Those Damn Students!

A cabdriver answers questions, offers suggestions, and even explains basic truths to some passengers. Here’s a perfect example, provided by guest columnist Larry Sharp, board member and driver for Union Cab:

We’re stopped for a red light on Johnson at Park, headed for the airport. Traffic is congested and there is pedestrian gridlock since classes just changed. The passenger in my Union Cab has an hour and a half to get to the airport. An assurance that we’ve got plenty of time does not satisfy the passenger; apparently his need to get to the airport is more important than the students’ need to get to class. He expounds on how the university is ruining this town, and bewails the money being spent on construction projects on campus.

Quietly and very politely, I counter some of those complaints as we cross the intersection. I comment on the favorable impact on Madison’s economy due to the university, students, faculty, staff, and parents through retail sales, travel, construction, and jobs in general, asking what Madison might be like without the university. Significantly smaller and less developed, we agree.

Has the passenger or a family member been treated by UW Health or at UW Hospital? (Most often, yes.) Without the university, those community facilities would exist elsewhere. Is the passenger aware of the volunteerism that exists on campus and the volunteers who help our community? I am, because Union Cab provides local transportation to the Morgridge Center for Public Service student volunteers throughout the school year, taking them to grade/middle/high schools, the Humane Society, Care Wisconsin, and other understaffed/underfunded organizations working with schoolchildren, food pantries, and elderly/disabled adults in our community.

To put numbers to it:

• Each year, 1,200 student volunteers provide 14,000 hours of community service.

• 1,800 Madison Metropolitan School District students are tutored or mentored by the volunteers.

I add that it is my pleasure to drive many of those volunteers on a daily basis, and I personally thank each volunteer in my cab for taking time from his or her busy day to be of service to Madison residents. Union Cab is proud that we discount our fares for Morgridge as our contribution to this worthwhile effort.

This is not an isolated incident: Each time, a similar story is told to try to let people know that while UW students get a lot of fairly negative press for Freakfest and the Mifflin Street Block Party – and yes, there is a traffic impact due to the student body on campus – nobody seems to talk about the positives.

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