We’ve had a bus strike here in Ottawa for over a month now, I think. I hear something to the extent that back-to-work legislation has been tabled. Maybe. I dunno. Can’t keep up.
The strike has coincided, of course, with global economic hardship and, here in Ottawa, the coldest days ever. In the past few weeks, evenings of -40 degrees Celsius have been the norm. For those of you in warmer climes, let’s just say that more than 20 minutes exposed to such low temperatures, without suitable subarctic gear, results in death. That’s how cold it’s been in Ottawa.
I arrived by train from Toronto earlier this evening to find a line-up at the train station’s taxi stand literally 120 people deep. That’s right. At 8:30pm in the evening, outside in the coldest capital city in the world, 120 people waited impatiently for taxis that were slow to arrive. I waited a total of 40 minutes before getting into a cab and getting a 10 minute ride home.
It’s obviously not the cab drivers’ fault. They get to where they’re needed when they can. The demand is just out of control, even on a Sunday evening.
While waiting in line, it occurred to me that the process could be sped up substantially if more people offered to share taxis. As it was, cars were leaving with a single passenger in each, meaning that 119 cars would have to arrive before I could go home. So I decided that, when my turn came at the front of the line, I would turn around and offer to share my taxi with the person behind me.
Now, I had a lot of time to think this through. I turned around and saw that the person behind me was a petite woman traveling alone. Well, if a strange man in black leather, ill-fitting jeans, a big furry hat, and no luggage suddenly offered to share a vehicle with her, would it not be perceived as somewhat sketchy and menacing? How then to carry out my plan of efficiency without making others uncomfortable?
Well, I decided that if, when I got to the front of the line, there was only one taxi available, I would offer to share with the woman behind me. If, on the other hand, two or more vehicles were present, I would not bother. Sure enough, there were three taxis empty when I had my turn. So I decided to get into one alone, and sped to my apartment.
I arrived, paid my fare, then exited the cab…. just in time to open the front door of my apartment building for the very same woman who was behind me in line. That’s right: we live in the same place, and had taken separate cabs to go the same distance from the same origin.
What’s the lesson here? I don’t know if there is one. All I know is that this transit strike has caused me to rethink my position on compelling public dependency on public transportation. So long as a city can be held hostage by such strikes, there is no incentive for us to ever be completely free of personal vehicles.