David Weinreich has a message for today’s students: find something you’re passionate about, pursue it, and never give up.
For David, finding that “something” took living through a major life challenge.
David was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 19 and lost his ability to drive. He was a student at the University of California Berkley that year, majoring in classical languages and history. His career in public transportation was still on the distant horizon.
Though he may not have known it at the time, a small spark began to burn that year. It would eventually ignite into a passion that would lead David down a completely new path.
“I saw the importance of public transportation. Not just for myself, but for other people that I would meet on the bus who were dependent on public transportation to get around,” David said in an interview with Fast Forward.
“There were a lot of limitations on what I could do. As a transit rider I noticed that a lot of times there were gaps in the system. When I would try to go from Orange County to LA for instance. There just wasn’t a lot of transit between those two areas.”
David adjusted to life as a person who depends on public transportation. He finished his undergraduate degree and got a job with the California State Legislature. But he kept thinking about the millions of other people who rely on public transportation because of a disability or health issue.
Then he had a revelation.
“I decided to go back to school and I realized what I could do to try to improve the situation and take ahold of myself. And so that’s why advocacy was really important to me, because I saw it as a way to help improve that system, so that others didn’t have to go through that.”
In 2008, David went back to school, determined to make a difference. He enrolled in transportation courses at the University of California, Irvine.
“It took me a long time to make that decision, I want people to know that there are other options out there". That you can go back to school. That there are ways you can take hold of your situation and improve it.”
That year, he formed an advocacy group for transit-dependent persons in the midst of the 2008 economic collapse, when hundreds of people in California lost bus service due to budget cuts.
“A lot of local bus agencies were hit really hard, including the one in Orange County where I was. So I started an organization to advocate for bus riders, and we did a number of things to try to improve the local bus system,” he said.
Over time, he became a public transportation expert, learning everything he could about the funding and legislation that made the system work, as well as the gaps that had a negative impact on riders. His studies eventually led him to the University of Ann Arbor in Michigan, where he would pursue his doctoral degree. Today, he has met with lawmakers and transit agencies across the nation through his research on the public transportation system.
Currently, David sits on the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Regional Transit Authority in southeast Michigan. This means that before lawmakers make a change to the transportation system in Michigan, they come to David and the other board members for advice on how the decision will impact transit-dependent people in the community.
“It’s been a really great opportunity. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people that care a lot about public transit,” David said.
Today, he advises students who want to pick a career that they feel passionate about it in order to truly succeed.
“I think you have to see why it’s important. You have to know why you’re doing it. If you don’t care about it you’re not going to do it very well. But if you do care, then you can be a professional at something, then you can be the expert that everybody else is listening to. Otherwise no one is going to listen to you if you don’t even care about something.”