53 Days Later

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I am not going to talk about the debacle of what happened with the U-pass over the past few days. I think that I have already said enough to the press as it is. But what I am going to talk about is the splintered state of public transportation in the City now and moving forward.
53 Days was a long time to be without transit and the good people of Ottawa didn’t take it sitting down. In fact they walked, carpooled, taxied, did whatever was needed to get where they had to go. The world didn’t stop when the busses did and this brought many people to a very important realization.

They say that in order to effectuate change, individuals need to be shaken out of dormancy and indifference. Our everyday lives have a way of making us complaisant. I think that the strike was one of those shakes; one of those rare moments that makes us realize that there is another way.

The unfortunate thing about this is that transit could be the big loser. As the members of the campus community realize that there is more than one way to get around, transit risks becoming at the very least second best, and at the very worst obsolete. Only time will really tell but there are signs.

The University participates in something called the Eco-pass program. It is kind of payroll deduction thing where employees have the cost of transit deducted directly from their salaries every month (and they get a tidy 15% discount for doing so). Now going into the strike there were 300 employees paying into the program, and as of the latest count, there are at least 50 that want out of it. That is a hit of 1/6 of all participants.

When you think about it, this is actually a terrible time for transit. You may have thought that the car industry had problems, but brother you ain’t seen nothing yet. Cars are cheaper that they have been in years, gasoline is pretty cheap all things considered, and the price of transit is about to go up in Ottawa by another 7.5%. Add to that the fact that trust in transit is riding at an all time low, biking weather is back, and the students are about to make their mass exodus for the summer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love transit and I think that it is one of the most important issues that a city faces if it wants to move forward. This campus needs to have a reliable way of moving its community members around. There are 2 satellite campuses (Roger Guidon and 200 Lees), there are 3 off campus sites where classes are being held (Carleton University, St. Paul’s, and Algonquin College), and there is a network of libraries, coop placements, and resources out there. We are more dependent on transit then we think and we need to know that the City has a sustainable transit system in place.

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