Transit Stories: Niya Banks

Washington, D.C. – Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689

I was born at DC General Hospital in 1983.  My mom worked for the federal government for forty-two years, and my dad was a teacher at John Tyler Elementary School. I grew up around my cousins, and there was always someone around to watch over me. 

We lived one block away from the Potomac Avenue Metro station in Southeast DC. As kids, we either walked or took public transportation to school. You could say I’ve been a lifelong Metrobus rider.

When I was 16, my father passed away. After that happened, I sort of went into a downward spiral. I started getting mixed up with what my mom would call “the wrong crowd”. To make a long story short, it led me down a path that ended up with me having a criminal record. 

Four months after my eighteenth birthday, I gave birth to my oldest daughter, who is now 22. Soon after she was born, my first love and I broke up. I was heartbroken. I realized I had to survive on my own. The bus was my lifeline. The bus connected me to the babysitter and allowed me to get back and forth to work. Because of public transportation, I was able to pick myself up and dust myself of. 

My life changed for the better when I went to a job fair that City Councilman Vincent Orange hosted. WMATA didn’t solely judge me on a few past mistakes I had made and hired me to be a metrobus operator.

I started out as a bus operator and eventually moved on to be a train operator where I remained for nine years until I found myself back to where I began my career as a bus operator. 

I love being a bus operator because no day is like another. It’s always new, always exciting. I work and serve the wealthiest communities  in DC as well as the poorest and pick up riders between Cleveland Park and the SE quadrant of Washington DC. 

I would like to see DC invest more money in what we used to call the regional routes. Bus routes that go between Maryland to DC, DC to Virginia, and vice versa. Now, the buses mainly just take people to the train stations and stop. Bus service used to be interjurisdictional. All of that service has been cut. That’s a shame. For families from poorer areas, that limits their ability to gain access to jobs and opportunities. The regional bus routes ran when I started taking the bus. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have had a hope and prayer to survive as a single teenage parent.  

If I was sitting in front of an elected official, I’d ask them to invest in the system and make it more convenient. The traffic in this area is unbearable. If I worked in Virginia and drove, I’d have to sit in traffic for an hour and a half or more on the Woodrow Wilson bridge. More convenient bus service would clear up that congestion.  More people would be inclined to use the service if the connections were simplified and less inconvenient for those who need it most. 

We really need more service in DC’s suburbs. My youngest daughter, who is 13, doesn’t have a bus she can take. Buses should take people where they need to go. That’s the whole point of the system. Connecting people to places where they don’t live. 

Thanks for listening to my story.

About Transit Stories

Transit Stories” is a series of real-life experiences with public transit in the U.S. We feature the first-hand experience of public transit riders from across the country. From large cities to small towns, we will document the experiences of the millions of users of busses, trains, ferries, and other forms of public transit in the US. Public transit is essential to our communities, to cooling the planet, to advancing equity. Transit is essential to our very lives.

There is a unique opportunity for the country to make a historic investment in public transit funding to help the country build back better. 

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