Free Transit for the People – Dave “Olsen” in The Tyee

Again, been meaning to write about this but finally taking a second to spiel out a couple thoughts about Dave Olsen (really, no me or Dave Olson, Dave Olson, Dave Olson, or Dave Olson)’s series for the Tyee (a Vancouver lefty online news community) which is worth an RSS subscription (go Drupal!).

Anyhow, the series of 5 articles break down the advantages (and no disadvantages) of fare-free transit for Vancouver and cites examples in Whidbey Island, WA and Haslert, Belgium plus offers commentary about how this might happen in BC. The accompanying podcast adds a lot to the conversation as wellsince they delve more into the political funding and leadership required to make some positive change happen.

I own a car which is used only for roadtrips and bi-annual trips to Ikea. I ride transit everyday for much of the day (about 3 hours per). I ride many routes and mix up my epic commute from North Van to the dreaded intersection of chaos of Cambie and Broadway. Somedays i ride bus, seabus, skytrain, trolley, walk, other days a string of buses and so on. I grew up in the Whalley and the 316/312 were my escape pods from a shitty Jr. secondary (Matheson) to truant wanders through beloved (and still innocent pre-Expo) downtown. When the Skytrain hatched, i was thrilled at the convenience (even from New West station) and the anti-fascist “walk-on” policy.

While traveling to 20+ countries, I’ve often rambled on about Vancouver fantastic transit system and progressive transportation paradigm. I am excited about more Skytrains, i visited the rolling transit museum, i shoot (semi-licit) video on Seabus and Skytrain and get excited for Sundays when i can roll my wee family onto the bus for”free” (i have a $95/month pass).

However, i am getting sick of being ghettoized as a tranist rider. I spend epic times waiting wth no shelter, packed into buses with grumpy drivers, smelly co-riders (i know, i know), random schedules, and rotating stops at the aforementioned intersection of confusion. I have given up on my dreams (articulated in the otherwise forgetable movie Singles) of comfort and amentities on transit but there are a few essentials which must be considered a priority.

Any way you slice it, more people riding better transit creates a better urban experience. For the douchebag in his/her Hummer there is more room for your fat-ass vehicle and for transit riders, we can feel semi-comfortable, safe and disembark not needing a shower or hepatitis shot (sorta joking there). Really, this morning waiting 10 minutes in the rain to ride a packed to the gills bus with hacking co-riders across Lion’s Gate then another 20 minutes for the Cambie which took 30 minutes to get me about 3 km is a lousy way to start the day. And it gets to be a real hard sell sometimes when i do have a damn car with insurance ready to go. If i can sit and read, daydream or enjoy a beverage, that is one thing but it is rare just to get a seat! Oh yeah, it takes 20 minutes by car vs. an hour and 20 minutes by tranist to get to work (the parking is a different matter ;-)). Hard sell but i wanna love tranit i really do!

Now I like the idea of free transit but i know in this political climate, it is a tough sell unless you can focus on the economic arguement. The arguments against will dwell on the “no perceived value if things are free” and the (albeit legitimate concern) that transit could become a rolling homeless shelter (which is a bigger problem for another missive).

The cost of collecting fares include the 3-4 folks at the Seabus terminal in the morning inspecting tickets (really do people fare-skip at 7:30AM?), the stickers, posters and advertising about “fare paid zone,” the now ubigoutis transit cops (and the annoying adverst recruiting for “Canada’s first transit goon-squad”), the tickets themselves, the fare box units, the ticket vending computers (the ones that are working anyhow), plus the hassle to drivers who are obliged to play the heavy (i’ve been stuck without change before and not prepared to drop a twenty to get a ride and got the stink-eye and attitude from drivers for sure – thanks asshat).

And it is not like the transit is cheap. For me to roll downtown and back by transit with woman and child downtown ends up being almost $20 – not chump change yo. So we roll the car (about $3 in gas) and with that savings, we can pay for parking (as if) and be home an hour earlier. This is the real cost. The cost to the community is more cars, more crowds, more waiting, more pollution.

Tranist riders should be revere, not marginalized. We are not the problem, the car drivers are, the absurd roads are (hello dedicated bus lanes!?!?), the constant fare hikes are, the lack of accountability is, the politcal indifference is, the lack of respect from drivers to passengers is, the skypigs (err… cops) are, the lack of understanding that efficient transportation is a key component (like education) to a successful, civil, progressive society is the problem.

The money we are talking about to make a tranist system free or cheap is minuscule compared to the money spend on Gateway project.

eParents love it (“head on down to the pool kids”, drinkers like it for asafer way home (there are a few there), and somehow the rednecks (err trying to come up with a better stereoype name here but drawing a blank) put up with it.

In leiu of free, Here’s the wishlist:

Roll back fares

Make the passes available

Get some new buses – enough testing already!

Put schedules up at stops

Respect folks

Make it easier to pay

Make more programs for discounted/free events

Use technology – web site sucks, SMS schedules, alerts,

Clean the buses (skytrain and seabus get walked through)



Bus lanes

Sheltered stops with names

Sensible schedules

Comments for drivers – hire folks who give a shit

For starters:

Get some

By the way, the Seabus is the best part of tranist and the best cheap tourist trip going. If the

While I think free transit is a hard sell here, I would settle for a few improvements like clean buses (both exhaust and interior), customer-friendly drivers (I am talking to you on the 15!), and schedules posted at each stop (shelter would be nice too, it does rain here Virginia).

A little tinkering with technology would go a long way for the rider’s experience too – i.e. a website with some semblance of usability and SMS “next bus” service (some SFU students are doing this I believe). Realtime announcements at stops (like in London) would be nice too but I won’t hold my breath.

As for price, a roll back of fares which make it more affordable to ride than drive for starters. Say a loonie a ride. Now, if I wanna take the wife and boy downtown and back, I can roll transit for about $20 or drive for $3 of gas + pay to park and still come out ahead (I do roll transit anyhow despite being packed shoulder to shoulder with wet strangers whilst bounding across Lion’s Gate).

Also, as a monthly pass buyer, I do not understand the erstwhile availability limits (imagine my audacity trying to get a pass on July 2nd! Took 4 stops to find one) and the “discounted” faresavers are a joke too.

Finally (rant almost done – more on my blog) enough testing and thinking about it already – Get some new buses! We are often riding the same decaying sleds as we did in the 1980s when Vancouver was deemed North America’s best transit system. Well it ain’t now.

For the record, i grew up in Whalley (well before Skytrain) and the 316/312 was my escape pod from a crappy Jr. Secondary school to my beloved downtown. I ride transit 2-3 hours a day now and visited the rolling transit museum (geeky I know). I also own a car which i use for roadtrip – and the traditional bi-annual trip to Ikea of course.

I’ve traveled to 20+ countries and ride public conveyance most everywhere I go from Guam to Japan to Amsterdam and beyond. Translink needs help fast in order cease ghettoizing the humble and noble transit rider who should be celebrated not passed-by (like i was this morning while heading to the instersection of chaos of Cambie and Broadway … but that’s another rant, one about rider safety!).

Whatcha think?