‘You Never Know What You are Going to See’ on the Bus
August 21, 2023
Editor’s note: This story is a part of ecoRI News’ Rhody Riders series, a collection of stories about people who choose to live without a car and use a combination of walking, bicycling, and public transit to get around the Ocean State.
PROVIDENCE — Jonathan Flynn has ridden the bus for decades.
Sitting at Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street with a cup of joe and a Motif Magazine in front of him on a recent July afternoon, he recalled a summer he worked in Newport when he was younger and ferried himself back and forth on the bus.
“You never know what you are going to see on the bus,” Flynn said. That summer, he saw a couple getting a little too frisky, and met a smuggler who dealt only in cash and didn’t have a credit card to rent a car.
Now 65, Flynn said he takes the bus or walks most places. He got rid of his car 11 years ago, when the economy was tanking and, he said, he “needed to downsize my life in a hurry.”
He moved to a smaller place in an area of Pawtucket that was a 5-minute walk from the (currently closed) South Attleboro train station and has a bus stop nearby.
“I have a nice bus and I like to walk, and the combination of those things worked for me,” he said. “I found a way to decompress my life.”
Flynn said he has always had a sense of adventure, something he said is useful when riding public transit.
Flynn attended college in Dublin, Ireland, where no one had a car. “It’s not stigmatized to me,” he said. “It’s just an automatic that you learn the public transit system.”
The car-free life has worked so well for him that when his driver’s license came up for renewal recently, he opted for a state ID instead.
He most frequently takes the Nos. 1 and 35 buses. He loves that the R-line is currently free, and wishes fares could be waved for the whole system.
“As much as I love [the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority], it needs some help,” he said.
One of his biggest complaints is the lack of late-night transport. Flynn, who is semi-retired, previously worked in communications and lobbying, and now takes some shifts at The Met, a music venue in Pawtucket. When he gets out of work at 10 or 11 p.m., sometimes a ride-share is his best option — but also expensive.
“You should be able to get to the far side of everywhere at 11,” he said.
But taking public transit also has nice moments. He ran into some old friends on a bus from Pawtucket to Providence for Brown University’s annual campus dance and reunion weekend last year. And he’s also seen plenty of acts of kindness.
Taking public transit comes down to the fact that “there are buses that go to where I need to get to,” he said, before he finished his coffee and hurried off to catch his next ride.