The “Travel by Book” initiative proves that literature can get you where you want to go.
This summer, the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca unveiled a new initiative designed to both promote literacy, and encourage residents to take advantage of municipal public transportation: From June 4-7, anyone reading on the city’s busses, trams or trolley, was be allowed to ride, entirely free of charge. Fiction, non-fiction, hardcover and paperback alike were all commuters needed to get where they needed to go, all while expanding their minds, and saving their money.
The “Travel by Book” initiative was the brainchild of Victor Miron, a local literacy advocate, who initially proposed the idea to the city’s mayor in 2014. Fast forward one year, and across Cluj–in the midst of its tenure as the 2015 European Youth Capital–readers of all stripes were treated to free rides, simply for opening a book. Says Miron: “In Cluj-Napoca there already was free transportation for students and elderly. I just thought that readers deserve it as well because they offer a good example. I think people are getting an appetite for reading if they see other people read books.”
In fact, swapping reads for rides was not Miron’s first idea for boosting literacy in Cluj. He explains:
“This was the third idea that we had reading reading on the bus. The first idea was to put books in every bus. It is still something that we would like to do but you need a lot of books and special shelves for them on the bus. So the second idea was to put messages that encourage reading on the bus. So everyone could see them and maybe be inspired to read. So we got to the third idea where people had a really good incentive to read, traveling for free.”
Once the city had approved the plans, the immediate response was tremendous. Thousands of people RSVP’d on the event’s Facebook page, and, according to Victor, “during those days on every bus there was at least one person reading.”
Bolstered by his success, Victor hopes to establish this as a regular event in Cluj, with two more proposed “Travel by Book” dates in mind, each corresponding to local book fairs. He is also in talks to expand the initiative to the Romanian cities of Alba Iulia and Focșani, and to Chișinău, across the Moldovian boarder.
Cluj-Napoca is no stranger to creative initiatives designed to boost civic engagement. This past summer, the Transylvanian city was also home to the “UNTOLD” music festival, which provided free admission passes to anyone willing to donate blood.