Shortly after being sworn in, new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers picked a novel way to travel to their first cabinet meeting.
All together. On a bus.
The sight of powerful government officials crammed together in one large vehicle struck Peter Mansbridge of the CBC as funny:
"It still feels like you should be singing, like, some 'We're going to camp' song," Mansbridge said.
To which Trudeau responded:
(To be fair, Trudeau did acknowledge that he and his cabinet probably won't always take the bus — and would occasionally opt for a car service or a limo as their jobs required it.)
Trudeau is right. Lots of people do take the bus to work.
Not a lot of high-profile reporters and politicians, perhaps, but lots of regular people, many who don't have the option to travel by private car.
At the same time, there's a stigma associated with taking the bus. Wealthy riders often frequently avoid buses — both because they tend to live in lower-density areas and because bus travel is so firmly associated with poverty.
When the rich and powerful do take public transit — like when Jake Gyllenhaal or Jay-Z takes the subway — it's often portrayed as a big deal, as if it's somehow generous or "real" of them to travel the way millions of regular commuters do each day.
As a result, cities often don't seem to care all that much about bus lines or their riders.
Cities really should care more about public transit — and invest more in it.
Unlike cars, which can deliver five to seven people to a destination in a single trip (and, real talk, typically carry just one or maybe two during your average rush hour), buses can carry dozens in the amount of road space occupied by just two or three cars. Not only does that help clear up road congestions and lower total emissions, but there are massive economic benefits to providing cheap transportation to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it.
According to a 2013 Rutgers University study, increasing the number of available public transit seats by 10% can increase total wages in a city by over $1.5 billion per year (this includes not just buses but subways, light rail, and other methods).
That's why Trudeau's offhand response is actually kinda great.
No one should be stigmatized for riding the bus — from the prime minister of Canada to a single mom trying to get to her second job. Poor and middle-class people need safe, reliable means of getting to work just like wealthier people, and they shouldn't be shamed for taking one that's cheap, convenient, and environmentally friendly.
Which is why it's so important for cities to keep those wheels going 'round...