable assets, and in Columbus it’s easy to spend more time on necessary tasks– commuting to employment, healthcare, nutrition, education – than necessary if using the bus. If we all need to access these assets to live healthy, happy, and prosperous lives, then why is it harder for some people to get to them than others?
This week, we heard Aslyne Rodriguez share her experiences as the co-founder and CEO of EmpowerBus, a social enterprise that promotes social mobility via access to reliable transportation. Essentially, she asked herself the same question as I did, but had the entrepreneurial savvy and know-how to go about making positive change on this problem. One of my favorite features of this fellowship program is how every learning session leaves me feeling enthusiastically inspired by leaders who are doing incredible work right here in our community. I had no idea about Empowerbus before this week, nor that such a solution to mobility barriers could exist. Hearing about this solution showed me how much potential there is to change systems as we know it – whether it’s the transportation system, as Aslyne is doing, or food systems, like Local Matters focuses on. This understanding left me energized and focused, and I hope to carry this with me throughout the remainder of the fellowship.