Finally being allowed to take the bus by yourself is great. Suddenly, your range of freedom widens, and downtown and beyond are within your grasp.
The novelty wears off. In adulthood, taking the bus is loathsome. Relying on public transit is the ultimate time-waster, as you stand at the bus stop waiting for it to arrive and, once it does, you sit as it lurches along its route, again waiting for it to arrive.
Wait, wait, wait. Who’s got the time for it? Not many. As soon as most people can afford a car, they get one, and say good riddance to the bus.
It isn’t at all surprising that MQO Research’s MetroView survey, conducted for The Telegram, found a mere four per cent of St. John’s area residents take a bus daily, and 90 per cent of residents either never take a bus or take one less than once a month.
Nevertheless, a fast and efficient public transit system is essential, because thousands of people need it to get to work, school or the mall, and once they stop needing it because they managed to scrape together enough money for a used car, someone else will take their place at the bus stop.
But in this era of global warming and heightened awareness of the dangers and destruction wrought by pollution, truly outlandish claims are being made about public transit. According to some adherents, public transit will be urban humanity’s salvation, the solution that will kill the selfish and greenhouse gas-spewing car culture that thrives in every metropolis on the planet.
Their goal is laudable. But their expectations for public transit are delusional. It is wishful thinking in the extreme to argue that people will leave their cars at home if only public transit is bigger, faster, more affordable and decorated with pretty poetry.
The evidence to the contrary is massive and irrefutable. Even in cities that have the best public transit systems in the world, millions of people still insist on getting into their cars and driving to work. Why? Because even the best public transit system entails waiting — and waiting for a bus or train is a small portion of your life wasted and stolen.
Experts have studied this, naturally. If only they could convince people to take public transit, a lot of problems — financial as well as environmental — could be solved.
This approach meets with an insurmountable dilemma — you can’t convince millions of people to act against their own best interests.
Commuting is a fact of city life. Even little old St. John’s has thousands of commuters — “brown-baggers,” as some now-forgotten former mayor derisively referred to them.
Telling commuters to park their cars and take the bus or train is essentially telling them, “Waste some of your time.”
It doesn’t matter if a person’s drive to work takes 30 minutes, an hour or two hours — taking public transit instead will inevitably add to that commuting time.
People might have opted for that in the olden days, when time was money. But in our rush, rush, rush, hurry, hurry, hurry culture, time has become even more valuable than money. Thus, in world-class cities — and possibly even in Toronto — where downtown parking is outrageously expensive, people still drive and park, and pay the price to save time.
An upgrade in public transit won’t counteract this. London, England, has one of the best subway systems in the world, but millions of people still drive to work. London and some other European cities have become so desperate to combat people wanting to save time that they resorted to banning cars from the city centre.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at
The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.