Growing up in Germany, recent Kansas University journalism graduate Christopher Brott was used to riding the bus.
“It was just a part of my life,” Brott says. “Everywhere you went, you took the bus.”
So after seeing the news coverage of the proposed sales tax increase needed to keep the local bus system — known as the T — operating, Brott became interested in the issue. Though not an American citizen and unable to vote on the local proposals for funding and expanding the T, Brott wanted to become involved in the debate somehow.
As part of an independent study course for his master’s degree this semester, Brott created two short documentary films about the T vote: one examining the issue before the November vote and a recent film following up on the measure.
“From a student perspective, I thought it would be a good idea to get the big picture,” Brott says. “I wasn’t sure if there was enough awareness in the community (about the T).”
The first film is a 10-minute documentary titled “Point 2 for the T” that examines the debate about the T sales tax vote. Brott interviewed both proponents and opponents of the sales tax while also looking at the community of Chapel Hill, N.C., which operates a free public transit service.
In the second 5-minute documentary, “Point 2 for the T: What Now?,” Brott follows up on the sales tax vote passed by looking at the next steps in the process of the T’s development. Both measures were approved overwhelmingly and will add 0.25 percent to the city’s sales tax to support the bus system.
“What’s going happen in the next few months and years?” asks Brott.
Though a proponent of public transportation, Brott says he wanted his documentaries about the T to be objective and present both sides of the issue.
Chris Merrill, a KLWN radio talk show host and outspoken opponent of the tax, had some early doubts that Brott would present the issues in a neutral way. But after seeing the documentary, Merrill says he appreciated Brott’s fair portrayal of the issues.
“As it turned out, Mr. Brott went out of his way to provide perspective on the transportation system,” Merrill says. “His ‘fair shake’ approach was a pleasant surprise.”
KU journalism professor Dick Nelson, who supervised Brott’s project, says he also thought Brott achieved his goal of objectivity.
“He really covered his bases,” Nelson says. “Very well-balanced; good sources on both sides.”
As the project progressed, Brott started riding the T more frequently and decided not to buy a parking pass at KU.
In addition to saving gas money, Brott says he began seeing additional benefits to riding the T to campus everyday. Brott was able to read and study on the daily trips and felt more relaxed not having to drive to campus in rush hour traffic.
“It’s actually a nice thing to take the bus rather than a car,” says Brott.
Brott, who recently finished his master’s degree, plans to move back to Germany for a year and a half before coming back to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in communication studies. He says he hopes the Lawrence community continues to have public transportation available for its residents.
“Where I’m from, (public transportation) is almost as essential as schools, police, fire and library services,” Brott says. But he says he realizes convincing more Lawrence residents — who are used to using personal automobiles — to utilize public transportation will be a challenge.
“It would be a good thing in the long run if you changed that mindset,” Brott says. “The more people who ride it, the more support it will get.”
He points out that it’s important to look beyond the financial cost of public transportation.
Brott cites the example of Lance Fahy, a visually impaired Lawrence man featured in the documentary, who would not be able to get to and from work without the T.
“He doesn’t have a choice,” Brott says. “Even if it’s not a financial success, it’s still important. ... (it’s) important for a community to make sure every single individual in our community can move around freely. This is about a commitment we make.”
— Shaun Hittle is a journalism graduate student at Kansas University. He can be reached at Hittle@ku.edu.