December 17, 2008

The bus strike, 1 week in

Even though I rely on public transit to get around, I've said nothing about the bus driver strike that began at 12:01 am last Wednesday morning. I thought I'd sit tight and see what transpired.

Well, the first thing that transpired is that it turns out I don't rely on public transit to get around. At least, not much.

At the beginning of 2006, OC Transpo hiked the cash fares to $3.00, while increasing the cost of tickets and monthly passes by a considerably smaller percentage, to encourage people to use them. Then, this summer, citing increased fuel costs, they hiked the passes too. A monthly pass is supposed to be the economical choice for frequent riders, but now that's only true if you ride the bus for more than commuting back and forth to work every day; any less than that, and bus tickets (which also increased, but only a dime to $2.00 per regular fare) are your best bet.1 Additionally, a bus transfer entitles you to ride any route, in any direction, until it expires - there are no prohibitions on stopovers or return trips as there are with some cities' transit systems. It is perfectly possible, with some planning ahead, to go out, do your business, and return home on the same fare.

So, feeling that the municipal government was probably screwing me over, I stopped buying a monthly pass this April. I work at home, obviating the need for a daily commute. And within the hour that I consider a reasonable walking time, give or take a few minutes, I can reach:

  • half a dozen supermarkets
  • two branches of my bank
  • five branches of the public library, including the main branch
  • two university libraries
  • a hospital with emergency services
  • three malls
  • a Wal-Mart
  • downtown Ottawa
  • the Byward Market

My church is the only place I frequent that is outside of walking distance, and usually I can catch a ride with my roommate because he's also going. In addition to the fresh air and exercise (I'm sure I've shed a few pounds), doing my daily business on foot has been an opportunity to get out of the house and listen to music or podcasts free of the distractions of other housemates, the television, and so forth. By limiting bus use to long distance and bad weather, I cut my transportation bill in half or more. That extra 20 or so kilometers of walking each week has been nothing but an improvement to my quality of life.

Now, with the drivers on strike, I'm getting it from both ends. My understanding is that the one sticking point in the negotiations, over which neither side is willing to budge, is scheduling. (Gee, I wish I had a job where I could choose my own shifts.) So both sides are pretty much idiots. But even with no buses going anywhere, frankly, I haven't much noticed.2 Heck. Maybe when spring comes again and I've dropped a few more pounds and built up my leg muscles, I'll switch over to biking, which would extend my range four times or more. What have I got to lose?

Who knows, maybe more disaffected transit users will follow suit. Inevitably, some marketing drone will then realize that the only solution to plummeting ridership is to increase the fares yet again. Way to go, OC Transpo. Keep up the good work.


1 Harpernomics footnote: Admittedly, I have not calculated the advantage of using the passes when you factor in the tax break.

2I'm speaking only of my particular situation, of course; I realize not everyone is in the same situation as me.