Thursday, February 12, 2009

The transit strike is over!

A settlement was reached on the fifth of February. To be honest, the strike barely affected me. I commuted by bike before it started and will continue to do so. The increased traffic did make my rides more stressful, but overall things were not too bad since I wasn't looking for parking or needing a ride. No spending $17/work day on parking costs or sleeping at my place of work to avoid being late for an early shift. I think the strike really made people realize that this is not a city of cars. Sure, lots of people own them. But those of us who live and work in the downtown core do not use them on a daily basis.

I mostly interact with students and government workers. The latter group was mostly able to carpool to offset the cost and unavailability of parking downtown. It was annoying but live moved on. Most of my coworkers own cars but usually only use them on weekends. The students mostly coped as well, though I think returning to classes in January was a large shock. They had largely been insulted from the strike in December due to classes ending and the fact that many students stay with their families over the holidays. The school set up shuttle buses, people got used to walking and many cabs were shared. I never met the people who were really hurt by the strike, but I caught glimpses. Seniors with walkers hitch-hiking to the hospital, wheelchairs stuck in the snow. The local newspapers were full of articles about what people were doing: a construction worker who walked three hours each way to work, those who were fired due to lack of protective legislation in this circumstance, people sleeping in malls. It made me realize how lucky I am.

I guess I got very used to commuting in gridlock. My rides seem so short and (happily) empty now. It doesn't hurt that the weather shot up from an average of -25°C to a few degrees above 0°C. Cycling is much easier with several layers. I can feel my handlebars and climb onto my seat.

I think most people agree that the local transit authority is going to be hurt. They are offering two weeks of free transit to entice riders back after a 51 day strike. The first week barely counted because only limited light rail was availale, and it is a system used primarily to connect between bus exchanges. A great deal of the rapid transit that brings commuters from the suburbs will not be available until April, which means those people will not have access to the discount. I think this is going to result in a major loss of ridership as people have learned to live without transit. A few of them will be walking and cycling, but many more will be driving. I constantly hear the excuse that the Ottawa climate makes it impossible to cycle in winter, something I will adress shortly. Obviously, I don't agree.  It is especially fun to hear that when I have just ridden to class or work!

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