Riding the bus toward freedomBy Shaun Bishop
Molly Kennedy had just arrived as a first-year student at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont when she got the urge to visit a mall.
So she did. "I just got on the bus and went to the mall," Kennedy, 38, said.
It was a short and simple trip back in 1987, but a significant one. For Kennedy, who has cerebral palsy, a pass to hop aboard a San Mateo County Transit District bus is a ticket to self-sufficiency.
She still rides once or twice a week and says she is living proof of how important buses are for the disabled, seniors and others who can't drive.
"I don't think I'd be as independent as I am if I didn't have SamTrans," said Kennedy. "I'll take the bus before I'll call someone. It's my way of saying I don't have to rely on anyone."
Her independence was recently recognized nationally with the "Life Without Limits" award, presented to her in April at United Cerebral Palsy's annual conference in Orlando, Fla. She is on the board of the organization's San Mateo County and Santa Clara County chapter.
"I'm sure they had no one else to give it to," Kennedy said with a modest grin.
As chairwoman of SamTrans' Citizens Advisory Board, she is also on the front lines of trying to get more people to ride buses and keep the quality of service high in the face of daunting budget challenges.
The agency will have to spend $10 million of its reserves to close a gap in the 2007-08 budget, which totals about $127 million.
SamTrans also operates a paratransit service for residents who can't get to fixed bus routes. That will cost the agency $13.2 million in 2007-08 to carry some 1,000 riders per day, a "huge obligation" for the district, spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.
But Weinberg said providing transit to help disabled people get around is a public benefit to which the agency is committed.
"The service is important and we want to maintain the service and improve the service," SamTrans board chairman Marc Hershman said. "The overriding issue then is, how can we best provide the funding?"
Kennedy doesn't have to use the bus every day because she lives near her office at the San Mateo Medical Center, where she is director of the Health Care for the Homeless grant program. Kennedy, the second youngest of six sisters, lives alone and is proud of her ability to do so.
For her part, she said she will continue to ride the bus and trumpet its virtues to anyone who will listen.
"I feel like I'm the queen of the bus," she said.
Copyright ©2007 San Mateo Daily News. Published 08/07/2007.