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What One Mayor Is Learning From Riding the Bus

About a month ago -- his first week on the job as the mayor of Toledo, Ohio -- Wade Kapszukiewicz did something slightly radical for a man in his position: He boarded the bus to work.

Kapszukiewicz has pledged to commute by bus one day a week, a practice that has attracted the attention of local media and inspired some online fandom.

We contacted Mayor Kapszukiewicz to see what he's learning from riding TARTA [the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority]. Here's what he had to say, lightly edited for length and clarity.

What do you hope will come from riding the bus?

Today was one of the TARTA days. I took TARTA today. I’ve been mayor four weeks so I’ve done it four times.

Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish: For the city of Toledo, there’s no direct jurisdiction over TARTA. I am just trying to start a community conversation about public transportation. TARTA unfortunately has struggled in recent years. For Toledo to be the sort of city we all know it can be and all want it to be we have to do better with public transportation.

There’s all sorts of evidence that public transportation is crucial to economic growth. Biking, public transportation -- it’s also a big deal for the emerging economy. Amazon was very clear... they had seven criteria. [Transit] was one of the things they listed.

It is a big deal for the future of our city that we get public transportation right. I am doing this to lead by example... I’m not saying me taking the bus to work once a week is going to solve all our problems.

How's it been going so far?

It’s been a wonderful experience. I have ridden the bus now four times. I walk to the bus stop in the morning. It’s about a five-minute walk. They drop me off right in front of Government Center.

It is convenient, affordable. Everything about it is positive. From a health standpoint, it is pointed out to me -- and I agree -- that I could use the exercise.

You mentioned the city doesn't control TARTA and I know Toledo has limited funds, but is there anything you are doing policy-wise to promote transit?

We are a cash-strapped city, like a lot of cities in the Rust Belt. But yes.

Every time we redo a road, we are doing it with road diets in mind. Bancroft [Street] -- a major thoroughfare -- just underwent a significant road diet, four lanes to two.

We know how to make neighborhoods more walkable and livable. We just have to have the courage to it. We need to be making roads more narrow, not wider. Planting trees slows cars down. There are just little things that cities can do... We are doing those absolutely. Where we can, we’re starting to reimagine neighborhoods in Toledo.

Maybe in the warmer months I might ride my bike to work. Maybe some people think all these things are shticks, and they're right in a way, but I’m trying to get people thinking and talking about these things. We’re trying to change attitudes and change behaviors. There’s all sorts of fun partnerships that can come from this.

Has riding the bus helped you connect with constituents?

Just today, a gentleman who I’ve noticed a couple times -- he brought me a stack of literature about different issues. He had gone to the library and spent some time with the microfilm machine and printed out  articles about mayors and transportation. It was a big stack of papers. And I appreciate it. Here’s a guy who took a little extra time knowing that he was going to see me.

We have some fun conversations.

Part of my inspiration was Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York. He would routinely take the bus to his office. He took the bus to his inauguration and I took the bus to my inauguration in 2018.

Public officials who want to do a good job, when it’s working well, we’re a part of the community. If we’re in an ivory tower away from the citizens it breeds contempt.

When the system is working well, we’re closer to the people.

It doesn’t have to be joyless. We can do this with a twinkle in our eyes. We can approach problems like this with a sense of optimism.

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