Transit blues

“Are you going to cash your welfare check?” asked my dear friends in a western Canadian city when I told them I’d be arriving at their house party by cab. You see cabs are only for the very poor who manage their money and time poorly.

But for me, I don’t want to navigate unfamiliar roads, get stuck in bad weather or drive after drinking. In fact, being driven is a bit of a status symbol, not slumming as my friends thought. I actually use a cab company called “Prestige Cabs” when I’m in a couple of western cities. These are larger cars that are kept very clean by their dedicated drivers.

In cities served by “Uber” I call up an idle limo on my smart phone. It’s about 15% more than a cab, but newer, cleaner and with a more professional driver.

“Do you have to catch a train?” I asked my dinner companion in New York. “No, I use a car service” was the reply. This is a typical well off New Yorker who either didn’t have a drivers license, didn’t own a car, or didn’t care to negotiate traffic. Other New Yorkers just hold out a hand and their destination is usually $12 or so dollars away by yellow cab. It’s faster and cheaper during rush hours on some routes going underground.

My other well-healed New York friends talk of “using the system.” They mean that the busses, subways, Port Authority terminal, ferries and even the cable car to Roosevelt Island are part of Herculean efforts to move people around the small island of Manhattan. Using the system is a kind of civic duty.

When I go back to visit Saint John I wonder why I drove from the corner of Duke and Sydney Streets to work at Crown and Union. One way streets made it a bit of a trip, but I could have walked, cutting through the Loyalist grave yard and made it in less time. But I was a young man with a car and happy to be driving.

Living in Regina cured me of asking directions. Without a car, I stuck out a thumb on Albert Street and was quickly whisked by driver to the University. That worked at least three days a week. But while job hunting downtown, I’d occasionally ask directions. More often than not the person would apologize for not being able to drive me and explain what pressing business prevented them from doing so. A city worker in a truck once apologized for recent insurance changes that prevented him from driving me. People are nice in Regina.

Jogging was transport in Regina–College Avenue to work at 12th and McIntyre–even in the bad weather. But I’ve not used jogging as transport in other cities. But I’ve biked for errands in Toronto and rode from Pape and Danforth to Carleton and Jarvis for work.

Hitch hiking was pretty easy in Vancouver, with Lougheed highway a river of helpful drivers and thumbs. But even the helpful drivers parked at the bottom of Galardi way and thumbed up to Simon Fraser University to save the gas going up Burnaby Mountain.

I never heard of anyone hitch hiking in Montreal or Toronto–perhaps the expressways or transit played a role. In Fredericton I used to thumb up University avenue to the university and usually got a ride. On a recent trip I wasn’t thumbing but offered a ride by a judge who mistook me for Mayor Brad Woodside.

This trip down my persona memory lane is just to say that planners who try to promote a mode of transport, even if it saves money, may be bucking a cultural norm. Worse, because something works or doesn’t in one city might have no bearing on whether that public policy will work in another or with another demographic group.

One size doesn’t fit all, or even many.

The following post Transit blues was first seen on Allan Bonner Communications Management Blog


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