6.30am and CBC Radio Saskatchewan awakens me with the ‘news’ (at this point, it’s not new -) that there is yet another Extreme Cold Warning and the temperature outside is in the -30s with windchills in the -40s. Joy! Just what I needed. This morning feels more brutal than most because we are abruptly forced back into our unpleasant routines after a week off for the school holiday and Family Day. No one wants to get up today.
The next piece on the radio is the good news that Regina Transit are finally considering running a bus route to the airport. FINALLY! Thank you Councillor Stevens… And then, the ‘In Your Shoes’ segment, where they apparently sent an intrepid journalist to travel by bus for a day to, and I quote, ‘find out why more people don’t’.
I’m sorry, Mr. Bryan Eneas, but you are not in my shoes.
Predictably, he’s late for work, misses bus connections and discovers that taking the bus takes more than twice the time that driving does. Then, halfway through the day, he gives up because he doesn’t want his kid freezing to death waiting half an hour for a bus in the extreme cold. I am certainly not going to condemn him for that – no one should be out for that length of time when it is so dangerously cold, particularly not a child when you have other options. But, and this is a big BUT: he had other options. He got his wife to come pick them up. In a car.
It’s now 7.30 and we are all up and dressed and all somewhere near fully conscious. Breakfast has been forced into small mouths, and we are about to start the battle of getting one beastling in one direction to school, the other in the opposite direction to daycare, husband downtown to work by 8am, and myself 5km away to work by 8.30am, and all of us kitted out in enough clothing to survive the journeys without frostbite.
Beastling-the-younger’s latest phobia (always Serious and Dramatic, never lasting more than a couple of weeks) is her utter disgust and discomfort of having her socks wrinkle up around her toes. Apparently, this morning’s sock endeavour was Unacceptable For Happiness, and she screeches in horror when I try to get her snow boot on. For the next three and a half minutes, she is inconsolable, pathetically tugging at the offending sock and sobbing her heart out. I remove the sock, replace it straighter, and immediately peace returns.
7.36am: Husband and beastling the younger leave the house. If another Sock Incident can be avoided when she has to remove all the snow gear two blocks later at daycare, husband should make it to work on time on foot.
This leaves me with Beastling-the-Elder, who has decided that her snow pants are far too Uncool and she would rather get cold than wear them over her favourite leggings. I am a great believer in picking my battles, and this is not a battle I choose to get into. She can get cold. The school is two blocks away. Still, signing school agendas, finding a lost mitt, and trying to get a brush through her hair all take time, and I start getting into Manic Mum Mode to get her out the door. 7.47am.
Together we power walk to the end of the block and I kiss her goodbye, leaving her to walk another block and cross Elphinstone on her own to get to school. Just as we part, I see my bus, the number 7 pass the end of our block. It stops opposite me and I frantically jaywalk to get to it before it pulls away from the bus stop. I don’t quite make it. As it pulls out, I run and manage to knock on the back window. Fortunately it stops and I jump on. “Try not to bang on the bus, eh?” says the driver. I apologise, and she smiles. Hardly the first time anyone has done that, I imagine. I glance at my phone. 7.49am. The bus should have passed at 7.51am.
The driver is the same woman who runs that route most mornings. She is one of the mighty few who are genuinely chipper and cheery in the very early morning. She tells everyone to have a good day! And ‘make good choices!’ as they leave the bus, along with ‘see you tomorrow!’ She knows we are all regular commuters. She knows some of us by name, particularly the kids. As we near the Cornwall Centre, she yells “We’re about 5 minutes early, so plenty of time for coffee!”.
Sadly, 5 minutes early translates into a fifteen minute wait for me, as my connection is still running to schedule. Fortunately, the downtown bus stops are heated. Slightly. There is a tall lanky teenager at the bus shelter with me. Thin runners instead of boots, no gloves and only a hoodie on over a t-shirt. He is shaking with cold. Unlike Beastling-the-Elder, I don’t think that outfit is a fashion choice. That might be all he has. He’s only there for a few more minutes though, until his bus arrives. My number 15 bus pulls in, and I am transported right to the door of my workplace. 8.20am. My colleagues eventually park their cars and troop in, 15, 20 minutes late. “The snow’s too bad” and “My car wouldn’t start!” they say.
4.50pm, and I am fully suited and booted for the few minutes of minus-ridiculous outside on my way to the bus stop. I have to sneak out early, but hey, I also arrived ten minutes early. There is a Number 12 bus at precisely 5pm, but the stop is a ten minute walk away. If I work until 5, I have to stand around until 5.20pm and won’t be able to pick up Beastling-the-Elder from her after school club until nearly 6pm, which is a very, very long day for an eight year old. Usually, if I am lucky, I can get off this bus downtown, and transfer on to a Number 9 and get home before 5.30. Today though I am not so lucky. As I stare helplessly at the GPS powered Transit Live app, I can see the little purple digital Number 9 leave the downtown stop before the bus I am on arrives. I swear under my breath, but I know that if I stay on this same bus, it will eventually dump me somewhere at least close to the school, it will just take longer to do so. I sit tight.
The Number 12 goes along Sask Drive at rush hour. I press the bell as we get in to Cathedral and the bus halts next to a random pole on the edge of the busy road. The door opens and I am faced with a snow bank that reaches to my thighs. I make a jump for it, and my deep boot prints show that I am the first person to have used this “bus stop” perhaps in days.
Even if there was a sidewalk here I’d struggle to climb over to it anyway.
I have decent boots, I’m tall and fairly fit and healthy. Also, I didn’t have the beastlings with me at this point. Still, getting off the road and trudging up to the end of the block through that took a lot of effort. Got a kid in a stroller? Mobility difficulties? No money for snow boots? You’re screwed, basically.
It is little wonder then that for anyone with a choice, taking the bus is not something they’d choose. To be clear, I do have some options. I don’t (can’t) drive, but my husband can. He chooses to walk, even in winter, because it seems so wasteful to drive less than a mile to work. If I ever get completely stuck on these buses, he could come and rescue me in a car. Or, more likely, I can scrounge a ride off friends from work. (Something I try to avoid because I have little intention of ever returning the favour.) However, last summer when my husband was unemployed and money was frighteningly tight, the car was the first thing to go – we ‘de-plated’ it until we could afford to run it again. I cycled to work every day instead.
The CBC article accurately concluded that taking the bus is not quick, efficient, comfortable or even that reliable, and concludes that this is why most people don’t use Regina transit. But this is missing the point: the reporter treated the experience as a special outing, and when things got tough, he quit. Because he could. He utterly failed to experience Regina transit from the point of view of people in this city who have no choice but to use it. Yes, it is very grim sometimes, but IT EXISTS. Taking the bus IS a valid option. It takes patience and planning, but it allows very low income people, teenagers, PwDs, to get around the city safely, if not particularly quickly.
Regina Transit – and accompanying infrastructure like the means to clear snow banks from bus stops, heated shelters and so on – needs drastic improvement. But if you improve it so that even the most vulnerable of users can get around on it, that will also make it a more attractive option for everyone else. Then, maybe, just maybe, other people will be persuaded to leave their cars behind too. There is nothing to lose!