Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Mainstream mom tries giving up car – Grist Magazine – MSNBC.com

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Mainstream mom tries giving up car – Grist Magazine – MSNBC.com

Quite a good article, and mirrors my experience.

We lived in Victoria for nearly three years. We lived on a bus route which was reliable, and got me to and from work every day. I had an annual government employee bus pass paid for by monthly payroll deductions. It was mainly a matter of convenience as it was not massively discounted. One weekend I tried taking my son downtown, using the same service. It was a very different matter using the bus on Saturday midday than weekday peak hours. We stood a long time at the stop. The scheduled bus did not run. It began to rain. My son (then around 5) became distinctly fretful.After half an hour we gave up, and went home. Since we lived on the bus route, I tried to keep an eye that day on scheduled time keeping. “Hopeless” is the kindest adjective.

One evening I had to attend an evening meeting, on Blanshard Street (which does not have a bus service) at some kind of community hall. Once again it was raining – this time very heavily indeed, with strong winds that wrecked my umbrella. After slogging to Douglas Street to an unsheltered stop and not seeing any buses at all, I walked home – over three miles. No bus passed me in that time.

Then we moved to Richmond. I had now had a new job with BC Transit, which came with a free transit pass. I could have had one for my wife – but she refused it. I tried, no really, I really tried. First commuting by bus and Skytrain from Bridgeport and No 5 to Gateway in Surrey. Two years later from Williams and Gilbert to Metrotown. The fastest time I ever managed on either route was 90 minutes each way. Often much longer. I tried all the possible route combinations. Always at least two transfers. I was often left standing at a bus stop, especially in the early days of the 98B line, but also more recently, thanks to overcrowding when I once again tried bus commuting to downtown Vancouver. The clearest  memory I have is of is the feeling of uncertainty. I am waiting at a bus stop for an indefinite period because I have no idea if the scheduled bus has run early, or is missing. Or will be full when it arrives. And even if I get a seat I shall be so cramped I cannot comfortably read a newspaper. And in winter there will be no interior lights on anyway.

Many of my colleagues at Translink car pooled. And at Metrotown there is an  incentive in cheaper parking for car poolers. One of my car pool buddies persuaded me to join him, just because he could then get a cheaper parking spot. He had no intention of ever using transit, so I did not even have to share the cost of the parking spot or gas. I had to work to his work schedule which was rather different to mine, so to give myself some flexibility I eventually started using a bicycle on nice days. I found I could get home from Metrotown faster on the bike than the bus – and I am no Lance Armstrong!

I formed a very strong conviction. Having been a dedicated (train) commuter in the UK and Toronto, I am convinced that quality of service is far more important than price for choice transit users (as opposed to “captives”). And quality of transit service in Greater Vancouver is vastly inferior to London, Nottingham or Toronto, or, come that, peak hours in Victoria.

My wife uses a car for work.  She is a nurse who visits patients in their homes, and her work covers a very wide geographical area. When the family minivan was paid off, I decided to keep it, as the capital cost had been recovered through her expenses over the life of the vehicle. It is as reliable as any ten year old Chrysler product can  be expected to be (a cell phone and BCAA membership are recommended accessories). She drives a leased small sedan (she calls it her “zoom-zoom”). The minivan has room for my bike, and, when she was still alive, the family lab. Who, of course, was never allowed on a bus here. (Dogs were always welcomed on the bus in UK, as long as they rode on the top deck).

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2006 at 8:20 am

Posted in Transportation

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