This guest post by Zeina A. is the launch of the new “Community Voices” section of our website where we feature the great diversity of voices and transportation experiences of North Dakota residents. The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the North Dakota Active Transportation Alliance or its board of directors.
I moved to Fargo, North Dakota from Cairo, Egypt in 2017 with no license, car, or knowledge on how to drive. Back home the legal driving age is 18 years old, which is when I chose to study abroad at North Dakota State University (NDSU). This meant that I had to learn how to drive from scratch in a new road system that is often filled with snow. Within my four years in Fargo, the MATBUS system was my main way of transportation.
At first, I thought this would not be an issue since NDSU’s students all get free MATBUS passes. Let us simply say that I was completely wrong. While paying for access to the bus system was not an issue as it was part of the school fees I pay, other factors were huge barriers that stood in my way and that of many others who don’t have quick and easy access to a car.
First off, the bus system in Fargo is spectacular within the NDSU campus and between campus and downtown. This made it so easy for me to access classes in downtown halls like Barry Hall and be able to hang out with friends downtown on the weekends. However, if I needed to go anywhere else, I faced endless trouble. For instance, a trip from campus, where I live, to Walmart meant that I had to take two or three different buses to get there – and take more than one hour for travel in each direction. Therefore, a trip to Walmart meant that I block off two hours for the way there and back, and at least one hour for my shopping time and the time I spend waiting for the bus to come. A simple, one hour trip to and from Walmart for most people was a synonym to a three-hour trip for me and others without a car. Similarly going to things like work, internships or the mall was a tiresome task.
Not only does using the bus system require an entensive amount of time, but there is also a lack of covered or heated bus stops around town. In the Spring of 2020, I had an internship that was located by the mall. Getting there every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 am meant that I have to leave campus at 8:45 am to take two bus trips and walk in slippery and snow-covered roads for 10 minutes to get to my internship’s location from the bus’s drop off spot. To complicate matters, the bus would often come and leave a few minutes earlier than expected. This often meant that I did not make it on time – not because I did not follow the schedule, but because the bus did not. When that happened, I was stranded in freezing weather for at least 20 minutes waiting for the next one. Fortunately, I was lucky to have friends who were willing to give me rides when needed or use commercial driving companies like Uber and Lyft. This arrangement made me wonder even more what people who don’t have that luxury or social network have to go through to get to work every day during winter time (which tends to last a very long time!). Overall, I understand that having a heated station everywhere may be beyond the available budget but having more of them around town is essential. Right now, the only ones I know of are those at NDSU main transit station and West Acres.
Finally, the bus system is a savior for many who do not have access to a car due to various reasons like economic factors, physical abilities and many more. This is exactly the reason why any and all efforts to help improve such service is crucial and would positively impact the lives of the many people who use it on a day to day basis by ensuring their safety, health and convenience.