Transit equity: what it means in today’s world

The idea that everyone has the right to quality and impartial public transit service was brought to life by Rosa Parks on Dec. 1, 1955, as her refusal to conform to outdated racial standards sparked change in the world.

Decades later, the fight for equity on public transit continues, though not to the same extent. Today’s fight centers around things such as adequate roads and sidewalks, timely service, flexible options and environmental friendliness. It’s about the betterment and sustainability of public transit, especially for those who need it most.

Those needs were brought to light in a celebration of Transit Equity Day and the late Parks’ 110th birthday Feb. 4 at New Horizons Ministries in Bremerton. The celebration gave attendees a chance to reflect on how public transit has affected them and what issues need to be addressed.

One of the organizers was Marwan Cameron, founder of Gather Together Grow Together, a nonprofit that offers a number of services, including transportation. He said he encountered difficulties with public transit as a student at Olympic College in the late 1990s.

“I lived at the top of Illahee, my brother lived out at Pacific Avenue, and I would go to OC, then I would go to his house,” Cameron said. “If the bus stopped running, I would have to walk all the way from Pacific all the way to Illahee…so I understand the challenges of not having adequate transportation or sidewalks.”

While his nonprofit helps mitigate some of the difficulties, Kitsap Transit is still faced with challenges when it comes to providing quality service, one being the lack of service on Sundays. The removal of that day was so effective it caused some organizations to plan around it, including New Horizons. “It’s one of the reasons why this church changed its service to Saturday so that people who wanted to worship could have a place to come, and the transit center is right across the street,” he said.

Jewel-Shephard Sampson, executive director of the Kitsap Black Student Union, said the affected group includes the youth of Kitsap as well. Despite a free ride program being offered to those age 18 and younger, the duration of when transit is offered continues to be a problem.

“Our students can probably make it to one of our hangout sessions, a meetup or an event, but if we go past 6:30-7 o’clock, they can’t get back home,” she said. “If they have after-school jobs, they can get to work, but they can’t get back home.”

A few of the students performed a skit to honor Parks. Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said it was a great way to remember Parks’ history.

Wheeler, who has a long history of working to expand transit service, proclaimed the day as a Day of Service to not only honor Parks, but to continue down the path of equity in transit.

“It is important to never forget that history,” he said. “As we move forward, knowing where we’ve come from, gives us some context and helps us understand each other a little more.”