Ariel Ben-Amos remembers the feeling of freedom riding public transportation gave him growing up in Mt. Airy. In fact he even says it was these experiences that inspired him to become a transportation planner for the City of Philadelphia. He recently shared with us why he thinks public transportation is key helping communities thrive. His essays was part of WHYY’s This I Believe series.
For most people that first moment of liberation, of freedom, comes when they are handed their first car keys at sixteen. Mine came when I was twelve when I got my first trail pass. I still have the small yellow card with its bright red number 2. And to this day it’s packed away in a box filled with the others just like it that I carried throughout middle school and high-school.
Suddenly the city was mine as I hopped on the train to go to school, the bus or subway to visit friends. I didn’t have to worry about learning how to parallel park or drive, all I did was jump on the next schedule bus and the city was mine.
Riding SEPTA was not just about a new freedom of movement I never had before. It was also about discovering new friends. I began to meet my neighbors, people I had grown up with but never knew lived right around the corner. Seeing these people day in and day out helped me gain a sense of community I never got when I was chauffeured around.
Later, when I took a year off of college to work at a local bakery, the Night Kitchen in Chestnut Hill, I was lucky that the very last train on the Chestnut Hill East line got me to work at 1 AM, the exact right time to start making muffins and cinnamon buns. If I missed it, the 23 took me through the heart of North Philly to the front door of the bakery.
I was raised in a neighborhood that grew up around the city’s first train lines. As an urban planner I can think of hundreds of reasons why transit is good for cities. But I don’t need theory. Every day I see with my own two eyes how transit makes it easier to support thriving communities. Today I work in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities because I have seen the impact transit has had on my city.
And everybody should find new opportunities to make friends and meet their neighbors.