Thursday Reflection: Mass Transportation & Equal Opportunity

According to the Burlington Free Press, more people took advantage of public transportation in the US in 2013 than in any year since 1956.

I recall my first day as a public school music teacher. We went on strike. And as one of the newer employees in the district in this small Vermont town, I was something of a poster child for better wages and benefits. My full time salary left me eligible for every state and federal assistance program you could think of. When the strike was over – and fortunately it did not last more than several days – I got a significant raise. Unions have a role to play in insuring workers receive a fair wage and reasonable working conditions.

The bus drivers are on strike in Chittenden County. The issue is over working conditions and full time verses part time employment. When they gather at the corner of Cherry and Church Streets for a rally, striking drivers are joined by members of other unions. Their numbers also include folks from the community – students who depend on CCTA for transportation, and other concerned citizens. Why is it that we have to be so vigilant with regard to insuring people get a fair wage and safe and reasonable working conditions?

Statistics tell us that those of lesser means tend to carry the heavier part of a community’s financial burden. When buses don’t run it’s not the well-off who suffer. And when the salaries go up, costs are transferred down the line. In the case of the current CCTA drivers strike the people who need transportation and have no means other than the bus – these are the ones paying the highest price. But in truth, the entire community doesn’t get off the hook without a cost. Students whose education is interrupted and businesses whose employees can’t get to work have a ripple effect. We may not feel the impact in the short term; but eventually the ripple comes back at us all.

In a truly just society, burdens are shared proportionally. In the kingdom of God, power is parceled out such that poor and rich alike have equal voice.

Someone was on the radio recently explaining the price our New Americans are paying as a result of the CCTA Drivers strike. Is there a racist component to the economic system we have in place such that when the system balks, burps, or is temporarily broken, it is people of color who feel the brunt of the disruption?

I am all for giving people an incentive to work, to educate themselves, to position themselves such that they have more to offer the community because they have honed their talents. I also believe there has to be a “bottom floor” that enables all people to have a roof over their head, adequate health care, food on their table, and opportunities – and that’s the key here: Equality of Opportunity. For many in our community, taking the buses away is like pulling the rug out from beneath them.

May there be a quick resolution – one that enables drivers to function safely, and that enables people to get back on the bus so as to be able to get back on their feet.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.