Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh, how I wish I had taken the bike instead of the bus to M's school for Open House night yesterday evening. The bus seemed the easiest, as it looked a bit like rain although the Weather Network didn't project it (but then I've learned I cannot count on them), and the route looked direct and timely for us.

First leg was okay, but then the second bus didn't come when it was supposed to, and an older gentleman told me (in Spanish, I am getting to practice my Spanish so much! Apparently the largest immigrant group to this city is Hispanic, and of course being newcomers, people will be less likely to own vehicles, which means there are a lot of people speaking Spanish on the transit, a wonderful bonus for me in trying to learn the language)... anyway he told me that it had come five minutes before. I pulled out the schedule to confirm, and seemed like it had gone by early. We waited ten minutes and then decided to cross the road to get another bus that would get us closer but still a walk from the school, as the one we wanted wasn't due again for fifteen more minutes. As we were crossing, I saw our bus come, and we ran back and caught it. I don't know if it was 10 minutes late, 15 minutes early, or simply completely out of relation to the printed schedule they distribute. I suspect the latter.

Then on the way home, after staying late so the kids could play at the playground, I figured we'd just gamble, walk to our stop and wait a bit, since we could have taken either of two routes that come along that line. We waited, and waited. It got dark, mosquitoes came out. I checked my schedule (kept handily in the stroller) for the one route we wanted, and it wasn't due for half an hour, as we had missed it by minutes. No matter, as I expected the other one any minute! It didn't materialize, and I called the transit's route information line, which has recently become automated and completely ridiculous to try to navigate. If Z talks at all while I'm on the phone, it thinks I am speaking and does all sorts of weird maneouvers. Which of course is exactly what happened, and it took a full five minutes to deduce that the other route does not run past 7pm. Lovely! So we waited, in the dark, with the mosquitoes, for almost 30 minutes for the stupid bus, as first parents, and then teachers and admin I am sure (tho I couldn't see them in the dark) drove out of the schoolyard one by one in their vans. Then the trickle of vehicles stopped and we were waiting alone. Lonely.

I have a 'sweet spot' for our daily commute on transit, but this served as a reminder that our system can be extremely useless and frustrating. I longed for my bicycle, with the flashing backlight, and in my imagination I had gotten around to installing the nice bright headlight too. I longed to head out of there on my own schedule, like the other parents, and to have been at home before that damn first bus showed up. And of course despite the winds and grey skies, I felt maybe one drop of rain, no more. We could have cycled.

I also long for rapid transit. If the lines are populated, they run them more, I know this just from the ease of getting to the university, where there is a high percentage of transit users. Just get downtown, and a bus will be along in the blink of an eye to get you to campus. This morning as we waited at the bus stop along a busy road, I imagined all those drivers populating the busses, which like the busses to campus, would arrive with such frequency that it would be impossible to look at a bus schedule and tell 'which one' it is, what time it was due. Because they would come every five minutes, so whether it's the 930 bus 3 minutes late, or the 935 bus 2 minutes early, would be a toss up. No more having to plan exactly for when you want to be at the stop, getting there early and preparing to wait in case the bus is late. No navigating the stupid robotic infoline from your cellphone. It would be great to have a critical mass of people on busses and bikes, so that the busses are always coming, and their main competition for the roadspace is bicycles.

I think that would be very nice for just about everyone. Being in the car is so isolating, such a heavy responsibility, so boring, and the financial aspect such a burden. People do it to a large extent out of an absence of other convenient options. But because we do it, the demand for those options does not exist. In Toronto, where I lived for ten years, it is very common to not own a car. In fact I never got my license until we decided to move to the country. Cars are a burden, cycling, walking, and using public transit is easy and ever-present as a feasible option for getting around. I would love for that to happen here. It's a smaller city, yes, but we do have the critical mass for it. That is evident by the traffic jams on the city streets at rush hour.

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