I vividly remember the first time I heard the phrase “captive riders” used to describe the dominant trends of bus ridership in Central Florida. I was participating in a Mills 50 focus group about transit needs for the Highway 50/Colonial Drive corridor which took place earlier this year. The term mentally jolted me out of the meeting for a few moments as I became lost in my own thoughts. I was shocked that there was actually a name – a terminology – for my experience riding the LYNX bus over the past three years. According to LYNX, I was a captive rider. I was riding in captivity – or rather I was riding the bus because I had no other choice. Beyond my own lived experiences, there is also much to be said for how the demographics of Orlando’s bus ridership illuminate a limited transit system that is amplifying and perpetuating issues of racism, poverty, sexism, ableism, ageism, and other pressing social problems. I don’t think that many LYNX riders would continue to ride LYNX if they had the choice because the present bus schedule as well as SunRail arguably hinders their livelihood as much as it may help them get from Point A to Point B. Yet things could be worse. There could be no LYNX at all. I once asked a fellow rider what he thought of LYNX and he responded, “Well, it beats walking.”
Not long after I gave up my car due to financial reasons in 2011, I also discovered phone photography via Instagram. I found taking pictures of myself and my environment on my phone while I rode the bus helped me cope with the anxiety and uncertainty of getting around Orlando without a car. If you told me seven years ago when I bought my first digital SLR camera that I would be using my phone as my primary method of taking pictures today, I would have never believed you. However, I have come to love the challenge of taking photographs within the confines of the phone camera’s capabilities and Instagram interface. I also found my phone camera more readily accessible and unobtrusive while in transit. Furthermore, I could instantaneous upload photos for others to see.
I’ve come to notice an emergent theme in my phone photographs – a voyeuristic melancholy of sorts around this notion of moving about in captivity – conveyed mostly through anonymity and shadows. My photos are in many ways covert surveillance – an effort to document my experiences in transit – snapshots of surrounding people, objects and structures often blending into one another. My photographic style definitely diverges from the more endearing “Humans of New York” approach to portraiture. This may be because I have become jaded over the years as a bus rider in Orlando but also because I honestly have a lot of anxiety about asking a person on the bus whom I do not know to pose for a picture. Additionally, people act differently when they pose for a picture. I find myself drawn to the candid and anonymous forms of people waiting for and/or riding the bus – scenes of people in a specific space and time collectively waiting and/or riding together – just trying to get around. Captivating/captive people and spaces.
To be fair, I think the term “captive rider” is not the end all sum of bus rider experiences here in Central Florida. Using the bus in Orlando is much more nuanced than this idea of simply riding around in captivity. As much as this term puts a name to ridership patterns, it also risks minimizing individual agency and self-empowerment as we all negotiate our survival in this city day by day – though I would argue riding the bus definitely raises the stakes. “Captive riders” can also describe those Orlandoans who commute via car because they do not feel like they have any other options. It is not easy keeping up with car culture in Orlando either. I believe the way of the future is empowering everyone through transit policy and design to be able to make choices about how they commute. The spirit of TrIP seems fully committed to such a future as its diverse array of voices continue to illuminate the varying ups and downs we face today moving about Central Florida in transit as well as the wondrous possibilities for tomorrow.
***Note: My contribution to the “TrIP: The Commuters” show is this series of six, phone photographs taken on an iPhone 4S and iPhone 4. Due to the lower resolution of phone photographs, these photos were printed in 5×7 and 8×10 sizes for gallery exhibition. Thank you to Patrick Greene, the Downtown Arts District and all of TrIP’s amazing participants for making this project and the gallery show happen. I’m honored to be a part of it.