The Transit Authority

Bi-State is losing riders and money. Mike McGrath, who has driven a bus for more than a year, thinks he knows what's wrong.

"In a city where you just have a racial binary, either black and white, you have polarities, you have separation," says McGrath. "When you have multiculturism, you can't get in that binary trap. That enlarges people's view of themselves and their region."

After Todd disembarks at the Fenton park-and-ride lot, McGrath pulls back onto I-44 to return to the Brentwood garage.

"My real heart is in the humanities. That's why I enjoy the culture dynamics and how that plays out in urban theory," McGrath says. "Being a long-term transportation planner is not so much my goal as using public transportation as a way of rebuilding the cities, as a way to make cities more livable. That's really my viewing lens on this. That's why I would argue against wasting resources when you desperately need transportation resources to the South Side, to the new ethnic communities that have enriched the city and that have emancipated us from our binary of black and white, north and south. Now we've got black, Hispanic, Asian, Bosnians. We have a wonderful culture. To hold that together, public transportation has to be the glue; otherwise, they'll head out to their widespread sprawling outer-ring, inner-ring suburbs and the city will continue to erode. That's really where my passion leads me to urban transportation, because I know that's the lifeblood of the city."

For the last 18 months, Mike McGrath has been a double agent of sorts, working as a bus driver and as a management intern at Bi-State's administrative offices. The experience has given him a street-level view of the troubled agency.
For the last 18 months, Mike McGrath has been a double agent of sorts, working as a bus driver and as a management intern at Bi-State's administrative offices. The experience has given him a street-level view of the troubled agency.
For the last 18 months, Mike McGrath has been a double agent of sorts, working as a bus driver and as a management intern at Bi-State's administrative offices. The experience has given him a street-level view of the troubled agency.
Jennifer Silverberg
For the last 18 months, Mike McGrath has been a double agent of sorts, working as a bus driver and as a management intern at Bi-State's administrative offices. The experience has given him a street-level view of the troubled agency.

Listening to McGrath as he drives the bus, as he talks about the fundamental value of public transit, it's clear that he is sincere and knows what he's talking about, both on the theoretical and the where-the-rubber-meets-the-road level. He also knows that passion for a subject and a working knowledge of it does not guarantee a livelihood. Despite his 18 months spent driving a bus, his hours at the keyboard and his days in the front office, McGrath has no illusions that his journal will be accepted as a management manifesto that will resurrect Bi-State. He laughs that it might just end up being "the fart heard 'round the world, to use a New England metaphor." He'll wait and see how the changes shake out to see whether he's destined to return to academia.

In the end, McGrath sees himself as more of a Lone Ranger than a Ralph Kramden.

"The fact is, quite candidly, I hope I'm one of those laid off," says McGrath. "That would be the perfect scenario, if you follow what I'm thinking: I do this, and I wind up being laid off because of the very problems I was observing and commenting on -- the decline in ridership and service. That would almost be a poetic ride off into the sunset: 'Who was that masked man?'"

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