That is, until Monday morning when I found out the whole of the Utah Transit Authority bus and train system was shut down for the Labor Day holiday.
There I was, in a hotel far from the center of town and no transportation. My predicament was fairly small in nature, and relatively easily solved. I simply walked downtown (3 miles) and then took a taxi back to the hotel at the end of the day. But… what about the bigger picture? What about all the people who are dependent on public transit systems to get around, and for any of a variety of reasons do not do the American Thing of being a car owner?
Clearly the people who cannot afford to own a car are, in America, the least well off. There is a broader set of people who choose not to own cars, but I think we can make a broad generalization that it is primarily poor people who do not own cars. This means the people overly disadvantaged by a transit system shut-down are the poor. Shut down the transit system for a day, and that leaves a whole slew of poor people unable to get around. What if that poor person is a dishwasher at a restaurant which is staying open on Labor Day? They might be utterly dependent on the transit system to get to their job. How are they to get to work if the transit system that has shut down in honor of the Laborers?
The whole implementation of Labor Day as a holiday is somewhat screwed up. If you give all the Laborers the day off, then who will staff the restaurants and other service businesses?
What if we celebrated Labor Day in a different way? Instead of giving EVERYONE the day off, why not fix things so that on Labor Day the Management does the jobs normally done by Laborers, leaving all Laborers to have the day off?
But let’s get back to transit systems. I did a search for “transit system closure labor day” and found several transit systems around the country closed on Labor Day. Hence, this issue is not limited to Salt Lake City, but is afflicting many other places around the country.
I have gone through a similar exercise several times – travel to a city by air, and don’t rent a car. The experience has taught me just how deeply entrenched car ownership is in the American mindset. For example, a hotel will advertise it is “10 minutes from ____,” and in every such case they mean “10 minutes by car” and the travel time will be much longer if you are walking or taking public transit. Generally speaking I’ve found very few hotels that are well connected to public transit systems, and another generalization is that hotels tend to be in locations with poor walkability.
There are exceptions of course, however a typical scenario might have a half dozen hotels within walking distance of each other, but there is no shared dining facilities between the hotels. Instead each hotel will try to operate its own restaurant on its own, rather than the cluster of hotels include a range of related businesses such as hotels, pubs, or convenience stores. What this does is consign those staying in any of those hotels to having to drive elsewhere to find dining or entertainment or shopping.
What I’m getting at is the general car-focused mentality may see a transit system shut down as a minor inconvenience, whereas there are classes of people for whom this is a major hassle.
At the same time Labor Day is an interesting quandary. The bus or train drivers are Laborers, and surely deserve a day of recognition along with other Laborers. But some jobs are so essential that we have a hard time doing without the services created by those jobs for even one day.
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