Car-free Family: O Bus, Where Art Thou?

We’re going to a party this weekend! If the weather is clear we will bike, since there has been a lot of snow melt recently and the roads are no longer choked with snow. The spouse has already told me that there is no way he is taking transit; the vagaries of OCTranspo are somehow compounded when he waits for a bus. It’s as if the bus system knows that he is impatient, and that he is scarred by growing up in the suburbs of Ottawa, reliant on the bus. The bus therefore takes even longer to come than usual when he is waiting for it. 

I was optimistic at the beginning of our car-free year and tried to take the bus everywhere, as I had done when I was growing up in Toronto. Buses in Ottawa are scheduled far too infrequently; the one that goes past our house and carries on 3+ kilometres to Parliament Hill is scheduled every half an hour. My childhood TTC bus was scheduled every 20 minutes on Sundays and that was called infrequent service. Usually the bus at the bottom of my road came every 10 minutes or more often. When I was a teenager, freedom was spelt TTC. Not so in Ottawa.

I joke sometimes that my main role as a SAHM is to be the medical concierge. Medical appointments for the children are pretty frequent. Last summer, we decided to take the bus to a doctor’s appointment. Afterwards, we did some grocery shopping nearby before going to catch the bus home. We had to catch a bus at Elmvale and take it to Hurdman, and then catch the 9 to get home. This is where one waits for the bus at Elmvale.elmvale

The last time we had been there, it was March, and the wind was whipping past the tiny bus shelters. We shivered as we waited. This time, it was hot, and we huddled in the meagre shade offered by those same shelters. Little pointed out that there was no proper shade, “no tree shade, Mum”. The bus failed to come and failed to come and failed to come. We did see seven number 86 buses come by as we waited. Eventually our bus came, and we proceeded to Hurdman. Little sat on my lap the whole way, and our grocery bags and backpack were disported around us. We chatted and laughed and had a great cuddle. That is what I like about the bus; the children and I can pay proper attention to each other because there is nothing else to do. If we meet a friend on the bus, we have time for a good chat, instead of a wave out of a car window.

We arrived at Hurdman with four minutes to spare before the next number 9. Ha bloody ha. After fifteen minutes I was beginning to regret that we hadn’t walked out to the Rideau River Eastern Pathway and walked along the pathway there. The reason that solution hadn’t sprung immediately to mind was that I had fifteen pounds of potatoes and apples on my back and two more heavy bags and a tired child. A murmuring rose around us as we waited; more and more people got off other buses and wanted the 9, but the scheduled bus never arrived. One of those waiting was a disabled young man with a walker. Instead, the next bus came after a wait of 25 minutes. Hurdman is similarly equipped with shade and places to sit as its sister station at Elmvale: pretty much bugger all. To add to its charms, extensive construction was going on right next to it. On the downside, it was noisy and dusty; on the upside, at least we could watch the men play with their sand toys, sorry construction equipment, as we waited. We arrived at home 90 minutes after arriving at Elmvale. Driving home from there would take about 15 minutes.

On that number 9 bus, one woman changed seats so that Little could sit down, and then a couple nearby vacated their seats entirely so that we could sit together. This is another thing I like about the bus. I am always intercepting kind looks directed at the children, and people are always helping others by giving up seats, lifting strollers and helping newbies open the back doors which do not open automatically. This was a group of people who were hot and grumpy after waiting at Hurdman, and still their humanity remained. I contrast this with the aggressive behaviour directed by most drivers at me and the children, yes, the children, as we cycle around. No wonder the children say cars are mean. But buses make people into equals, and they can see that everyone is in the same boat. Roads and cars make people into haves and have-nots and the have-nots, on foot or by bike, are apparently to be despised. The hegemon loathes the people it dominates, and indeed does not see them as people, but as hindrances to the almighty machine, the car.

Now, I can choose not to take the bus to the doctor again. I can get on my bike if the weather is good, or I can take Uber, because I have the flexibility that time and money afford the middle class. I can walk all over the downtown, given enough time. I can use the car-share, and take advantage of the free parking downtown evenings and weekends. OCTranspo is not free during these times. Talk about undermining your public transit system.

OCTranspo insults its customers with its appalling bus shelters, narrow, unshaded, unheated. Those who work, or have to go to school, or to doctor’s appointments, with, God forbid, babies or toddlers, or who have to pick up children from school on a timetable, are at the mercy of a system that is appallingly underfunded. A properly funded transit system involves frequent, predictable, reliable service, and comfortable, safe place to wait. A properly funded transit system might actually be cheap, or even free, instead of subjecting its passengers to frequent and outrageous price increases. A properly funded transit system might get its funds from the proceeds of parking, which would never be free anywhere at any time. A properly funded transit system might actually have a chance of being on time if it was routed through a downtown in which private cars were not allowed and delivery vehicles could only enter at designated times. Those measures would humanize the city and make it all less smelly and loud and horrible. I want to like taking the bus. City of Ottawa, please help me out.



One thought on “Car-free Family: O Bus, Where Art Thou?

  1. It’s sad that Ottawa has adopted the “Commuter Model” of transit: for going from the burbs to downtown in the morning for a 8-4 job, then returning later that day, it’s…..passable.

    For anything else, it’s a major incentive to have a car.

    When I lived in Toronto, the TTC used the “General Model” of transit: You didn’t actually need a car to get around. I wouldn’t have wanted one!


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