Summer Transit Service is a Sham

On Twitter, a friend pointed out that OC Transpo is set to switch to its summer schedule, meaning they’re cutting service on a whole host of routes, specifically: routes 12, 19, 30, 33, 44, 61, 63, 64, 82, 85, 87, 88, 91, 94, 95, 97, 98, 104, 105, 111, 129, 235, 236 and 272. That’s a lot of routes, including a number of prominent ones.

Now, there are a number of reasons to ridicule critque this schedule:

  • Car traffic is also lighter in the summer, but we’re not closing down streets or reducing the number of lanes open on the Queensway.
  • The #12 to Vanier and the #95 to Barrhaven have notoriously bad service levels already, and now we’re planning on making them worse.e
  • OC Transpo is already too commuter-focused, and this just re-inforces that.
  • Supposedly, we’re going to want people to use transit when LRT opens in the fall, but every time we reduce service or make it unreliable, we’re creating a deterrent to use transit
  • Man, we really are a fucking cheap city, aren’t we?

Each of these on its own is a valid criticism, but I want to dig down to the underlying philosophy of this decision.

***

A few months ago, Centretown News did a story on the debacle that is the Elgin Street renewal. In it, they spoke to Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko:

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, who cycles in Centretown himself, said he is working hard to balance the needs of the cycling community and the rest of the city.

Now, I don’t know if this was Chernushenko’s words or the reporters, but it’s an interesting phrase to employ, “the cycling community and the rest of the city.” It sets up a (false) dichotomy between “bicyclists” and “the rest of the city”, as if people riding bikes are not fully-integrated into the overall life of the city.

Speaking off the top of one’s head, it’s an understandable phrase to use. We get what it means. But if it is someone’s measured, thoughtful construction, well, that’s something else altogether.

Not only does this rhetoric exclude people on bikes from the rest of city activity (even though they likely walk, bus and drive, as well), it excludes the people who would bike, but for the lack of safe infrastructure. It tells us that we only build bike lanes for people who already ride bikes, not for everyone.

This is a dangerous formulation, because it can then be turned against the city and the public. It’s an argument for exclusion. It’s how we wind up with vehicular cycling. It’s prevents us from building safe, 8-80 streets. It marginalizes those who’d like to not get run over.

***

Seem like an odd segue? Don’t worry, I have a point.

By reducing bus service in the summer, we’re telling people that OC Transpo is only really for those who use it regularly. It’s for the monthly pass-holding commuters. It’s for the people travelling to school or work at 8:00 am and travelling home at 5:00 pm.

The philosophy behind this sort of schedule change tells us that we don’t run transit as a service for residents, giving them options; letting them know that if they need to get somewhere, they can rely on OC Transpo. No, this philosophy tells “the rest of the city” that OC Transpo is for existing transit users and, specifically, those who travel at certain times, Monday to Friday.

If you want transit to survive, it needs to be convenient and reliable. People need to be able to trust that a bus is coming when they go outside. They need to be able to trust (hopefully), that they won’t have to wait an egregiously long time for the next bus to come. They need to be able to count on the same bus showing up on Monday June 25 that showed up on Friday June 22.

This doesn’t mean that there has to be the same level of service at all points of the day, on weekends or even on holidays (though this one can really screw people over). It means that a regular schedule needs to be maintained.

It means that people shouldn’t be late for work, miss their kid’s piano class or wait extra long to visit a loved one in the hospital…all because of a seemingly arbitrary change in schedule. To those who are riding the bus everyday, all year long–you know, the backbone of transit ridership…the people we need to make LRT a success–there is no material difference between Friday and the following Monday. They’re still just trying to live their lives, and OC Transpo and the city are making it a little bit harder.

Now, this probably sounds expensive and, yes, it is going to mean there are added costs to transit, but we already cheap-out on paying for transit. We give millions upon millions to drivers, for free, and we’re skimpy with transit.

Transit has to be at the core of our efforts to make Ottawa more livable. We need people out of cars and on buses (and trains). Transit users help make our city richer, healthier and safer. We need to treat transit as a service that is bigger than just transportation. It’s about creating better city living.

And if that means that in the summer the buses are a little emptier, well maybe that’s ok. Maybe riders who suffer through poor service levels deserve a seat all to themselves every now and then.

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One thought on “Summer Transit Service is a Sham

  1. I’d like to take away every city councillor’s car and hand them a toddler and a to-do list and a bus pass maybe on a Saturday and see how they do. I suspect many of those making decisions about transit rarely ride it nevermind try to complete everyday journeys and tasks using it. For example, the 16 bus goes right in front of Dovercourt Recreation Centre – so nice to have service right to a public rec centre – however on Sunday’s the bus does not run early enough to get a kid to the first swimming lesson of the day at 8am. For a service I’m expected as a user to pay 50% of the cost of I am often terribly disappointed in the service.

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