Storyteller-in-chief: Get on the Bus!

Urban mobility: the author and his sister Sarah (1984)

The CEO of moovel North America recalls a childhood shaped by transit.

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When I was in the second grade, I started taking tae kwan do at a studio near my home in northern Virginia. I learned how to kick my feet above my head and spin like a rocket, turning 360 degrees in the flash of a second.  

After a few months, I was really beginning to take to the sport.

Master Park, who ran the studio, reached out to my Dad and told him he thought I could excel much faster if I attended classes not just on weekends but during the week.

My parents were divorced by then, and my mom didn’t get home from her job in D.C. until 5:30 p.m. each day. So tae kwan do was a perfect way to fill the time until she picked me up.

My dad would probably get in big trouble for this today, but he decided I could get to more lessons by teaching me how to ride public transportation by myself.

He mapped out the route from my house to the martial arts studio. He made a lanyard with instructions on how to ride Metro, the D.C. area public transit service, where to transfer to the correct line and how much to pay.

It even included little tips like, “Sit behind the driver; you will be safe there.” 

On my first trip alone, I carefully followed his instructions until I made the first transfer.

I watched as every stripe of people got on and off the bus.

Arlington, Virginia is a fairly diverse place, and I was fascinated by all the different characters who got on, got off, read the paper, or fell asleep. Moms with kids, old people, teenagers, businessmen, and a few “crazy people” — all in the same spot.

As I sat mesmerized, I suddenly realized I had missed my stop. 

Panic filled me. I looked at my lanyard but there were no instructions on what to do if things went wrong. So I carefully tapped the driver on his shoulder, told him what happened and listened to him tell me that I could just walk across the street and simply hop on the same bus going in the opposite direction.

Confidence renewed, I realized I could do this: I could get around on my own. 

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Since then, I’ve continued to ride public transit. I love it because it’s a true “commons” in our increasingly polarized society.

It serves everyone, and when you ride it — when you sit with these strangers — you feel connected to community. 

Today I have been fortunate to take that journey even further with my job leading moovel, N.A., an urban mobility solutions company headquartered in Portland’s Chinatown neighborhood.

Moovel was founded by Daimler (yes, the company that invented the automobile in 1886 and makes Mercedes-Benz) after merging two U.S. transportation technology start-ups, RideScout and GlobeSherpa, in 2016.

Moovel’s global mission is to find solutions for the disconnected and ever-changing state of urban transportation and to discover how new technologies will affect the way we’ll move tomorrow.

Our technology solutions simplify the transportation experience, helping you to connect to the people and places you love.

Whether it’s planning your journey or paying for your train ticket with a click of a button on your smartphone — or, in the future, reserving a ride with an autonomously driving car, moovel is transforming urban mobility.

Since my early days as a young child riding the bus on my way to tae kwan do class in Arlington, I have remained delighted with public transit.

That fascination has now extended to other mobility options, like ridesharing and autonomous vehicles. Whatever way you like to get around, it should enrich your life with humanity and efficiency.

Moving through a city should restore your time to think and to read, and connect with community memberes, whether they’re a stranger, your best friend or just a curious kid you meet on the bus.  

Nat Parker is  CEO of moovel North America.  A version of this column appears in the June 2017 issue of Oregon Business.