The other day, I sat in a traffic jam on North Street watching the driver of the car ahead of me comprehensively freaking out: honking, flapping her arms like a wounded gull, leaning out the window to scream. The source of her dismay was the Halifax Transit bus ahead of her.
It was at a stop, blocking her lane, and loading passengers was taking a bit longer than usual. In a tribute to the Three Stooges, about a dozen passengers were trying to simultaneously board and depart the bus through the front door, apparently overlooking the unused exit at the rear.
Recently, I’ve heard a couple people observe that Halifax has an immature transit culture. I didn’t really get that, until I saw my little North Street drama. And then I understood.
A lot of people in this city, transit-users and motorists alike, react to a bus as if they’ve never seen one before in their lives. What I saw on North Street isn’t unusual. Drivers are outraged daily to have to delay their very important journeys by 90 seconds to accommodate a bus. People happily drive their subsidized cars fuelled by subsidized gas on subsidized roads, but flip out if government tries to put more money in transit.
Passengers aren’t winning any prizes either. People get on the bus and think that “Move to the back” sign is just a funny suggestion. They sit on crowded buses with knees splayed apart, or insist on crossing their legs. A lot of people feel the inexplicable need to stand at the front and bond with drivers. Even more people think their bags and parcels require seats of their own. Some try to plow through passengers exiting so they can board four seconds faster. People refuse to use the rear exit at all, for reasons that remain obscure.
It’s an interesting contrast when you visit a city like Toronto, where transit is just a fact of life. Sure you’ll see the odd wing nut, but the vast majority of drivers seem to accept that buses need to stop periodically. A lot of passengers sit on the outside seat, forcing you to squeeze past them for the vacant seat (which granted, is still a pretty jerky thing to do) but most do seem to understand that those seats are for people, not bags.
In some ways, Halifax is still a very small city, and our attitude towards transit is probably one of the best examples of that. That will change, though. As the city’s population continues to grow, more people will become more reliant on transit. In the meantime, I don’t have any big solutions. Just…don’t be one of those people.
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For more on Halifax Transit and its future, check out the essay by journalist Richard Woodbury. He weighs in on Halifax Transit’s work-in-progress revamp, and looks at some other lessons we can learn from Toronto.
And we’re pleased to have one last story from Hilary Beaumont in this issue. (See her cover story on real-estate trends.) Hilary has been a valuable contributor to Halifax Magazine for five years, and now is heading to Toronto to become a reporter for Vice Canada. Halifax Magazine thanks her for her many contributions, and wishes her all the best.