Though it’s not clear if Pope Francis has to stand at the bus stop and wait for the #25 bus, it is evident that the pontiff is familiar with the challenges of riding – not to mention managing – public transit. He even brought it up in his recent encyclical (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html in which he urged cities to give priority to public transportation. He wasn’t just thinking of the overarching challenge of saving the environment but actually addressed the need to relieve the “undignified conditions” endured by public transit-dependent riders.
Only a veteran bus rider could speak to the reality of those “undignified conditions.” It is legendary now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a straphanger when he lived and worked in Buenos Aires. In fact, when Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, the Rome transportation agency, ATAC, issued him a lifetime “pope pass”, appropriately packaged in a tasteful white leather pouch. ATAC also heralded his election by issuing 200,000 transit tickets bearing the Vatican coat of arms rather than the usual corporate logo.
There is even an unofficial Facebook page called “Riding the Bus with Pope Francis” that follows the words and walks of the Pope with a focus on his acts of humility and commitment to social justice.
Most important, Pope Francis gave specific attention to public transit as a priority in his encyclical on global warming in which he observed that “many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.” More specifically, he wrote that “the quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas, which spoil the urban landscape.”
The pontiff’s words rang true for John Olivieri, the Transportation National Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) who wrote that “the Pope’s decision to elevate the importance of public transportation and the need to limit the growth of driving comes not a second too soon. A 21st century transportation system that reduces carbon emissions and urban sprawl is something we all should work for.”
Welcome aboard, Pope Francis!