I have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. It is an invisible brain-based disability that affects my attention span. I have a hard time directing my focus, and maintaining that focus on things that are routine or boring. I also have the superpower of being able to ignore (not being able to remember) needing to eat or sleep for over twelve hours if I’m reading a good book or playing a really cool new game or focusing on a work-thing that is super cool and exciting. It also comes with executive dysfunction which means it can be very difficult for me to switch gears or figure out what I need to do next. This can express itself in a strong need for routine or familiarity with a process. ADHD is a varied thing and part of neurodiversity like autism or anxiety or other brain based disorders. Many people express or experience ADHD in a lot of different ways, here I’m talking about my own personal experiences with how my brain works.
My ADHD affects my ability to get around the city in interesting ways. My preferred mode of transportation is by bus. But… that can be really hard with how the city runs the bus system. Currently buses run much more frequently during rush hour: a typical get to work around 8-9am, go home around 5-7pm. However, I’m a natural night owl. I’m more likely to need to go somewhere or want to do something in the evenings to late at night. Often I’m not looking to go grocery shopping or get dinner until 8:30pm if not 10pm. Or I’ll need to start heading home around 10pm or later. The city doesn’t run buses past 1:30 am for the most part and only runs about every half hour after 8pm (at least for the local buses, like the 11 which is the closest to me and my personal favorite). One of the big issues I have as an ADHDer is time blindness and forgetfulness for objects. I don’t realize how long it takes me to do things like find my phone or wallet or go-card. Or I’ll forget something and have to walk back home “real quick” just as I’m getting to the stop. I forget to check for delays and detours or expect them to be still in place depending on if I’ve gotten used to it and it’s part of my new routine. The time blindness manifests in expecting a walk to take me less time than it does, or waaay more time and i’ll be at the bus stop either 5 minutes late or 17 minutes early depending on how the day is going. If the headways are 15 minutes that’s not too bad, but if they are up to 30 minutes or an hour I could be waiting in the cold or wet or too hot for a long, long time. Or I just miss it entirely and get stranded needing to find an alternative mode of transport in the dark.
The forgetfulness also means I tend to be less prepared for bad weather or severe weather changes. I’m more reliant on frequent service or safe and dry bus shelters to protect myself. Sometimes I get into a good groove on a phone game or conversation and I miss my stop or get off too early ’cause I’m unfamiliar or anxious about a transfer to another line. That sometimes means needing to call for a ride because our headways are 30+ minutes and I need to get to the doctor’s appointment sooner than that. These unexpected transfers caused by my inability to pay close attention and use working memory (which is a very limited resource for ADHD folks) to make sure I’m at the right stop even with a Google map means that I spend more time on transfers than a neurotypical might. I can memorize routes and routines really easily though. Once I know how the system works it’s very easy for me to get from one point to another.
I love how sociable the bus can be, and also how anonymous. I love being with people and hearing the noises and conversations people make without being obligated to talk to anybody. It’s a great sort of stimulation for a brain starved for stimulation. (One of the issues for ADHD folks is that our brains process things differently and so sometimes we need extra stim so we bounce our legs or need to talk out loud to ourselves because we don’t have strong internal voices.) I love being able to help people find where they are going, or to recommend a new restaurant. I’d love to be able to get off at a stop for a new store without worrying that I won’t be able to get back on with the rest of my trip. Spontaneity and social adventure can be huge for ADHD folks, and we need transit that supports that.
I rely on urgent, present, and preferably visual, or at least short, and in-my-face reminders to remember to do things. Alternative means of transport need to be obvious and have visual reminders. If there is a bike share on the next block tell me on the same sign with the bus postings. Better yet have the two co-located so i can just look at the bikes and go “ahh yeah, i should try that instead” if there’s a big delay. “On the 3’s” is a better conveyance of when I should be at a stop rather than a big timetable that might not even be accurate. A map with the route works a lot better than a list of places. I’m great at understanding the connections between things and leaping through the possibilities to know what I need to do when the information is presented as a big picture, but I have a very difficult time building that picture of what “finished” looks like by myself without reminders of all the possibilities.
Unfortunately our bus system is built around the daily commute for a neurotypical 9-5 office worker coming from the suburbs or the outer city to downtown. Which means a lot of the time I have to drive because I’m already running late and missed the bus or will be out too late for the bus to get me home again. I try really hard to be actively engaged when i am driving. The best parts of driving are that I can just decide to go somewhere at any time of the day and be on my way within 3 minutes. Actively moving towards that goal and getting there in a reasonable amount of time. The worst parts of driving are everything else. I can’t have deep conversation or read a book. I’m often by myself which sucks cause i’d rather be social. There’s a lot of anxiety about possible car accidents or hitting a person by accident. I’m stuck in traffic. I’m causing air and water pollution. The two ton metal box I’m stuck in needs a lot of money to run. I don’t get to look at the cool crow or the sunset or the fall leaves. I miss out on a lot of what’s actually going on around me because I have to make sure I’m not too distracted and get hurt. Some people might say that automated (electric) vehicles would solve those problems, but it won’t. I still won’t get to talk to my city mate about the latest Twins game or exchange Pokemon Go friend codes. We’d still have the pollution problem of microscopic rubber particles in our water and the materials costs of digging up the metals to make all those vehicles. I’d still have to buy and maintain or wait for a vehicle to be available. And I would still be really worried about a vehicle that I have no control over hitting a young kid running after a dodgeball into the street. A-EVs don’t solve my transportation issues.
Frequent, reliable, free-fare public transit does though. Using a social vehicle that pools and strongly reduces my carbon impact while being able to reliably get anywhere in the city at any time of day is my dream. I need 24/7 15 minute maximum headways, and more often 5-10 min, that lets me get anywhere in the city within 1-1.5 hours without having to carefully plan and schedule my entire day because with my ADHD something will ALWAYS come up that prevents me from keeping that rigorous timetable. Whether it’s forgetting my wallet or staring at a really cool leaf or talking longer with my friends at the bar than I intended. Those are part of my life, and I need public transit that supports my ability to live my life to the fullest. So let’s demand it and fund it.