Reasons to Take the Bus!

Today I want to talk about why taking the bus is actually better than taking your car to many places in the city. I’m going to begin with a statistic that I found hard to believe: the cost of owning a vehicle. Based on a simple internet search, the average automobile costs between $700 and $800 a month. A month. That’s the direct cost to the person and it’s not the cost of driving a luxury car – it’s the average. In addition, whether it’s highways pounded by semi trucks (remember when rail accounted for more shipping, and every third vehicle you met in the countryside wasn’t a giant semi?) or it’s the city streets with their never-ending torrent of vehicles, road maintenance and road expansion costs every one of us every year. These are just collective financial costs, with no mention of land lost to urban sprawl as our cities expand and of the pollution that accrues from so many cars, many of them carrying only one person because we treasure our independence and flexibility so much.

And that’s before we even get into the many things that don’t cost money but that drive us crazy about being our own chauffeurs.

We constantly hear about how the infrastructure isn’t keeping up with the need for more space for our demanding vehicles. Driving at certain times of the day in almost any city is easily slower than riding a bike, but for me, it’s the sheer aggravation of the incessant tiny decisions; creeping forward in traffic so that someone doesn’t cut me off or edge into my lane; not timing the lights correctly, so that I’m constantly starting and stopping; that person who isn’t aggressive enough, or who is too aggressive; the people who don’t go fast enough or who are right behind me because I’m not going fast enough. And this, of course, doesn’t mention the finger waving, fist shaking people who share our city. I don’t have to worry about any of that when I’m on the bus.

I’m not really a public places sort of person, but I find that the bus engine actually makes enough noise that I’m insulated from most of the other passengers. I live on the edge of the city, so I like to read while I sit, but I don’t mind standing; it just doesn’t matter. The main thing is this: I’m much more relaxed on the bus than I am driving my car.

There are other advantages as well, although they don’t influence me as much. I hate driving uptown, so if I go, I take the bus or my bike. Even though there seems to be enough parking, I’m always tethered to wherever I’ve parked, and while I might start near the car, I usually want to do more than one chore. After I’ve walked some distance, I’d really rather pick up a ride at the nearest bus stop than walk back and forth to my car. The alternative is that I get a ticket, and like most people, I find that that kind of ruins the entire trip.

I haven’t been in a traffic accident in awhile, but that’s a non-issue on a bus. Meanwhile, in the last year or so, I’ve seen  five accidents actually happen, or I’ve seen the immediate aftermath.

Parking the tens of thousands of cars in any city is a logistical nightmare, and parking my own isn’t a problem when I take the bus. When I took a class at the university, for instance, there was no parking, so I found space south of fourteenth street, and walked the twenty minutes from there. In all, it never took me less than a half hour to drive and walk to class. A bus takes me almost exactly the amount of time.

Transit avoids many inconveniences of owning a car in Saskatoon. I realize that it takes more time, but since I’ve retired, I have more of that, and I can plan my trips much more easily, especially in the summer. In the winter, since I hate to be cold, I dress so that I don’t suffer, and I haven’t found waiting at a bus stop to be all that bad. For me, the bus is relaxing and mass transit spares the environment. And if I’m riding a bus, I’m out of your way. It also allows me to avoid the time and annoyance of parking; although I have to walk two blocks to my bus stop, getting on the bus at my destination is almost always closer and more convenient. There are drawbacks to taking mass transit anywhere, but there are also benefits. I still need to drive sometimes, but if I’m honest, I’d far rather avoid it, and the bus is the best way for me to do that.

Bus Rapid Transit

One of the City’s initiatives for transit in the near future is “rapid transit”.  When I first heard the term, I admit that the first thing I thought of was what Edmonton has: a kind of tracked, above-ground series of cars that look as much like subway cars as anything else.  That’s not what BRT looks like.  It’s simply a system where buses are given more priority than they are now: they have dedicated lanes to prevent them being held up by congested traffic; traffic lights are set up to allow the buses to proceed with fewer slow downs so that passengers cover the same amount of distance in fewer minutes.

This causes some real concerns for many motorists.  Over the last number of months, for instance, several businesses on Broadway have wondered how on earth a dedicated bus lane could be feasible when there are only two lanes each way in the first place.  What if I’m trying to park in the only lane for regular traffic and you’re behind me?  How do you get by me if the only other lane is a bus lane?  Do you just have to sit there and wait for me?  City officials, faced with that question, cannot tell you that you can go around by using the bus lane for a moment, but that’s the reality of what you’d do: you’d zip around the parking car and then go back into the regular lane.

Another concern is the “rapid” part of the BRT, with some alarmists wondering how on earth their neighbourhood will survive buses thundering down roads that may contain children.  The answer to that, again, is pretty simple: the speed of the buses doesn’t change – they don’t charge down our streets any faster than they do now.  They also don’t stop for lights as long; they don’t have to pick through traffic; the flow is smoother: the trip is faster without the bus ever going faster than it does now.

We’re often hesitant to change.  We worry if the system will be worse, if the experts who run our cities are really experts at all.  Once we’ve found a way to handle our daily commute, we don’t want to redo it.  If I’m stuck in traffic for twenty minutes, I may hate it, but at least I know that I can handle it; after all, I’ve been stuck in traffic every day for the last several years, so I’m used to it.  The whole idea of trying new ideas is to try and try again to make our lives more manageable.  BRT is one more weapon to allow not only you and me, but our neighbours, a way to go about our lives.