By Sean Rusnak, Piedmont Health Foundation Intern, Furman University
This summer, the Piedmont Health Foundation hosted its first “Greenlink Field Trip” with twelve enthusiastic participants from Westminster Presbyterian Church and Furman University’s OLLI program. The field trip aims to get non-riders to ride a Greenlink bus and to educate them about our public transit system. Participants took part in the full transit experience, meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church and catching a bus on Augusta Street to Greenlink’s downtown transfer facility.
The new riders hustled to their bus stop only for it to arrive five minutes later than expected, prompting several concerned murmurs of whether we had missed the bus and ruined the day’s plans. The field trippers realized that their concerns and worries likely emulate those experienced by everyday riders. Fortunately, the bus was cool and shady on a hot summer’s day, and our group arrived at the bus station right on time. Although they were given day passes, the newly recruited riders still had the task of figuring out how to pay the fare which they were able to do after a little assistance from the driver.
The participants’ best personal experiences came from talking to everyday riders while on the bus. Our participants were moved by the stories they heard of dependence on transit and the difficulties many of the riders faced. One field tripper talked with a service worker who had broken her foot and was unable to drive and had to walk two miles to the nearest bus stop just to get to work. Other participants heard stories about the need for extended hours or routes to suit critical needs such as employment. These discussions left our field trip group impassioned and ready to demand changes in Greenlink’s service to be sure that all these people’s needs were met.
Our guests were warmly welcomed at Greenlink’s transfer station by Nicole McAden, Marketing and Public Affairs Specialist, and Gary Shepard, Director of Public Transit. Nicole and Gary educated their new found riders about Greenlink’s system operations, funding sources, constraints on service, and opportunities for growth. Participants were astonished as they realized that there is a lot more to Greenlink’s service than meets the eye. They were impressed to discover how Greenlink was such a good steward of its allotted resources.
The group engaged in a discussion which was fueled by the people they met and the stories they heard on their bus ride to the station. The group was eager to improve transportation for all Greenville citizens, from the frequent riders they had met earlier that day, to current non riders like themselves. They were motivated to advocate for improved and expanded public transit because better transit means a better Greenville for everyone; transportation opens doors for employment, education, health, and affordable housing. The group ultimately concluded that Greenville cannot grow and thrive without also growing its public transit system.
The trip back to Westminster was filled with positive feelings and commendation of Greenlink’s staff and services. There were discussions about how to support the system, educate friends and family, and encourage support from our local government. As one participant observed, Greenlink had previously been an afterthought to her, perceived as an inefficient bus system with low ridership. Now, she has gained a new found respect for the system and the important role it plays in so many Greenvillians’ daily lives. She realized that even though she will not be a core rider, Greenlink’s services are crucial to making Greenville thrive now and in the future.
Overall, the Greenlink Field Trip was a resounding success, educating and exciting a new base of support. Greenlink has recently gained significant momentum with the establishment of new management, the completion of their Comprehensive Operational Analysis, and their application for the “Low-No” Grant which could award them up to 6 Proterra electric buses. It’s a new day for Greenlink, and it’s time to reintroduce people to Greenville’s mass transit system.
If you’re interested in participating as an individual or scheduling a field trip for a group, please contact Sean Rusnak at firstname.lastname@example.org.