The City of Lakeland has a message about its bus system this week: buses aren't just for those who can't afford a car. They're teaming up with artists to make riding the bus a little more fun, and on Tuesday WUSF's Robin Sussingham went along for the ride with Bev Hendricks, who is one of the event's organizers.
As part of "Art on the Bus" week, Hendricks brought her violin to Lakeland's downtown bus station, and prepared to play on the bus. She's the former executive director of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra and now does mostly volunteer work for several arts organizations.
"I work with Platform Art," Hendricks says. 'We try to bring art to non-traditional venues. The bus is definitely one of 'em."
She organized a week full of artists doing their thing on the public buses, including painters, poets, and Celtic fiddlers. It all culminates in fashion show on Friday.
Organizers hope the event will bring all kinds of art to people who might not otherwise get a chance to enjoy it. But they also hope it will help give bus riding a bit of cachet. City officials say they want to increase ridership among those that have a choice -- because they have a car.
That might be a hard sell, says Donald Hinton. He's standing in line for the Number 3 bus, which is the venue for today's violin performance. The bus passes the hospital and medical clinics, and Hinton is headed to a doctor's appointment. He says that the bus is vital for people like him, who don't have a vehicle. But he says he doesn't think anyone with a car would take advantage of it.
On board, Hendricks sets up her music stand at the front of the bus and begins to play. It's not perfect: the ride is bumpy at times, and Hendricks admits she hasn't played in years. But the passengers don't seem to mind. Most are smiling, and tapping their feet, and thank her as they file off the bus.
Bus ridership in Lakeland took a hit about a year ago, when services were cut by $3 million, and about 30 percent of routes were eliminated. Transit officials have tried to improve the route system since then, and have offered other incentives. As a result, numbers are rising, and city officials say residents should be proud of this community resource, as they would be of the fire department or the parks.
They hope events like this one will help make that happen.