So there was a meeting in Barrhaven about bus service along the 95 route, hosted by councillors Jan Harder, Michael Qaqish and Scott Moffatt. Transit users residing in the area of Half Moon Bay are upset about delays, full buses, cancelled buses, commute times and the lack of an express route. It’s sort of an interesting conundrum. Hearing about the issue, it’s easy to fall back on your priors about bus service, city planning and commuting.
But there’s a lot going on here. There’s a legitimate complaint about service, but there are larger issues that the riders may be omitting. Let’s take a walk through the issues:
- Not all 95s go all the way to Half Moon Bay, this means that riders get “stranded” at Fallowfield Station, waiting for another 95 to pick them up and get them home. They want all 95s to go Cambrian (the stop in Half Moon Bay, as I understand it). This sort of thing is pretty common throughout the transit system, and maybe it needs to be addressed.However, that probably has implications on routes going the other way (or buses that have to go somewhere else and start a different route). Also, I don’t know how many people would be getting on in Half Moon Bay for a bus’s return trip downtown…I’d guess few. This change could have a lot of cascading effects. It could also cost a ton of money. Still, if there’s demand, I’m generally in support of increasing transit service. This shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.
- People are waiting half an hour or more for a bus (or a half hour for each bus, as they have to transfer to a 95 Cambrian). I mean, that’s too long. Transit needs to reliable, predictable and convenient. It seems we need more buses on the route…or there’s something going on with downtown traffic, completely screwing everything up. The complaints pre-date the temporary closing of O’Connor, so it’s not that. I’d be totally cool with restricting cars downtown, adding in congestion charges and giving more resources to OC Transpo.
- People want express routes, or they want the 95 Cambrian to operate as an express route. Maybe this is a good idea…but the I-decided-to-live-really-far-away-so-I-deserve-an-express-route argument doesn’t garner a ton of sympathy. If express routes are properly funded and they’ll make transit service better on the whole, then I’m game.
So, yeah, we should be able to do some things better…but there’s also a lot of unreasonable stuff going on:
- Rider Amanda Bernardo, who seemed to get the whole thing going, was quoted as saying, “Unfortunately, for me to live closer to the downtown core was not something that I could consider. So I don’t think I anticipated how long the commute was going to take me. It is something that I am now slightly regretting.” So, I’m not sure I believe the first part of this complaint. She said Barrhaven is where she, as a first-time homebuyer, could afford to purchase. OK, but there’s still a whole bunch of question-begging going on. Why did she have to buy? Why do we have to subsidize that choice? Moreover, she didn’t consider the commute time? This sounds like some kind of mix of both buyer’s remorse/ignorance and pure entitlement. Here’s the lesson for everyone: when you move far away to purely residential communities, you’re probably going to have long, inconvenient commute times. Personally, I don’t want that, but it’s what you signed up for. I’m not going to tell you where to live.
- Bernardo went on, “But at the same time I don’t think it should be something that deters people from living in one end of town from the next. We’re all taxpayers, and we should be getting that same type of effective service, no matter where you live.”This is pretty messed up. She doesn’t want people to consider commute time when choosing where to live. That’s a dreamworld. That’s massive entitlement. That’s declaring that you should be able to do whatever you want without having to deal with the effects or consequences. That’s asking everyone to accommodate you and your choices, no matter what.
And to argue that all “taxpayers” should get the same type of service when you chose to buy a home in an area that is significantly more expensive to service, that is subsidized by those neighbourhoods closer to the core, is some level gall. Even if this aspirational suburban-premium-equality were some sort of desirable goal for the city, it just isn’t feasible. There are logistical problems with it. There are financial problems with it. There are geometric problems with it. If you want to live in what is essentially a suburb of a suburb, be prepared to accept what that means.
- Some complaints about time are reasonable (two hours is a long time), some are less: Many complained the commute from Barrhaven to downtown and back can take well over an hour each way — and that’s on a good day…Robert Finkle, who also lives in Half Moon Bay, said getting home from downtown can take up to 90 minutes some days on the new 95 route.
