Transpo Convo with Mohamed

Welcome to the very first Transpo Convo!  This is a brand new ongoing series in which I interview people about their transportation use.  In this first installment I share a few highlights from my conversation with Mohamed F., where we gab about bike lanes, transit pricing, and what Metro Transit could learn about rider experience from Nairobi’s matatu culture.

Mohamed shared thoughts on bike lanes, transit pricing, and lessons Metro Transit could learn from Nairobi's matatus.

Mohamed shared his thoughts at the Franklin Library.

Mohamed  lives in Ventura Village in Minneapolis and works at the Franklin Library.

You know, when you have your own bike lane it feels safer, more than anything.  Just having that safety feeling, the piece of mind of it.

Me (CWW): So, Mohamed, how do you get around?

Mohamed F (MF): I bike a lot, and then walking, driving, and taking the bus.

CWW: What’s your favorite thing about biking in Minneapolis?

MF: Well, it’s convenient.  It’s a very, very highly congested city and everywhere you go to there’s some sort of parking problem.  Being able to bike absolutely gives you the freedom of mind so that you know when you go to Starbucks you don’t have to worry, oh am I going to find parking, what’s going to happen.  You just bike there and you know there’s free parking just waiting for you.  And even when you’re there you never have to worry about the two hour parking limit on the street or anywhere, so it absolutely gives you a freedom of mind.

CWW: And then what’s your least favorite part about biking in the cities and in Minneapolis?

MF: Well, it’s obviously the danger part of it, when you’re on two wheels and you are sharing the street with things that weigh tons and tons that are moving very fast paced.  And you just hear things here and there about bike accidents, like once we had one right in front of the library and it was fatal.  So it’s not my least favorite part about biking, but you know, it’s just something that’s always out there when you are on two wheels sharing the road with cars. For someone who’s had one impact and a couple of close calls it’s something you become very well aware of.

CWW: What would make biking in Minneapolis safer?

MF: Definitely the bike lanes. You can tell the difference when you are biking on a street like Franklin or a street like Portland, you can absolutely tell the difference.  You know, when you have your own bike lane it feels safer, more than anything.  Just having that safety feeling, the piece of mind of it.

CWW: Before I’d mentioned the Open Streets event that’s coming up.  There one of the things they’re doing is setting up a little example bike lane that has the separation of the bike lane from the cars.  What do you think of that?

MF: I think that would even add to it, and not only would it make you feel safe but it also gives a good point of reference to the drivers.  If it’s a physical thing that they will see to add an extra layer to it.

CWW: Do you think there’s something that could make transportation in Minneapolis in general better, whether it be bus or car or…

MF: More bike lanes for sure, for streets like Franklin and Lake Street with more heavy traffic.  But I think Minneapolis is doing a lot better than other places and we are very aware of how to better our transportation, so I don’t know what else I would add to Minneapolis.  We could try to make our buses a lot greener than they are, we have some very old buses that are polluting.

 [The matatus] have screens, they have TVs that people can watch, they play music, they are very brightly colored, and some of them are so famous that people would actually wait to take them.  Like people would stand at the bus stop and let another one go by.  So they have a little bit of an edge in that sense, that they are a lot more technologically savvy than our ‘dumb buses.’

CWW: How long did you live in Nairobi?

MF: I grew up in Nairobi, so I spent all of my childhood there from ‘94 to 2005.  So all of my childhood was there.

CWW: Is there any comparison you can make between transportation in Nairobi and transportation in Minneapolis?  Is there anything transportation-wise in Nairobi that you think is better than here?

MF: Well, the closest comparison you can come is that the majority of the population relies on public transportation called matatus, they’re like buses.  There’s both full size buses and small buses.  Large as in our buses [in Minneapolis] large, and then there’s the 15 passenger smaller ones too, called matatus, they’re very famous.  So that’s the closest you can come, and the majority of people walk.  The matatus are not public, they are all privately owned.

CWW: Do they run on any sort of standard system?

