It was a couple of weeks ago, a grey and wet Sunday. It had rained the night before and was still, off and on, raining a bit that morning. I really didn’t want to bike the kids to church. I know, I know, are you made of sugar?, but the bike doesn’t have a proper rear fender and I didn’t want to subject one of the girls to back-spray of dirty water.
And really, sitting through church in wet clothes is no fun for anyone.
We we’re going to walk, but at the last minute, I decided to bus. Now, Sunday morning busing usually sucks. The 1 and the 7 (the two routes that’ll take me from the Glebe to the core) run every 20 minutes, and they come one minute apart. Seriously. Whenever I would bus, I knew that if I missed a bus, I’d probably have to wait 19 minutes to catch another one.
…Except that’s not the case anymore. I checked the stop times, and the two buses were now fairly evenly spaced out and running a bit more regularly. This was fantastic. I knew that I could head out at my leisure (more or less) and I wouldn’t be stuck waiting an extended period of time in the rain for the bus. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t be late.
That afternoon, my eldest had a play date with a friend in Centretown. I asked her if she wanted to bike or walk. She chose to walk, a 30- to 40-minute walk. All right, fine. We walked.
She’d be playing with her friend for a couple of hours. I didn’t really want to walk all the way home just to have to turn around 15 or 20 minutes later, so I decided to grab a bus.
Again, busing on Sundays has historically been really bad. I could walk from Sparks Street to Fifth Avenue with a toddler without a 1 or 7 passing me.
…But not anymore. The 1 and 7 were running every ten minutes and were about five minutes apart. I was able to quickly bus home, then when it was time to pick up the little one, I just hopped on another bus back downtown, using the same transfer.
This was fantastic. This is what transit should be like it. It was easy, convenient and reliable. Granted, I live right on a bus route, but even if you’re nearby or can drive to a park-n-ride, this is a great way to get around the city. It was fast and it was easy. I didn’t have to concern myself too much with the weather and I didn’t have to worry about parking.
We’ve seen before that, given the right incentives, people will take the bus. Whether it’s Canada Day, the very first RedBlacks game, Asianfest or Bluesfest, people will take the bus…but it needs to be a better option than driving. It needs to be fast, reliable and convenient. And the city can’t give it lower priority than driving.
Sure, not everyone will take the bus. And the bus won’t be right for every trip people need to make. But it can be a better and more popular option than it is now.
It was about a week later, and my wife was taking the girls to the butterfly exhibit at Carleton University. Getting from the Glebe to Carleton is far trickier and far more hostile than it should be. My wife wasn’t going to bike the kids there. The Billings Bridge is a wretched piece of infrastructure.
She also wasn’t going to walk them there. It’s a bit of a hike. It’s do-able, but to walk all the way there, walk around the exhibit, then walk all the way (assuming no other stops along the way) would be quite the trek for little legs (not to mention little attitudes). Anyway, it’s not a whole lot of fun walking over that bridge, either.
So she decided to take the bus. Not a big deal, the 7 stops a block away. It was mid-week and mid-morning, so no lonely weekend schedules to deal with.
She took the kids out to the bus stop, and she waited. And the girls waited. And she waited. And the girls kept waiting. Eventually, a 7 came along. It was packed. It was so packed that my 5-year old and my 8-year old couldn’t get seats. That’s less than ideal.
It was so packed that after my crew got on, the bus was too full to pick up any more people. My wife watched as many people (likely Carleton students looking to go to class) watched haplessly as the bus passed them by. Some kept waiting; some resigned themselves to walking.
Maybe there’s a reason ridership is stagnating, after all.