Okay, for some perspective, I did some google maps-ing:I chose a random street in Half Moon Bay, Carina Crescent. It’s about 25 km from the Rideau Centre (a popular downtown bus stop). Google says it’s a 24- to 40-minute drive. This doesn’t pass the smell test. If you’re driving reasonably, I don’t know how it could be less than 40. (I know. Y’all speed. Just another way people impose the costs of their choices on the rest of the city.) So it’s a 40-minute drive. Or it’s a 5-hour walk. Or it’s an 80- to 90-minute bike ride.Leaving at 4:00 pm, it’s supposed to take just over an hour by bus, according to OC Transpo’s trip planner. That’s amazing! Consider what it would take to drive at that time. A 90-minute rush-hour bus ride actually seems pretty reasonable.
For comparison, I live 6 km away from my office. I have made specific life choices to not have a massive commute. This means I have turned down job offers*. It means I have a smaller living space than I might otherwise have. It means I don’t have a yard. It means I hear more traffic. I accept these trade-offs.
My bus commute is minimum 35 minutes…but it’s only a 12 minute drive or 20 minute bike ride (or less). It’s an hour’s walk (trust me, I know). People who are living four or five times farther from their office than me, whose drive to work would be four times more than mine (at least), whose bike ride is four or five times more, whose walk time is five times more are complaining that their commute is sometimes twice mine…and sometimes the same! Perspective, people!
But this is more than just reasonable concerns and unrealistic demands. The core issues here are related to city-building, urban development and municipal politics (you probably saw that coming, didn’t you):
- Do you want better transit service? Are you ready for the city to provide more funding for transit? If you answered “no” to the second question, your answer to the first question is also “no”.
- This forum was put on by Harder, Qaqish and Moffatt. Are any of them transit champions? Are any of them willing to raise taxes, implement road tolls or find other ways to properly fund transit? It’s my impression that they are not. It’s my impression that they’re part of the so-called “fiscal conservatives” of council.
- It is very difficult for bedroom communities like Half Moon Bay to support robust transit service. What is needed is density, mix-use development and general livability. We need more people working in or close to their homes. We need more amenities that close to people’s homes. Their lives have to be conducive to transit. We can’t expect that bumping up commuter transit service, without dealing with the underlying issues, is going to completely solve these problems. Get people out of cars. Get people on shorter car and bus trips. We need to shift people’s mentality and really embrace transit.
- If we can start to build up the commercial/office/retail/whatever aspects of these communities, we can start to see more of a general flow of people into and out of the area. Although people will still have to commute from their home in Half Moon Bay to their office downtown (or elsewhere), if we get people commuting into Half Moon Bay, that can help the viability of local bus service. That’ll reduce or eliminate the issue of “dead-head” buses (buses that go in one direction on a route, but don’t turn around and go the other way). Dead-head buses are a real cost issue.
- Can we stop building these unwalkable, meandering suburban streets already? You know why transit service can be so long and tedious in these neighbourhoods? Because there’s no easy grid for buses to follow and for riders to walk along going to and from the bus stop. You may think I’m just shilling for livable neighbourhoods here…well, I am. It’s amazing that we know what sorts of developments are best at facilitating modern human life, and yet we keep developing things like Half Moon Bay, anyway.
It’s hard to be really sympathetic to people who complain about the predictable outcomes of their decisions. It can be difficult to hear about people living in the outer ends of suburbia complaining that their bus rides take 15 or 20 minutes longer than people in dense, mix-use areas…but, still, I do feel some sympathy.
These people have been sold a bill of goods. The suburban dream they have will not be realized, and it’s quite likely that councillors will continue to blow smoke up the community’s collective ass. Even if we can find some band-aid solution for the 95 Cambrian, we’re still sprawling out beyond Half Moon Bay. The problems will re-occur, and we’ll implement a proper solution.
So, to the residents of Half Moon Bay, this sucks, and I’m sorry. I want every corner of the city to have the best transit service we can reasonably imagine. And I know that long, packed unreliable bus rides are horrible. Unfortunately, you might be getting just about the best service we can reasonably imagine, considering the nature of Half Moon Bay and the constraints your councillors have put on the city.
But we can change that, and I hope we do. The question is, are you willing to agitate for the type of city-building and the type of funding necessary to facilitate better transit service?
I hope you are.
*To be fair, yes, many people do not have such a luxury…but we’re talking about a lot of middle- and upper-middle-class white-collar workers, likely with household incomes far higher than mine, so I’m not cutting them any slack on not having choices.