Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Buses: Some Personal Thoughts on Transit

(Sorry about the long absence, folks. I figure since my Ward 2 blog has considerable overlap with Sprawlville, I'll start cross-posting some relevant articles from here for the next while.)

I was pleased to see that the Champion finally got around to reporting on the transit debate that went on at last month's budget meetings. Although overshadowed by the hospital levy, Rick Malboeuf's motion to slash over a quarter million dollars from the Milton Transit budget was at least as surprising, and considerably more controversial.

As I reported at the time, the motion took everyone off guard and forced engineering staff and transit committee members to leap to the defense of our much maligned bus system. In the end, Malboeuf agreed to set aside his motion on the condition that Council and staff investigate the possibility of cuts over the coming year.

I had the impression that most councillors agreed just so they could move on.

The article has sparked a debate over at the Hawthorne Villager forum. I left a few comments, but I gave up after one person left a post about how someone would have to put a gun to his head to get him onto a bus full of the great unwashed, and how he failed to see any reason why he should choose suffer the grotesque inconvenience of waiting five minutes for a bus when he can jump in any one of his three (three!) cars any time he wants and pull up right to the door of his destination.

The overwhelming sense of entitlement and classism was making me a little queasy, so I decided to make a strategic withdrawal. If I had left a response, it likely would have been to question why someone happily spending thousands of dollars a year insuring, maintaining and fueling three cars - not to mention his tax dollars spent on new and existing roads - would find it so onerous to have to shell out $40 or $50 a year in taxes to provide transit for those who want or need it.

Alas, it would have gotten me nowhere.

I'm going to set aside the practical arguments for and against transit in Milton for a later post, because I want to address what I found most disturbing in all these discussions: the attitude that transit is only for students and tree-huggers or, worse, poor pathetic lowlifes who can't afford any better.

As an old Toronto girl, this attitude strikes me as particularly bizarre. I grew up in what were, at the time, the suburbs of Toronto, and the TTC was simply how everyone got around. My father was a fairly successful lawyer, so we weren't exactly short of money - and yet he took transit downtown to work just about every day of his career. So did all of his friends and colleagues. Even after my parents moved out to Bolton, he would drive to the King GO station and take transit to the office.

We had one car (nobody had two, of course) and my mother used it to run errands and drive me and my sister to skating or wherever. Certainly never to school, unless it was really raining cats and dogs. I walked to school until about grade 4 when I started taking the trolley bus. We moved to North York when I was in grade 6, but I continued to attend school at Avenue Road and Lawrence. I would take a bus, then the subway and then another bus to get there, often with my father part of the way if we happened to be leaving at the same time.

When I moved out of my parents house, I lived downtown and either took the TTC or rode my bike wherever I went. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 23 and living in Ottawa, but even then the car was never my primary mode of transport (my sister didn't learn to drive until she was 40).

Even after I married and we moved to Milton, I rarely drove. My husband would take the GO train downtown every day, so unless I felt like getting up very early to drive him to the station I was without a car most of the day. Which was fine since we still had a grocery store, banks, parks, the video store, and everything else I needed within blocks of my house. When my son was a little older and I got a part-time job up on Steeles, I just caught the bus at the stop right across the street from me.

It was only after we got the second car that I started relying on driving more and more. I was working from home so there was no need to commute by transit, the grocery store and several other amenities moved out of downtown, and it just became too easy to choose to drive.

My point is, I'm no angel. Like many people in Milton, I drive far more than I should. I do try to walk or bike as much as I can, but there's always an excuse - I'm in a hurry, it's too cold, it's too hot, I need to go to the Superstore anyway so I might as well drive. And it's taken its toll - I'm 35 pounds heavier now than when I moved here.

The difference is that I recognize all this as being a Bad Thing. Sure, as semi-affluent North Americans we're entitled to own two or three cars at a time and drive the block and a half to the mailbox and back instead of getting off our widening asses to walk. We're also entitled to throw out our clothes and dishes and buy new ones every week instead of washing the old ones if we have the money, but it's no less wasteful.

My father didn't ride the bus because it was cheaper, or faster, or better for the environment, or because he didn't have a choice. He took transit because it made sense, and because back then most people would have considered driving in your car by yourself to the office every day to be the height of wasteful self-indulgence.

I'm determined to get rid of that second car this year.

1 comment:

Cara said...

Thanks for your great post.

My husband and I have lived in Milton since 2003 and have had one car the entire time. Having one car instead of two is a choice we are happy to make.

We trade the convenience of two cars for the monetary benefits and to help the environment.

We can walk, bike or take the bus to the GO train. We can also carpool to work.

It is disappointing that not all of the residents of Milton see the value of public transit.