Thursday, May 24, 2012

Better OC than STO

As a fairly active twit, I read a lot of activity with regards to what is happening in Ottawa. I follow quite a few City of Ottawa-dedicated services and local news agencies. I follow the mayor (he's a most-excellent mayor, by the way). I follow individuals—too many to mention—who love this great city of ours, who take an interest in their communities and the municipality as a whole.

I hear good stuff and bad.

One of the subjects that is foremost in the public mind is our transit system, OC Transpo. There are many tweeps who love to weigh in on the service: most of it, bad. I myself have been known to grumble from time to time; occasionally, I do it publicly.

There are a few who sing the praises of OC Transpo, but they are few and far between the rantings of the disgruntled. One of my favourite peeps, Ben Wood, not only loves his city's transit system, he also blogs about it.

Today, I'm here to echo Ben's sentiment towards OC Transpo. Overall, I think we've got it pretty good in Ottawa. Sure, the system isn't perfect, but I challenge any of you to name a system that is.

Go ahead: I'll wait...

Ottawa isn't the best-designed city. Through urban sprawl, we've grown well outside our greenbelt. There seems to be no end to that growth. We have communities that are separated from each other and the core by vast green spaces. And so we have some isolation issues.

Even within the core, we have suburbs that are separated by green spaces and industrial parks. Ottawa isn't massive like Toronto or Montreal, but it's still spread out.

And what the city has attempted to do is to create local routes within these isolated communities in an effort to bring the residents to an area where they can transfer onto a route that will take them swiftly into the downtown core.

It isn't perfect, but by and large, it works. By and large, you can get from point A to point B. Local routes aren't as convenient as transitway routes, but you will eventually reach your destination.

I live in a bedroom community outside of the greenbelt. In the dozen years that I've lived out there, I've seen the system grow from having one local route meet up with another local route that took me to the transitway (our rapid-transit system) to having the transitway come within a 10-minute walk from my doorstep. Years ago, I would never have dreamed of taking the bus to where I currently work; now, I don't even think twice about it.

In the nearly 40 years that I've been riding OC Transpo, I can maybe count the bad experiences I've had one one hand (I'm not talking about the assholes and lunatics that ride the bus; I'm talking about the long waits and less-than cordial drivers). Yes, the bus strike that we endured a couple of years ago was awful. People lost jobs and businesses closed. It really sucked. I feel for those who were affected. But our bus service isn't the only striking business that has done that to someone, somewhere, at some time.

I blame the city council of that time (that awful mayor, not our current mayor) and the heads at OC Transpo, who are mostly—if not all—gone now.

We move forward.

I've been on lots of buses in countless cities, and I can think of worse services. Kingston. Burlington. London, ON. Seoul and Chŏnju, South Korea. Bangkok, Thailand. These are the cities that jump out at me; I'm sure that if I took the time to think more about it, I would come up with many, many more.

Just across the river, in Gatineau, a far-worse system has buses that are constantly running behind or are not running at all. More drivers than I can count are rude, arrogant maniacs, who drive like they're shipping sides of beef rather than human beings. Buses don't run frequently. Many are older than the Ottawa buses. Riding the STO costs more than OC Transpo.

In a nutshell, OC Transpo is a far better service than the STO any day. If OC Transpo were a brand-new Cadillac, STO would be an old Chevy Cavalier.

When I take the bus to work, I start with an OC Transpo bus along the transitway. I transfer onto an STO bus, which takes me the rest of the way to the office. I dread that bus. If I miss it, I must wait more than 30 minutes before another comes my way. The same is true for the return bus that takes me back to Ottawa.

When I transfer onto the 95, I breathe a sigh of relief. I know home isn't far away. And if I just miss a 95, I don't fret: another one is only minutes away.

So the next time you cringe or grumble at OC Transpo, ask yourself: how bad is your problem? Why exactly are you complaining? Is it so much better somewhere else, or is your issue a first-world problem?

I'm still waiting...

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