MF: Well, there are regulations that you have to have seat belts and all of that, you can’t have people standing and all of that, but people break those all the time.  And I’ll tell you this, they are a lot more advanced and a lot more comfy than even the buses that we have here, in that they’re all private.  They have screens, they have TVs that people can watch, they play music, they are very brightly colored, and some of them are so famous that people would actually wait to take them.  Like people would stand at the bus stop and let another one go by.  Buses like Shark and Miami, when we were back home, you would wait for those ‘cool buses.’  On your way to school you would wait for Miami to come and you’d pay your 10 shillings, but you’d wait for it, compared to the one that came before.  So they have a little bit of an edge in that sense, that they are a lot more technologically savvy than our ‘dumb buses.’

CWW: Do you think there’s something Metro Transit could improve about our buses?

MF: Definitely make them comfier.  Even if you don’t have to make them comfier, just make them a little bit more attractive, play with the seats, make them more colorful, just do something!  They’re very very bland, and the environment in the buses is always gloomy, you just sit there and it’s just people looking at each other.

CWW: So what you’re really looking for is an experience then.  Like the experience of Shark and Miami, that you’d take and let the other ones pass by.  Do you think you’d be more likely to use the bus if it offered you some kind of experience like that?

MF: Oh, absolutely.  Not even if they put TVs or anything in it, just instead of having just white and blue, make them more colorful.  It would absolutely attract someone like me who doesn’t usually use them.

 I really, really think they should change the bus thing where they pay for time instead of the actual riding.

CWW: Is there anything else you want to say about transportation in Minneapolis, how it could be better, what’s awesome about it…

MF: I really, really think they should change the bus thing where they pay for time instead of the actual riding. For one thing it’s very expensive, and I don’t know anything about the cost that Metro Transit has to incur, but I don’t like the fact that when you’re buying a ticket you’re paying for a two hour ride instead of going back.  So let’s say I have something to do, I need to go to the central library and study there all day, so I get on the bus from here, and I’m paying for a two hour trip pretty much, and then I have to use my ticket back in a certain amount of time.  I want to pay for my ride.

CWW: So what if you had a choice, so you could either do as many trips as you want in two hours, or you could do a cheaper one way, or the same price for two trips, but it could be over any number of hours.

MF: Yeah, that’s what I want.  I want to say, ok, I’m going to central right now, so that’s what I want to pay for, and when I’m coming back I’m coming back.  That’s what I want to pay for instead of paying for potentially unlimited rides and only use it for one ride.  It would be better for students going to internships or study, just going one way and coming back.  Or like going out to the suburbs for a while and coming back.

CWW: Do you think the bus is too expensive?  Like when you think I could take the bus or I can just drive?

MF: Well, I think the bus is still cheaper than driving, but I think it could be cheaper for the main public that uses it.  A lot of people use it because they can’t afford cars.  One other nice thing about Metro Transit, after criticizing them this whole time, is that they are really nice to students.  You can get a student pass and you can use them unlimited, so it makes it more accessible to students.  It’s very nice to students in helping students get from point a to point b.

Thank you for the Transpo Convo, Mohamed!

Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus

About Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus

Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus is a renegade librarian by day and general Minneapolis riff raff the rest of the time. She is an avid biker, gardener, Somali student, and fiber artist and serves on the board of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. She's interested in information access, service to underserved populations, community empowerment, and capacity building. And in getting rad on bikes, of course.

17 thoughts on “Transpo Convo with Mohamed

    1. Cassie Warholm-WohlenhausCassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus Post author

      Thanks Janne! It’s really fascinating to be doing interviews–I learned a lot from Mohamed (too bad I was only able to share a few highlights from our 40 minute conversation). I’ve got another in the edit stage already that is chock full of more great stuff. Looking forward to doing many more!

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I agree with him about buses being too expensive. Imagine how many people would take them if they cost half as much.

    The comment about buses being boring is interesting too.

    1. Cassie Warholm-WohlenhausCassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus Post author

      Yeah, I started thinking of what all Metro Transit could do to make the buses more interesting, besides adding more color to them… What if they put out a call for local artists to do installations in certain buses? Some artists would be excited for the opportunity and challenge, I’d think. Or partner with arts organizations or history organizations to do little exhibits, even if they were printed like those see-through advertisements they sometimes have on the windows…you know what I mean? I think it would definitely make riding the bus more interesting if you could find ones that had an ‘exhibit’ component!

