On the two bus rides I took this weekend, each time, someone got on the bus and started panhandling not long after paying their fees. They didn’t hold up boarding, or cause any interference to people getting to their seats, nor did they get in the way of people getting off. However, they went to ask each person for money, bus tickets, or anything else people could spare, as soon as they could after boarding and people got to their seats. Each person who has nowhere to go once the doors are shut, they were trapped in their seats, and the bus is moving. These panhandlers worked their way through the crowd, passenger by passenger, though one did stop after getting a few “donations”. All this time, the bus driver either didn’t notice, or let it go as if these people were asking everybody for the time.
Now, I’m neither a lawyer nor someone knowledgeable in human rights law, but it would seem to me these panhandlers had a right to ask people for money because public transportation is public space, right? Or is it given it is property owned by the city and like some property, the city has a right to ask people not to smoke, or panhandle? Where does the law come in on this?
Law aside, I can tell you when I’m getting a bus to go somewhere, I’m not looking to be paying to get a road trip and a potential guilt trip! I have empathy for these panhandlers, but neither empathy, nor possibly enough of it, has anything to do not wanting to have to deal with panhandling, or even see it since one of these panhandlers stopped before they got to me. It does make the ride more unpleasant for me, even though it’d be nothing compared to the lives some of these panhandlers have to lead. But I’m neither going to apologize for feeling that way, nor try to change myself for their sake. I’ve got rights, too, and if my rights in this sense is less than theirs legally, which I would not be surprised given my thoughts on the potential of public transportation possibly being public space, then I’ll avoid public transit so I can have my expectations of a trip without a guilt trip bonus fulfilled.
I want to get that out there and make it clear I’m not talking from some righteous podium like it’s insensitive to not have the utmost empathy for panhandlers. I’m human and I don’t. You can call it my “rich” privilege, for all I care, never having owned a car, or insensitivity. I’m standing up for myself here, and playing that card of my rights not to be disturbed for panhandling on public transit if I have to. There are simply times and situations where I don’t want to have to deal with other people’s problems, and that is one of them. I’ve got rights not to have to be open to dealing with people’s problems 24/7.
However, I’ll bet you I’m hardly the only one. Whether I’d be in the majority, even, is unknown since I don’t have survey results. But if I were to bet a decent amount of money, I’d bet my viewpoint is in the majority, not the minority.
The problem if my stance were in the majority, or even in a big minority (say 30-40%), is that public transit ridership can be devastated on this one issue. All that work to get people to ride public transit more, for less traffic that indirectly improves quality of life, the environment that ultimately leads to the same thing, and other reasons, would go down the drain for a very small number of people that may end up panhandling a lot on transit.
So what I want to know is does anybody have a good policy to deal with this issue that is also fair?
Do we allow this and give people free “No panhandling” or “Do not disturb” stickers to take and put on their tops upon boarding, and the panhandlers would have to leave them alone? Or maybe have a no panhandling section where panhandlers can’t penetrate if they were going to panhandle? I’m half kidding with the ludicrousness of these suggestion, but if it were legal to panhandle on public transit, and you don’t want people to abandon it for the bonus guilt trip with their transit trip, you’ll need to find some way to keep the two groups from being in contact.
Give me some suggestions. Maybe even change my mind. Convince me, before I go do something foolish buy a car and say to hell with transit for its panhandling features. Thanks.