Friday, March 12, 2010

Riding the Public Bus on Staten Island

In order to get to a few of the schools on Staten Island where I observe, help out, and occasionally supervise student teachers I must take the public bus directly from the Staten Island Ferry. I enjoy these rides, because they allow me to see those parts of the Island that I haven't gotten to know well. A few of the sections we pass through are relatively prosperous middle class, suburban type areas, but most are working class at best, and quite a few are really suffering, with block after block of boarded up buildings. In a number of these neighborhoods, including one called Port Richmond which is often my destination, there may only be a half dozen operating storefronts. There is real poverty here, but it is pretty scattered and spread out, so not as noticeable as in some parts of the other boroughs.

When I climb the steps of the S46 bus that goes toward Port Richmond from the Ferry, there are only a few of us who get on, which is nice, because I have no problem getting a seat. Gradually, though, as we make our way across the northwest part of Staten Island, more and more people board. They often have small children in tow, large backpacks strapped to their shoulders, or groceries and other purchases held in both arms. Within 15 minutes, when I am still 20 minutes from my destination, but securely ensconced in one of the middle seats by the window, all the seats are not only taken but the aisle is just stuffed with people. Of course, I'm used to such congestion which we experience all the time on the subway, but buses aren't really designed for people to get on and off easily when they are jammed. So it takes a very long time to get everyone aboard at some stops, as a few people squeeze toward the exits, while those still stranded in the aisle attempt to make room for the new riders.

There is no other accessible public transportation on Staten Island, so if you don't have a car or if it's too far to walk, this is how you get around. And, of course, budgets have been cut and routes have been reduced, even as ridership goes up. This is one of the ways in which it is especially hard to be a Staten Islander. Without that personal vehicle, you are at the mercy of a system that strains to accommodate you, but in terms of convenience, comfort, and timeliness falls short again and again and again.

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