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Yes, I think reducing fares would also increase ridership by “choice riders” for non-commute trips. Imagine it’s not a pleasant biking day, or someone can’t/won’t bike and they live near 46th Street. And a couple could take the 46 bus to 50th/France or Highland Park. And imagine that person has a car sitting in their garage. With “free” parking at their destinations and “total schedule flexibility” with their car, the $7 for round trip fares may be the straw that pushed the camel off the bus.

      Granted, it’s a losing battle to push transit to compete with heavily automobile subsidies such as “free” car storage, but my point is that lower fares could not only help people of all backgrounds and draw increased ridership into the system. Price elasticity of demand is strong either out of necessity *or* convenience.

      1. Michael RodenMichael Roden

        I wish we could move away from the idea that transit can or should pay for itself. It should be considered a utility that is paid for by the public because it provides a public good – sort of like police or fire services.

  2. Steve Goose

    This is an excellent post, great to hear another perspective on something so simple as bus service and fare scheme design.

    I would also like to be able to pay for a “to” trip and a “return” trip with my fare. In this day and age of quantum computing clouds I would think it’d be possible to give people the option for EITHER trip based payment or time.

    Decorating our buses is also a great idea, and low hanging fruit as far as what I would think would be a cost effective way of improving many people’s day to day experiences with transit. What if you decorated a bus to look like a caterpillar? Or made other zany designs on the inside and outside, you could commission local artists who I’m sure would be happy to help.

    Great piece overall from a new perspective. Thanks Cassie and Mohamed, you guys rock.

    -Steve Goose

  3. Joe

    Cassie, thank you for the amazing interview with Mohamed. A brilliant idea idea is one that seems obvious after someone implements it. Interviewing actual transit users adds rich perspective and novel ideas to the existing fabric of transit discussions. Like Mohamed, I not only think people would be open to a richer experience, I think they crave it. My 9 month old daughter hates the car and cries in her car seat. However, she loves the bus! She really enjoys people and without exception everyone is so nice to her. People take her in their arms, smile at her. Within a few minutes half of the bus is laughing at her crazy antics and sharing their own experiences with their children. I strongly believe that the baby provides an excuse for people to connect with each other that otherwise would seem socially intrusive. Having lived in countries with microbuses like the ones described by Mohamed, I can tell you that the scale, music, proximity of the people sitting in the vehicle (usually very tightly packed) and the active recruitment of customers by the drivers, creates an atmosphere that is conducive to interaction. It is almost unacceptable to completely ignore people. As a result people laugh, complain, and discuss politics and sport. All of this seeming chaos however, creates a sense of community and interconnectedness that helps break down barriers between people.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I’d love to see more kinds of articles like this from people of all ages, races, cultural backgrounds, etc. Your 9-month old daughter probably isn’t ready yet, but even kids have good ideas about the bus or the sidewalk.

  4. Angie Machado

    Wonderful story and great ideas, Maybe I should come back home and start a private bus service. I just know a Minnesota artist that we could maybe talk into coming up with colorful designs.

    1. Joe

      I do not know if you are just speaking in jest, but if you pursued this project I think you would be successful! I think ~12 separated streetcar lines in Minneapolis would pretty much make a car meaningless, but until that happens (if ever), small private buses could offer a great alternative to driving. They are also much more affordable than Lyft/Uber, and taxis. A number of routes between densely populated areas would be very popular.

  5. Anne

    I really like the concept of one-on-one interviews and am definitely looking forward to reading more of them! What a great way to expose each other to new voices and perspectives.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the matatus. They’re a really neat concept, but I know that I am particularly fond of the stoic, Germanic way of blankly staring through people and not interacting while I’m riding. I’m usually exhausted when I’m on the bus, and it’s valuable recharging time between jobs when I have to be “on” all the time. I don’t know how a different kind of atmosphere would change that, but I personally don’t ride the bus for a sense of community or socializing. I ride it because I have somewhere I need to go and can’t get there on my own.

    I do find myself reading the ads along the top a lot of the time, though, and I think that could be useful space for interior public art.

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