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CEO Insight: Meeting The Next Generation Of Public Transit Riders

With more than 10.8 billion passenger trips taken on public transportation nationally in 2014, it’s clear that riding public transit has become a second nature for a vast majority of American citizens. One of the best parts of my job as CEO of The Rapid is getting to know the people getting on board public transportation. Although it’s not every day that I get to talk to the next generation of public transit riders: the children in our community. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to do just this at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School in Mrs. Powell’s first grade class.

Father Mark Przybysz invited me to attend the VIP Mass with other leaders in the community and meet with children at the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School. In Mrs. Powell’s classroom I was offered a special seat at the front of the room. The children gathered around to learn more about me and what I do for a living. Mrs. Powell shared some details about The Rapid and what I do as the CEO.

Father Mark started our conversation by asking, “When you were a child, did you think you were going to become the CEO of a public transportation system?” I explained that as a child, I always thought I would grow up to be a diplomat.

Learning more about The Rapid led a student to ask if our fixed route buses are purple and green. While we do not have purple buses, we do have several that are green. I explained that the green-colored buses in our fleet signified that they were hybrid-electric buses. This means that they are powered by both diesel fuel and electricity through the charge of their batteries. The children were intrigued and then suggested we begin painting some of our buses purple in our fleet.

The students were also interested in learning some basics about buses including how many people can fit on a bus, as well as the size of a bus and things on board. These are great questions, and I often receive them from adults, as well.

The conversation began to shift after the students learned that I grew up in the highlands of Ethiopia. Since the class was recently studying the animals of Africa, I had a chance to quiz the students on their knowledge. From there we discussed other countries and their languages. The students are learning Spanish and wanted to know what other languages I knew. I am Hungarian so I taught them the word for bus, which led me to share that in Europe they are called an autobus. The students began practicing saying “autobus”. I loved their enthusiasm to learn.

As the topic moved to public transportation in other countries, I told them about the differences of what our country has to offer in comparison to others. For instance, people often ride streetcars in other countries. We do not currently these here in the Grand Rapids area, but we used to. 

It was pleasure to be able to speak to the next generation of public transit riders at St. Anthony. There’s something special about public transportation for children. Unlike cars, I believe it gives them a certain freedom. Instead of being strapped into a seat, they have the opportunity to sway as a bus, subway or cable car moves along it’s route. There’s also the feeling of adventure when you’re on board public transportation. Riding a bus feels very exploratory, even for adults.

The most important part of me meeting these students was letting them know that buses and other public transit options are for everyone.

– Peter Varga
CEO of The Rapid

Do you ride the bus with your children?

Written by Peter Varga

CEO of The Rapid and Chair of the American Public Transportation Association.