District Communications - News Room

15
40 Days and 40 Nights Without Wheels

By Burke Teacher Don Ferree

For 40 days, I chose to give up my vehicle. In addition to my personal vehicle, it included rides from family, friends, coworkers, Uber and Lyft. My only means of transportation were the Omaha Metro buses and walking. My personal journey has been incredibly rewarding as I’ve gained more empathy for the barriers that students and families must overcome every day.

My inspiration for doing this comes from the students at Burke High School that ride the buses daily to school. Regardless of a student’s grades, GPA, or ACT score, anyone that wakes up, attends school and wants to be a little better than they were the day before has my deepest admiration. Many of our bus riders leave as early as 6:30 a.m. in order to arrive at school. Considering we just experienced one of the worst winters in recent years, there were many additional barriers, such as icy sidewalks and snow drifts at the bus stops.

I have a different level of appreciation of the conveniences of using a car, which provides opportunities I took for granted. Although the city bus drivers have been very helpful and the buses are clean, traveling takes a lot more time and is limited. Some destinations that are a 12-minute drive now take over 80- minutes and require transfers between different routes. My roundtrip commute to work has increased by 50-minutes because the closest city bus stop to Burke High is nearly a mile away. Also, the closest route to my house is only open Monday through Saturday. In order to travel by bus on Sundays, I must walk two miles just to get to the next closest bus stop. Sundays in general are difficult to travel around Omaha and except for Center Street, the furthest west a rider can travel is Westroads Mall.

During the duration, my daily preparation changed drastically. Time is a much different variable to my day. When I used my car to go to work, I felt flexibility because I could take additional time to make a decent breakfast, watch the news, or walk my dogs. If I was running a few minutes behind, I could leave later, and within reason, drive a little faster in order to arrive at school on time. I don’t feel as relaxed anymore. The bus doesn’t wait for anyone and prioritizing what needs to get accomplished becomes much more critical.

There hasn’t been a day where I have not left something at home, such as my lunch, an umbrella, phone charger, etc. I usually remember these items before I even step foot on the bus; however, I can’t go back. If I miss my bus, I must wait half-an-hour before the next bus and be late to work. Students that ride the school bus don’t have the luxury of a second bus. When they miss the bus, it usually takes a lot of problem-solving in order to arrive to school that day, regardless whether they make it on time or not.

Additionally, I now understand the mental strain of arriving at your bus stop on time and still fearing that you missed the bus. It’s especially stressful in the cold, wet weather. There is a delicate balance between leaving your house at the right time, so you’re not waiting at a stop for too long in unfavorable weather and arriving with enough time to spare. Although this last statement sounds like commonsense, it takes on a whole different meaning when you don’t have a safety net and your only means of transportation is using the bus, which is the reality for many people in Omaha.
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