On Privilege and Public Transportation


You can plan a sailing trip, but sometimes wind and waves have other ideas.

Thus it was that we ended up in Camden, instead of Rockland (where the boat lives) on a recent Sunday evening.

We had planned to take the late Concord Coach bus home to Bangor. It leaves the Rockland ferry terminal at 9:30 – plenty of time to put the boat to bed on its own mooring and grab some dinner.

But a strong southerly wind and an incoming tide hindered our progress, by both sail and motor, down West Penobscot Bay. By six o’clock it became painfully obvious that we were not going to make Rockland by nightfall.

We ducked instead into Camden Harbor, rented a mooring for the night, and made plans to put the lovely Lisa, who had a job to get back to the next morning, on the bus, while I stayed with the boat.

The bus stop in Camden isn’t in Camden at all. It’s two miles out of town, just over the Rockport line, at a convenience store on Route One. The store inconveniently closes at 8 pm, at least on Sunday. The bus comes by at 9:45, but there’s nothing to do there except hang out under the lights with the mosquitoes. The nearest place to get a cup of coffee is a Hannaford, on the other side of the highway back towards town.

“This is why everybody has cars,” Lisa said, as we sat on a curb with our coffee. It was nine and the store was closing. “They make it so hard to do anything else.”

Indeed, why do bus stops always seem to be located in the most out-of-the way places? Rockland is an exception; the ferry terminal is right on Main Street, hard by the downtown business district. You can get a bite to eat and then walk five minutes to meet your bus. The same cannot be said of Camden, Belfast, and even Bangor, the third largest city in Maine.

The Concord Coach bus depot in Bangor is way out on Union Street, near the Airport Mall. I had called ahead for a cab to meet Lisa when she got in, but it never materialized, and there she was at nearly midnight, without a cell phone or a means of getting home other than her feet.

For many years, the Greyhound station in Bangor was smack dab downtown, accessible to everything. Now it’s out at Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon, five miles out of town, a situation even worse than Camden’s because it’s impossible to walk there.

At least Bangor’s local bus system, the Community Connector, has a highly visible downtown hub, between Pickering Square and the parking garage. But the waiting room is a depressing affair and closes after the buses stop running at six in the evening. And there’s no connection between the Community Connector schedule and buses arriving from out of town.

Do municipalities want their bus services to be invisible? Why? Bus stations should be in the centers of towns. Bangor needs a clean, well-lit, friendly downtown bus depot, incorporating the Greyhound, Concord Coach and Community Connector services, expandable for the day when regular passenger service to Bar Harbor and the Downeast coast becomes available. The depot should have a coffee shop and a place to buy newspapers and books. The atmosphere around the bus terminal ought to encourage ridership, rather than sending people scurrying for their cars.

In other parts of the country, I have seen some truly unfriendly bus stations. It’s an American stereotype: since the bus is supposedly full of poor people, towns do their best to hide the bus stop from drivers trying to find a place to park.

But how much of this stereotype is self-reinforcing? Many Americans have no contact with any bus service at all. They drive their cars everywhere, and the entire infrastructure is designed for them. It’s a form of privilege as pervasive as the favoritism bestowed on white heterosexual English-speaking able-bodied males (of which I am one), and equally invisible to those who enjoy it.

Thus it was gratifying to hear Bangor City Councilor Gibran Graham, at a recent budget meeting, touch on this concept. “We seem to be a privileged society in our cars,” he said. “Most of us who make decisions have these things. But people who depend on the bus have to structure their lives in order to do so.”

Public transportation is the future in our car-addled world. Friendly, convenient service is the way to get there.


Hank Garfield

About Hank Garfield

Hank's writing has appeared in San Diego Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Downeast, Bangor Metro, and elsewhere. He is the author of five published novels, and is now seeking a publisher for his recently-completed novel, A Sprauling Family Saga.