Transit Tuesday: Ken Miguel-Cipriano

Grand Rapids, MI: Transportation Riders United

I have lived in Grand Rapids since 1990 when my family moved here from Peru.  Public transit is how my parents got around in Peru and how we got from place to place when we moved to Michigan.  In fact, my dad still bikes, walks, and takes the bus.  When you are poor and an immigrant, that’s how you travel. My dad taught me to walk the city, ride a bike, and take the bus, so I could be ready for any scenario.

I went to the University of Michigan with the expectation that I would be a doctor or lawyer, but I learned there are lots of other fulfilling and well-paying careers that use critical thinking skills and allow me to serve my community like being a Project Manager.

I never bought a car because at first, I couldn’t afford it and still maintain the lifestyle that I wanted. When I finally was able to afford a car it all felt a bit like a scam – a loan for the vehicle, another bill for insurance, weekly purchases of gas, and regular maintenance fees. Owning a car is often the second biggest line in a household’s budget, especially for those of us working to be upwardly mobile.

I wanted to save money to buy a house. So, I bike and take the bus everywhere. I’ll admit that it can be a little bit of a problem when I want to go out on a date, because people still look at car ownership as a status indicator. I always say I’d rather save my money and sleep in my house than sleep in a car, it’s just smart economics. Saving money by not paying for a car, meant I was able to buy my own home.

My calling is to serve. I’m active with Transportation Riders United, and I’ve served on City Commissions and Boards that make decisions about transit. Ironically, I am usually the only one that actually uses transit on those commissions.

Then, on April 13th of 2023, I was on an E-bike crossing a 4-way intersection when a group of teens sped through the intersection going over 35mph and t-boned me. I’m told I went flying twelve feet in the air and landed in the intersection as the car sped off. I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again and was in a wheelchair for over a month. The police didn’t investigate despite the fact there were eight cameras in the area. The police were disrespectful and unhelpful during most of the interaction, and I felt they didn’t take me seriously.

Since then, I’ve strengthened my resolve and doubled down as an activist working to lead people to economic freedom and the joys of riding a bike and taking public transit. I’ve also started working for policy change with a new local group called Friends of Slow Streets. Friends of Slow Streets have been working in Grand Rapids to make sure our streets are safer. I don’t want to die the next time I get hit!

Frequency of buses is a problem. The other day, I was going to a meeting that started at 6:30pm but the bus was 40 minutes late. I finally boarded the bus at 6:43pm and got to my meeting late.

We don’t have a parking problem in Grand Rapids, we have a problem with perception of distance. A driver might complain about the “lack of parking” because they couldn’t park directly in front of the door of the building they are entering and instead must walk a block. In the winter, buses get backed up and if you are on the wrong side of the route, you can wait an hour for a bus. They’ve also cut service, again. The buses aren’t reliable, and the app isn’t accurate. And there is no way to get reimbursed when traveling to the doctor’s office by bus, similarly how you get parking validated if you are driving a vehicle.

I am grateful for a handful of new bus lines, but we need more. Thankfully, I recovered enough from my accident that I can take a bus and then hop onto a bike to get to my final destination. 

I would really like our city, state, and country to invest more in public transit, so we can make sure families, like mine, can get around town safely and efficiently, and that we don’t have to see our monthly income disappear because of the high cost of cars.

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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