Last fall, Metro (formerly the Bi-State Development Agency) marked the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by intermittently displaying two messages -- "United We Stand" and "God Bless America" -- on the electronic screens that grace the fronts of its buses.
Context, though, is everything. With the United States' invasion of Iraq, the signs remain the same, but the sloganeering has assumed jingoistic overtones.
Is this Metro's way of backing the war effort?
Metro spokeswoman Linda Hancock-Ross helpfully imparted the basic technical aspects: On the control console in each bus, she explains, are two switches, one for route name and number, the other for public-address announcements. The bus-route switch is always activated when the bus is in service, but the driver may flip the second switch if he or she desires. Besides the aforementioned phrases, drivers may opt for preprogrammed messages such as secular holiday greetings or root-for-the-home-team cheers.
But is, say, "Peace on Earth" in the current mix? Are bus drivers allowed to program their own messages? Hancock-Ross promised to look into the matter and get back to us.
We're still waiting for her call.
Seeing as how our phone wasn't tied up, we used it to dial a few other transit companies. We learned that across the state, the Kansas City Area Transit Authority has been displaying a single message, "United We Stand," since the 9/11 anniversary. "We have 'United We Stand,' and the driver can use it if they want," says Dolores Brehm, KCATA's superintendent of schedules. "When we went into Iraq, I noticed more drivers were using it," Brehm adds. "We support our government."
Other transit spokesfolk, though, say their agencies see the slippery slope that separates support for government from support for war as a route to be avoided. In Cleveland and Seattle, for instance, drivers are permitted to display route info only.
"Public-service messaging is really a touchy area," notes Linda Thielke of Metro Transit in Seattle. "You can have so many different opinions about a particular message."
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