Last weekend, the Guelph Mercury's Scott Tracey wrote an editorial about his limited, one day experience taking Guelph Transit and how it didn't turn him into a transit user. Unsurprising based on the facts: Scott suffered one late bus on his way to the office, got his pants wet in the rain, and had to hang around in the office an extra half and hour when he couldn't get down to Guelph Central Station on time to get the bus home. It's what my eighth grade math teacher would have called a sad but true story.
The real sadness though is that Scott Tracey, using the tremendous platform that he has, basically dismissed the use of transit after one day; a day that's one of the busiest considering that everyone rides for free, and not exactly pleasant given the downpour. But based on one day and four bus rides, Scott decided that transit isn't for him. Fair enough.
Now Scott is a credit to his profession, no doubt about that at all, but his conceit that he uses to hang his justification on, that taking the bus just wastes too much time, is an old and tired one in my books. Yes, it's true, driving from your house to your place of work in your own private automobile is going to be quicker and more convenient than the bus. This was demonstrated to me again recently when my sister was visiting from Windsor and we drove from our house to Egg Cetera for breakfast and it was a 10 minute drive as opposed to a 30 minute bus ride.
Fact: driving in one's own personal automobile is always going to be more convenient than public transit, but is that the point? Reading Scott's lament, "by the end of the day taking the bus instead of driving meant I had wasted almost two hours," reads as "I'm too important to take the bus." That may not have been the intent, but that's how it sounds, and that's how it sounds every time some makes the argument that taking the bus takes too much time versus the car. You know what else? A plane gets you across the Atlantic faster than a wooden sailing ship. What else is new?
My life getting around on public transit hasn't always been a bed of roses. Forget wet pant legs, I've walked around in soaked feet in the middle of January. Forget missing one bus, I'm lucky if I only miss one bus in a given week. I don't have the option of taking my car to work, as I don't even have a car. I don't even have a driver's license. Make no mistake, I do myself harm not possessing either of those things, since most jobs I'm qualified for require both a license and a car.
But I consider it a moral stand. I've come to the conclusion that there's something insidious about the personal automobile. People covet their cars, they think that being a car driver grants them more rights than anyone else on the roads, and complain when infrastructure doesn't best suit the immediate needs of them as a driver. I can't tell you how many times I've crossed at a crosswalk, walking on the signal, and felt a gush of wind at my back as car zipped past me, missing by barely a meter.
People are literally obsessed with their own personal comfort because a car doesn't just get you from place to place anymore, it has to have serious of bells and whistles, modern comforts like cup holders, satellite radio, and heated seats. Society has bent to the demand that no one need ever leave their car unless at home or work; think drive-thrus at restaurants, cafes and even banks.
Meanwhile roads become more and more congested. The next time you drive down the highway on a busy morning and are stuck in a traffic jam, take note of how many cars around have one person and only one person in them, and wonder how much quicker that commute might be if all those cars were instead a train full of people. People are terminally convinced that only their convenience matters; only their time is valuable.
Sadly for the Scott Tracey's of the world, the very attitude they put forth is the very reason why real improvements to transit take so long. Why should we fight for better transit when we can just drive? It's quicker anyway. As long as the people in the city keep treating transit as the first and only refuge of the poor, the students, and seniors without driving privileges, there's no call for the city to act. Those voices aren't heard.
If Scott really wanted to give Guelph Tranist a try he would have gave it a week, or an extra couple of days at least. To write off an entire service, which is something that I really think he did in this piece, is an insult to the people that have to take transit as their only means about town, and an insult to the people that take it as a matter of principle and are trying to make it better. Every budget crunch time, some aspect, or several aspects, of transit are on the cutting block. Whether its stat holiday service, peak hour service, or delayed changes, there's always some aspect of transit that's being put forth as a sacrifice; and this from a so-called environmentally-obsessed city hall.
Now there's fuel for the fire. Now city council can point to a reputable source and say that clearly transit isn't meeting demands, so why should they get "such-and-such" extra funding? Transit is one size fits all, like a lot of things in government, and indeed, life. Yes, your own car gets you places faster, but much like driving, taking transit is a lifestyle choice. It's a pity that Scott Tracey didn't embrace it as a chance to try something new and look at the potential benefits and how they can be achieved rather than making it sound like he was slumming it for the day.