Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Canada Day and the Bus

For some Canada Day evokes memories of loons at the lake or fireworks in the park or perhaps an outing with the family. 

My Canada Day memories primarily involve a bus.

I’m going back to July 1, 1993.  That was the first Canada Day that my wife and I rented a City of Burlington bus.  We did it to provide a service and we did it to make a point.

Then, we lived in a town where decision makers did not think public transit was important.  “Get a car or get out of town” was the mantra.  In fact, a survey of Sunday transit users had been done a few years previous. The survey determined that many riders were using the service for some purpose other than going to church or work.  Imagine!  The survey provided justification to cut Sunday service.

It seemed then, and for many years later, that there was really no reason to provide what, some would argue, is a necessary service on Sundays and holidays.  (See my 2008 blog piece at http://whenthemayorsmiles.blogspot.ca/2008/02/greetings-on-family-day.html)
It was in that context that I could be found dawdling in Sheldon Park that July 1st.  I’d been unsuccessful at persuading my Council colleagues of the need for holiday service so I decided to do it myself.  A route was designed that would run hourly covering the southeast portion of the City.  The route would run past seniors’ residences, go to some regular stops, past Sheldon Park and loop over to Spencer Smith Park.  Annual Canada Day celebrations were taking place there.  The bus was free.

I was in that east end park as I was somewhat apprehensive about actually being on the first run of the bus.   There had been a fair bit of media attention and I’d placed an ad in the local paper.  If I were to be its only passenger, well, it would probably be better for me if the bus were empty.   

From a distance I recall see it chugging down Pinedale and as it passed me I was relieved to see it carried many passengers. I believe I allowed myself a small fist pump not having the flexibility even then for a self-congratulatory pat on the back.  
Over the course of the day, it was a busy route. 

We learned that there were many different reasons for people to take that bus.

Some visited family at Joseph Brant Hospital.  There was no other way for them to get there on that day.  One woman I spoke with was headed over to the park to see a band she used to dance to at the Brant Inn.  She had no other way to get there.   Some people were riding the bus to get to Oakville although Oakville, at the time, had no transit service on holidays so there were left high and dry at the Pig and Whistle.

Another positive of the day was that people who never rode public transit tried it out and found it a positive experience.

We ran that bus for the next four years and as I recall it was busier each year.  One thing about renting a bus is when you’re paying you plan the route.  Call me childish, but road construction one year provided an “excuse” to take the bus right past the house of a Council colleague who was a strong opponent of public transit.  (Yes, some Councillors didn’t like buses running on their street in those days.  It is still the case, I’m told.) 

After I left Council in 1997, several Councillors asked staff to make arrangements so that they too could have their own free bus service on Canada Day.  Instead, a city-wide service was provided at city expense.  Now Burlington has service on most statutory holidays.

It still isn’t the level of service we ought to have though.

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