I am a regular user of Kamloops transit and I was interested to delve into the Journey to Work data recently released by Statistics Canada as part of the 2016 census. The data indicated that only 4.5% of people in Kamloops are using transit regularly to travel to and from work while 87% are either driving or are a passenger in a vehicle. This is despite efforts over the last few years to improve transit service in the city. While I am a regular user of transit, I can’t say that I am totally surprised. The bus I take from the North Shore to downtown to get to my office is filled mainly with high school and university students with a few people travelling for work, but it pales in comparison to the number of people in their cars driving to work. The census stat just confirms that there is still a lot of room to make transit a more attractive transportation option for people.
The release of census information comes roughly at the same time as Elon Musk has been sharing his personal dislike for transit (article: https://www.wired.com/story/elon-musk-awkward-dislike-mass-transit/). Given that Musk is likely to be a key influencer of how we develop and move around communities in the future, his opinion on issues such as transit matters, even if his opinion is going in the wrong direction. To counter Musk’s comments, Brent Toderian, urban planner extraordinaire launched a successful Twitter campaign to get people to share personal experiences about the great things that happened on transit. It’s a great idea and I thought I would chip in a few of my thoughts on why I choose to take the bus to go to and from work on a regular basis. Generally my reasons for using transit include:
Environmental responsibility – while there are numerous studies that suggest that environmental responsibility is a poor motivator for action, in my case it is the prime motivator for me taking the bus. While I certainly have the means to drive to work everyday (I own a vehicle and my company pays for either parking or transit), I feel a sense of responsibility to try to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions, however small the impact (I’m not going to lie, it’s a small impact, and pales in comparison to my out-of-town trips which rack up significant GHG emissions).
I hate driving – I find driving to be one of the more irritating experiences in life, particularly when I am by myself. I have little patience when I am driving. I honestly don’t understand people who say they derive pleasure from driving. For me, at it’s best, driving is a means to an end getting from A to B and at it’s worst, driving is a stressful experience and according to statistics, has a real potential to be dangerous. I definitely don’t take pleasure in driving. Taking the bus, on the other hand is rarely stressful and sometimes even enjoyable if I can zone out or chat with someone I know.
It’s what I desire in a great community – for me, transit is about what I choose to prioritize as being important in a great community. I believe a component of a vibrant community the size of Kamloops is having a more sustainable and dynamic transportation network that prioritizes transit, walking, and cycling relative to the use of single occupant vehicles. More pointedly, I would rather that the money I spend on transportation go towards building a more sustainable transportation network in Kamloops rather than building more spots to store my vehicle downtown throughout the day. Money could be better spent on creating a better pedestrian environment in the downtown and on the North Shore (i.e. curb bulb-outs at intersections!), providing protected bike lanes, or improving transit itself. The point is that there are so many better investments than building more parking in the downtown at $25,000 – $50,000 per spot in a parkade or $1000 per metre of roadway. But if I want to see this happen, I have a personal responsibility to be part of the solution and not contribute to more road and parking demand.
Transit is convenient – one of the big issues you’ll hear for people taking transit is the perception that it is not convenient. While it’s true for some it’s certainly not true for all, including those that have access to other options. For me, living on the North Shore and commuting downtown for work, transit is actually very convenient. Every morning I leave my house around 7:36, walk a couple of blocks to the bus stop, catch the bus and arrive at my office at around 7:50 at a spot that is probably closer than any available parking spot (generally we start work at 8 am but we have some flexibility). In the afternoon/early evening, being reliant on transit provides the discipline I sometimes need to actually leave the office at a reasonable time – I leave the office shortly after 5 and I am generally home around 5:20. Now the overall travel time is slightly longer than driving but the trip is more enjoyable. In the winter it is even more convenient because taking transit means I don’t have to clean snow off my car, scrape my windshield and get into a cold car and drive for ten minutes. I personally find that to be less comfortable then walking and getting onto a warm bus and not having to deal with those things at all.
Personal connection – one thing that I noticed when I started riding transit was that a lot of people thanked the bus driver as they got off the bus. I found this kind of weird at first but I have grown to appreciate this civility and it’s a great way to start the day. In our society that seems to be increasingly uncivil to one another, this is a small act of humanity and contrasts with the impatience and road rage that exists among car drivers, myself included.
Given that my transit schedule is pretty routine, I generally have the same drivers and while we don’t talk to one another, there is familiarity. Recently I benefited from this familiarity – I was leaving my house late one day and the bus was ahead of schedule due to it being School District professional development day. As I was walking down my street I saw the bus drive by and I figured I missed it. As I turned the corner onto Mackenzie Avenue, however, I saw that the bus was waiting at my usual stop which was still a block away from where I was. I ran and was able to get on the bus. The driver said that he saw me walking down my street and figured he’d wait to make sure I got on. While it’s a small and simple gesture, it does provide a sense of connectedness and goes to show the value in having a transit routine. I often see this on transit and there are several bus drivers in our city that will go above and beyond to treat people well.
Now, I’m not going to lie – transit in Kamloops is definitely not perfect. And often times when using the bus goes wrong, for whatever reason it feels like it goes horribly wrong. I’ve had times when the bus is late when it’s cold outside and frankly that is not enjoyable and I begin to question why I use transit when I have a perfectly good vehicle sitting in my driveway. There are a small number of bus drivers that do not have great customer service skills which can be maddening and sometimes you end up on a bus with passengers that are smelly, blaring their music or acting inappropriately and that’s not fun either. For whatever reason, these problems get magnified and by the time you talk to enough people in town you could get the feeling that taking transit is the worst thing you can do. While I have fallen into that line of thinking at times, I have been trying to remind myself lately that in all the instances I have nearly been in a car accident (whether it was my fault or someone else’s), I have not said I am no longer going to drive again – I accept it, move on and hope to learn from the experience. I think people who have one bad experience are likely to abandon transit if they have other options available. This is unfortunate because transit works alright most of the time.
I have many hopes for Kamloops transit in 2018. My biggest hope is that this will be the year when transit takes a bold step into the 21st century and gets next bus technology which will provide real time information to transit users on when the bus should arrive at a given stop and whether the bus they were expecting has passed by already. This system, which exists in a number of communities throughout the world the size of Kamloops, would allow people to greatly reduce their bus wait times which I find is one of the key barriers for using transit. I have heard that getting such a system is in the plans for Kamloops Transit so hopefully 2018 will be the year it finally arrives.
I also hope that more people will give transit a meaningful try in 2018. If you are reading this post perhaps you will be inspired to make a new years resolution to use transit for at least one week during 2018, particularly if you live on the North Shore and travel downtown. Don’t expect it to be perfect and don’t expect it to be as fast as driving but give it a week so that you can get into a groove and see what you like and what you don’t like. Maybe your perceptions will change.
Happy New Year…