Management & Operations

What’s wrong with this picture?

Posted on March 1, 2003 by Steve Hirano, editor/associate publisher

Setting up a photo session for a cover shot can be a difficult proposition, especially if you’re talking about shooting the photo aboard a transit bus. But with Torrance Transit headquarters located only a couple of miles down the road from our Southern California headquarters, procuring a bus for an hour or so is a simple task. One call to Kim Turner, operations manager at the transit property, was all that was necessary to have a 40-foot, low-floor bus delivered to our doorstep. And getting “passengers” to fill the bus was no problem, either. We merely asked a few dozen employees at Bobit Publishing (the parent company of METRO) to take a welcome 15-minute break on a Friday afternoon. We didn’t have to offer much, just a seat aboard a clean, air-conditioned bus and a chance to grace the cover of this venerable magazine (we’ll be celebrating our 100th anniversary next year, in case you’re interested.) Notice something strange? If you look closely at this issue’s cover photo, you might notice something unusual. No, it isn’t the fact that the bus seems to be planted in the middle of a parking lot. (It is.) And it’s not the fact that some people seem to be enjoying the ride. Nor is it the fact that only one person is talking on a cell phone. When I showed the cover photo to some of my colleagues at other Bobit publications, they all said essentially the same thing: “Those don’t look like typical people you see on buses around here.” What they were saying, indirectly, was that there weren’t enough “people of color” on the bus. In other words, there were too many white passengers. Their observations weren’t the product of prejudice, just the practiced eye of journalists spotting something that doesn’t look right. What does that tell us about the assumptions people make about transit buses in Southern California? It tells us that people still believe, rightly or wrongly, that public buses are a transportation system for people who can’t afford cars. In some people’s minds, that translates into minorities. Remember, it’s just a photo Rather than lecture my colleagues about the “myth” of transit buses filled with dark-skinned people, I agreed with their assessment. If, indeed, this bus and its passengers was meant to “look more like Los Angeles,” modifying Bill Clinton’s call for his cabinet to “look more like America,” then we missed the mark. Filling the bus with ethnic minorities, however, would have been a gratuitous gesture, given that we were merely setting up a photo session. I think most transit agencies care more about the color of their buses than the color of the passengers. The most important feature of our cover photo, in my opinion, is that the bus is full of passengers. With the economy still billowing black smoke, the best you can do these days is to make sure that you run your service as efficiently as possible, keeping costs down and generating as much revenue as you can with limited resources. Let me know what you think. E-mail me at [email protected]

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