By Joe Baur
Don’t sound the panic alarm. It’s just RTA.
You will not be spat on. You will not be screamed at. You will not be on the receiving end of a Mortal Kombat-esque “Finish Him” uppercut.
Sure, there are horrifying stories out there if you look for them. But you shouldn’t believe they’re going to happen to you anymore than you should expect to walk onto a real-life episode of Law & Order anytime you step outside.
Fact is; riding public transportation is safe. At a hearing in front of Cleveland City Council this week, RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese said there was only 71 reported assaults on bus drivers in the five years ending in 2011. That’s one for every 80,000 rides.
See? Take a deep breath. You’re fine.
Chances are, something was done to escalate the situation in those rare instances. So piece of advise, don’t be an ass and you’ll be fine.
I’m not trying to belittle a bus driver being assaulted. It’s a serious offense that puts the entire bus in jeopardy, and RTA is rightfully acting to improve the safety of their drivers by installing plastic shields and offering specialized training for drivers that teaches them how to defuse volatile situations.
But the lesson from these incredibly rare attacks should not be that riding RTA is dangerous. I do it all the time, and have nothing to report other than the simple enjoyment of safely being transported from Point A to Point B without having to worry about finding a parking spot.
My worst experience? A child asked me why the Browns are so bad.
GASP! (Sorry, kid. Beats me).
Needless to say, I came out the other side without a scratch. The child was merciful.
To be fair, I too was once afraid of riding public transportation. Something about those enclosed boxes on wheels with all those people scared the crap out of me. Not to mention we’re taught at an early age in the United States that not having a car is a sign of poverty.
Then, I moved to Chicago for nearly two years. With their traffic, it was worth risking my life on public transportation, I thought. Lo and behold, I never had an incident.
So when I returned to Cleveland, I had become accustomed to being car-free. It wasn’t long before I sold my wheels, lifting the incredible financial burden off my shoulders.
Free at last, free at last. Lord almighty, car-free at last.
Yet, I quickly began to notice a different mindset in this town. RTA is scary. Riding the bus is for… you know… those people.
Even after I organized a kickass RTA Bar Crawl that exposed many Clevelanders to the rapid for the first time, taking drunkards from Ohio City to University Circle, people still made snide comments about riding public transportation.
I remember one night in particular where I met with some friends at Happy Dog. When we left, the 26 bus was coming down Detroit. I suggested we hop on, they laughed.
We then wasted God knows how much time trying to find a parking spot downtown, as the usual repertoire of public transportation comments were slung at me.
“I’m not riding the bus. I don’t want to get shot.”
This, mind you, was long before anyone took a shot on the chin. Sadly, the mindset of the average Clevelander only seems to have gotten worse since the ‘cut heard ‘round the world.
That’s why I’m here. I’m here to pull you out of your sad, scary little world, average Clevelander, where people who look different than you are endlessly plotting your demise.
In the world I live in, the transit operators and everyday customers are some of the kindest souls on Earth. They smile as you walk by, wish you a nice day as you leave, and help strangers in a wheelchair or parents with a stroller get comfortable. They give up seats for pregnant women and the elderly. They’re some of the finest people in Cleveland, and don’t deserve to be belittled by those who would paint RTA as a no holds barred gangland.
Now with that unpleasantness out of the way, please say hi next time you see me on RTA. I promise I won’t punch you.
Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @MildlyRelevant.