A pearl white bus, with the Solid Ground logo painted on the side, pulls up to the Harborview Medical Center on the corner of 9th and Alder. As the doors slide open, the bionic whine of the wheelchair ramp greets us. The ramp does not discriminate between those who need it and those who don’t. Every passenger, whether able-bodied or living with disabilities, benefits from one fewer step to climb. This is the Downtown Circulator Bus – a free transportation service that drives a 30-minute fixed route in downtown Seattle.
We drive from one side of downtown to the other. Pass the hospital. Pass the ACRS Food Bank, the Public Library, Pike Place Market. Pass the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Every stop along the route was specifically chosen for the practical help it provides to people living on low incomes or who need access to health and human services.
The driver, Joe, is easygoing and genuine. He’s humble about the service he provides, briefly commenting, “The people who use [the bus] can use the financial help.” But he’s careful not to put people in boxes, recognizing that the $2.50 Metro fare is “kind of a lot, for a lot of people,” and that working class people compose a significant portion of the riders. A lot of people just ride the bus – in fact, will take the whole route around – to get from the bottom of the hill to the top. The biggest issue for many people is the hills.
I look around the bus to face an eclectic group of passengers. The high proportion of riders with injuries and disabilities creates an in-the-moment reminder of why the Circulator Bus is necessary – to get people the services they so clearly need. We pass the Downtown Public Health Center, the Community Psychiatric Clinic.
Two passengers in the back chat amiably for 10 minutes before exchanging names and phone numbers. Passengers voice observations about the constant construction, the ever-taller Seattle. They notice things out their windows. A man named Dean calls me over by name. He overheard me introduce myself to the driver and jokes that Joe always tries to hit the potholes. He asks me about my hometown, and shares how important the Circulator has been for getting him to his appointments. His warmth shakes me. There is a certain humanity here not present on the average Metro bus.
We round out the 30-minute trip on Boren Ave, passing The Salvation Army. Soon we’re at the hospital where we started. He tells me how positive his experience driving the Circulator Bus has been. I believe him. He shares that his mantra is to just keep driving. I think we need him to.