William Freedman has spent the last 8 weeks traveling from coast to coast using only public transportation in an effort to show the population the power of mass transit. Ecolane sat down with the cross country traveler himself to get an update on his journey, find out who he has encountered along the way, and, most importantly, what he has learned about the public transportation industry.
Ecolane: How is the trip going?
Freedman: Excellent! I am actually going to finish my trip earlier than I had originally planned. I was planning on finishing around Christmas Day, but I should be in San Francisco over a week earlier than that.
Ecolane: To what do you owe your success?
Freedman: I can attribute my success to 3 things. First, throughout different points along my route, I’ve met people who were actually interested in helping me. They knew their local areas better than I did, and were able to help me out logistically in ways I would not have been able to figure out on my own. Second, I hit a bit of an obstacle and got stalled in Texas during the week of Thanksgiving. Apparently, nobody else was travelling from Odessa to El Paso, so the agency just couldn’t make it happen for me. They took me as far as they could, but then I had to dip down into Mexico so I wouldn’t stay stranded in West Texas. This saved me tremendous time, it turns out. Finally, I found a Mexican bus line that was able to get me through the desert between New Mexico and Arizona in a matter of hours, where I had originally thought I would have to do a 5 day backpacking trip when I was initially looking at transit routes and planning my trip.
Ecolane: You mentioned going through Mexico, which hadn’t originally been a part of your plan. Tell me about your experience with transit south of the United States.
Freedman: Surprisingly, I came to this conclusion: Chihuahua, Mexico has better transit than West Texas! Their transit is geared more towards intercity transit run by regional agencies that concentrate on their own particular areas, versus a larger monopoly. Mexican buses are comparable to U.S. discount airlines – they provide snacks, tv, earbuds, pillows, and get you where you need to go.
Ecolane: You also mentioned that you’ve met people along the way that have been helpful in making Cross Country Local a reality. Who were these people and what made them so helpful to you?
Freedman: They were the route warriors! I found the agencies that were most helpful to me in Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, and Kansas. Four agencies in particular really went above and beyond to help me out; CATA in Pennsylvania, SEAT in Ohio, Access Johnson County in Indiana, and Ride MTD in Illinois. For example, Ride MTD got me on a series of 5 transport buses to St. Louis and Access Johnson County made sure that I was handed off along county lines past their jurisdiction.
Ecolane: What have been the biggest obstacles in your journey?
Freedman: I would say the biggest obstacles have been the different regulations each agency and county must abide by based upon funding and reach. They may be only allowed to take you to a doctor appointment, or may only be able to take you to a certain point in relation to a county line. It can be very difficult, confusing, and even frustrating.
Ecolane: What’s the biggest takeaway regarding public transportation for those following your Cross Country Local journey?
Freedman: Honestly, the purpose of my Cross Country Local journey was not to use public transit for the purpose that it was designed. Rather, it was a stress test for the industry. In my experience, most agencies were able to rise to the challenge, but if you don’t have someone there, or the technology available, to sort through the regulations and obstacles, a breakdown can occur in the system. It’s important for people to realize that agencies are able to do this for everybody; not just somebody like me. There can be flexibility in policies and ways to make it work if there’s someone willing to help out the public. And honestly, good transit software can really play a huge role in achieving something like this on a daily basis.
William Freedman plans on visiting a local hangout in San Francisco off of Market Street to get some legendary Dim Sum at the end of his Cross Country Local journey, before returning back home to New York. How’s he getting there? By plane, of course. There you have it – planes, trains, automobiles, and buses; Freedman has experienced it all during these last couple of months on his journey from coast to coast, and Ecolane has been thrilled to have been a part of it.