WATERLOO, Iowa --- With a white cane in hand and a guitar slung over his shoulder, Frank Strong Jr. is touring Iowa in support of local bus service.
Strong, who is legally blind, boarded a MET Transit bus in Waterloo on Wednesday as part of his plan to ride all 18 fixed-route public transit systems in the state.
"We were in Davenport and Clinton last week, and we've got about 15 other cities to visit," Strong said. "It's the craziest idea I've ever had in my life."
Strong is employed as associate director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living in Des Moines and received a grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation to conduct surveys of the state's public transit systems. But he's also using the journey to encourage their use.
"We are promoting the use of public transit," he said. "We want people to take advantage of this great resource.
"We know there's a need to reduce our carbon footprint and also to make use of energy resources as carefully and prudently as we can, and transit is one way to do that. You can stand up for energy independence in the United States by using mass transit."
He's also promoting the use of public transit for persons with disabilities.
"More people with disabilities are in the workforce, they're part of the community as a whole" thanks to local bus service that can get them to jobs, doctor's appointments and other services," he said.
Strong brings along his guitar to promote live music and draw more attention to his visit. He's accompanied by Christopher Hansen, an intern working this summer at CICL.
MET Transit General Manager Mark Little welcomed the attention Strong's visit brings for the public transit system, especially at a time when lawmakers in Washington are discussing possible cuts in federal aid.
"We're always trying to encourage public transportation," Little said. "And MET has always had a mission to make our system accessible for persons with disabilities."
MET Transit saw about 550,000 riders in the last fiscal year, which was a 2 percent increase from the previous year and marked the fifth straight year of growing ridership.
More information about Strong's musical career can be found at www.rrsongs.com.