Thank You for Not Shoveling

A bus stop on Bristol Ferry Road in Portsmouth, R.I., on Jan. 10, five days after a winter storm dumped a foot of snow. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

A bus stop on Bristol Ferry Road in Portsmouth, R.I., on Jan. 10, five days after a winter storm dumped a foot of snow. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

The bus stop presented a Sophie’s choice of sorts: Stand in a 3-foot-high snowbank or stand in the middle of the road.

The snowbank looked cold and uninviting, but the rush of morning traffic looked even less inviting. Or maybe just inviting untimely death by car.

Snowbank it was.

As I waited, half submerged in the snow, for the bus to come, I considered myself lucky because 1) I have a great pair of winter boots. 2) I ride the bus by choice and not out of necessity.

I could easily have avoided any discomfort and personal danger simply by my walking back to the house, getting in the car and joining the many in traffic racing past this very bus stop.

But many who ride the bus don’t have that choice.

On a certain level, uncleared bus stops send an implicit message to bus riders that they don’t matter, and they certainly don’t matter as much as those driving the cars, for whom the streets are plowed right away.

With the exception of RIPTA's transit hubs, the task of keeping the roughly 4,000 bus stops like mine clear of snow falls on municipalities, property owners and businesses. I can give my adopted town of Portsmouth and the bus stop’s adjacent property owners an "F" for snow removal. Nearly five days after Winter Storm Grayson dropped a foot of snow on Aquidneck Island, my stop, which is across from the Portsmouth Multi-Purpose Senior Center on Bristol Ferry Road, was still buried in snow.

As I waited for the bus, I contemplated shoveling out my stop myself and throwing the snow back onto the road, where it would surely get more attention from the Department of Public Works and passing motorists.

Then a radical idea presented itself. Let's give every elected official in the state a RIPTA bus pass and require them to ride the bus for a month.

Then maybe they’d feel the urgency of uncleared bus stops and sidewalks, and correct some of the other less-than-charming characteristics of the RIPTA bus system.

After all, when a Providence City Council member was struck by a car on Atwell’s Avenue in 2011, suddenly speed bumps appeared on that street. The biggest speed bump of all — and I’m talking literally — is the one atop Smith Hill by the Statehouse.

Who knows. If lawmakers had to ride the bus, maybe then buses would run more frequently, be more comfortable, or offer Wifi.

Maybe some might even feel compelled to upturn the anemic funding formula that keeps public transit starved for cash and upgrades.

Clearing bus stops out after snow storms is a small thing but it’s an easy way to improve the experience and safety of those who rely on the bus system as their primary form of transit. Let's keep bus riders a little safer by clearing sidewalks and bus stops.

Joanna Detz is executive director of ecoRI News. Tweet your radical transit fixes to her @ecoRI_Jo.