‘They Appreciate Us’: Downtown Bus Driver On Giving Lifts To People Who Need Them Most

For the past six months, Carlisle Gibson has commuted from his home in Pennsylvania to his job driving the Downtown Alliance’s Downtown Connection bus around Lower Manhattan. A few weeks ago, Gibson finally made the leap and rented a place in Brooklyn, but hasn’t been able to settle in yet because, as he put it, “the whole city shut down,” thanks to COVID-19.

Well, not entirely. Non-essential businesses may have closed due to social distancing guidelines, but the free Connection bus is still up and running and making its regular 36 stops along its 2.5-mile route connecting the Seaport to Battery Park. “New York transit is down to a holiday schedule during the week,” Gibson told the Downtown Alliance. “You’ll see four of our buses before you’ll see an M22 or an M9.” 

The Connection’s number of passengers has declined since social distancing guidelines have been in place. But as Gibson has discovered, however, the bus serves as a lifeline to the neighborhood’s elderly residents who have no one to assist them with errands, such as food shopping. 

“Just the other day I had a woman on my bus tell me her home health aide just up and quit,” Gibson said, “because the rumor was that COVID-19 was an old person’s disease. You see a lot of old folks fending for themselves. They appreciate us. They’ve seen Sandy. They’ve seen 9/11, but they’ve never seen nothing like this.” 

Gibson added that senior riders are particularly appreciative that the bus can take them to Whole Foods and Gristedes; otherwise they’d be completely out of luck. “When we’re out of service, you get people that are really stuck in the house,” Gibson said, “and then the loneliness sets in.” 

Although Gibson said he enjoys helping riders take care of their needs during a difficult time, he admitted to being frustrated by the sight of too many large groups congregating in Battery Park and not practicing appropriate social distancing. “I know cabin fever is a bad thing,” Gibson said, “but it’s the only chance of us moving forward.”