Urban mass transit began in America in the 1830s with horse-drawn omnibuses and streetcars. These were run by private operators who were given government contracts to operate on public land. Horsecars, which ran on iron rails that gave riders a smoother ride, became prominent in the 1850s. In the 1870s, New York built the first elevated railway.
By the turn of the century, a vast majority of streetcars and city rail were electrified. Well before then, though, people found them indispensable. Eventually they changed to government hands, and have been seen almost as a form of welfare ever since. This misconception, though, fails to recognize that in many cities, nearly every class of people relies on a well-oiled transit system.
Throughout its evolution, public transportation has decidedly become a vehicle for equity. In 2023, according to AAA, it cost over $12,000 to own a car. In large cities where parking is scarce and expensive, that number could be far higher.
The American Public Transportation Association estimates that, “With long-term support, economic returns from public transit are $5 for every $1 invested,” so public funding for these systems is every bit as vital as it’s ever been.
As we approach Transit Equity Day, celebrated on February 4—the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ birthday, as a declaration that public transit is a civil right—it’s important that we reflect upon our community’s own local public transportation system and how it provides necessary mobility for commuters year round.
We spoke with Jill Kreider from Citilink to talk more about their celebration of Transit Equity Day, and how Citilink provides equitable fare for the Fort Wayne community.
Molly: For those who might not be familiar with Transit Equity Day, can you explain more about this national day of recognition and why it’s so important to Citilink?
Jill: Transit Equity Day aims to raise awareness about the importance of public transportation as a civil right, and highlights the need for equitable and accessible transit systems. It is celebrated annually on February 4th, the birthday of Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks, known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” played a crucial role in the fight against racial segregation in the United States when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Her act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a significant event in the civil rights movement.
Transit Equity Day is not only a day of remembrance but also a call to action. It advocates for just and accessible public transportation, recognizing that transportation is a vital service that connects people to jobs, education, healthcare, and other essential services. The day encourages communities to address issues of transportation inequity, such as inadequate service in marginalized neighborhoods, unaffordable fares, and disparities in transit infrastructure. Citilink, as an organization, recognizes the importance of Transit Equity Day and the role that we play in helping to link people to life throughout Greater Fort Wayne.
Molly: So this is a really important day, not just for public transportation, but for all humans who care about an evolving, more equitable society. I understand that, for this year’s celebration, Citilink is commemorating Rosa Park’s 111th birthday with a special mural from local artist and visionary, Theoplis Smith. Can you tell me more about the mural and how this partnership came to be?
Jill: The mural is a bus wrap, designed to be a moving piece of artwork, traveling through the Greater Fort Wayne area for at least the next two years. Our partnership with Theoplis Smith started with Transit Equity 2022, when he created a painting—currently housed at our Central Station—of Rosa Parks to honor her memory and legacy. With this year’s festivities, we met with Theoplis to discuss the digital rights of that painting to create stickers. He shared part of his vision with us and asked if we’d like to meet and dream together. Those dreams actualized sooner than any of us anticipated. Between Theoplis and our team here at Citilink, we began to create and see a vision of something much bigger than just stickers. We saw a vision of living art being able to move throughout the city, showcasing what our community stands for.
Molly: Excellent! I can’t wait to see the artwork! Theopolis always does amazing work. Your celebration of Transit Equity Day is open to the public, correct? What else can people expect from the day’s festivities, in addition to the unveiling of Theopolis’s art?
Jill: Attendees of our press conference on the 2nd will get to experience a sense of community like no other. We will have people speaking to the public about Transit Equity Day and how it impacts our community. The mayor will be speaking about the importance of public transit to Greater Fort Wayne. Our CEO, John Metzinger, will be speaking about our work, our impact on the community, and how people can play their own role in helping to broaden the impact of public transportation. Theo will be speaking about his vision, his work, and his “why”—why he feels his work with us matters. Besides the amazing lineup of speakers, people will be able to see the new bus wrap up-close and in person, as well as get a chance to experience one of our newer buses with a short ride around Electric Works. It is guaranteed to be an interesting and impactful event for all!
Molly: Sounds like it! Transit Equity Day may be a one-day celebration, but I understand that equity and fairness are core values of Citilink. Can you explain the ways in which Citilink is committed to providing equity and fairness for its passengers all year round—not just on Transit Equity Day?
Jill: Citilink offers a variety of year-round services throughout Greater Fort Wayne to showcase our commitment to equity and fairness. We offer affordable fares to ensure that transportation remains accessible to individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. We have curb-to-curb access services available for our ADA-eligible passengers, and all of our fixed-route and deviated-route buses are accessible. We connect people to life’s essentials —jobs, schools, healthcare, food, etc. We work every day to improve our service to our community, to make sure everyone can be linked to life.
Molly: Is there anything people should know about Citilink and its role in providing fair, affordable public transportation to the community?
Jill: Citilink is the public transportation system of Greater Fort Wayne, so our job is to link people to life. Without our services, people in our community would struggle to be connected to the resources that they need to survive. It’s important that people know Citilink is available to them. We’re here to serve our community to the best of our ability and capacity. Even if people do not need our services, it’s critical for them to support us and speak up on behalf of those who do need our services.
You can join Citilink during their public celebration of Transit Equity Day on Friday, February 2 from 10am to 10:30am at the Forum located inside of the Electric Works campus.
Event attendees will have the opportunity to view, board and take a brief ride on the new bus wrapped in artwork inspired by Rosa Parks. For more information about Citilink, their services, and their Transit Equity Day event, visit their website!
Molly Conner is a Fort Wayne native and freelance writer. Having lived in Downtown Fort Wayne throughout her twenties, she loves watching her stomping grounds grow. With her love of storytelling and community in tow, she’s eager to tell Downtown Fort Wayne’s story piece-by-piece—exploring the people, spaces, and organizations that make it thrive.