Nothing becomes a crisis until the middle class experiences it. – Lauren Berlant on the BBC’s “Thinking Allowed” podcast
As I write this, Acadian Lines is into its second month of a lockout/strike, resulting in no inter-city transportation in New Brunswick and PEI; there is a transit strike in Halifax; a proposal to impose tolls on commuters coming into Saint John has been dropped; and Toronto mayor Rob Ford has lost traction on one of the campaign promises that got him elected, to reform the TTC so that commuters from outside the downtown core don’t have to put up with those pesky streetcars.
As someone who travels frequently and depends on mass transit both within cities and between them, I find all of this disheartening. When I started taking the train to visit Nicole, several people seemed to think I was insane; there is this weird perception that the train is really expensive, that it takes too long and so on. The former is only true if you insist on having a cabin or sleeper, which I have not found to be necessary; the latter is a matter of one’s perspective. I find it more stressful and irritating to fly now, having to wait around in the secure area of a Maritime airport so I can get on a Dash-8.
I think one of the measures of a real city is its transit system and the public attitude toward it. Due to mismanagement of city funds, Saint John Transit is facing cuts and changes to routes. It’s a shame; I would love to see more local transit, including Comex runs on weekends, late buses for people that want to spend the evening uptown at a club, and a dedicated airport shuttle that also runs on weekends. Instead we have all this hand-wringing about costs and lack of revenue and so on. Meanwhile, I sit on the bus and look at all the empty space where ads should be.
In a real city, mass transit is the norm. It’s not relegated to the poor; it is used by a high number of commuters, students, and others seven days a week. I realize that Saint John is not Toronto or even Halifax, but we could be doing better. If you are a commuter from one of the bedroom communities, I challenge you to compare the time and gas you spend every day in your car versus a monthly transit pass (which, by the way, is tax deductible). If you are a city councillor or MP, I challenge you to work with Saint John Transit to increase its revenue through advertising, rate structure changes, public awareness, and provincial government and Transport Canada funding rather than looking for places to cut. In a province with 9.5% unemployment and a city that is growing after many years of exodus, we need to be able to move around.
Speaking of, Acadian Lines’ management and drivers go back to the bargaining table this weekend. I hope they reach a resolution soon. I’m getting a bit old for hitch-hiking.