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Held hostage by hopeless public transit

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There are three things university students like to complain about, in my experience: the weather, school work, and transportation. For those who drive, the griping is mostly about trying to get a parking spot on campus. However, those of us who rely on public transportation (like me) have a smorgasbord of misery to choose from.

Let us begin with my observation (based on about three years’ experience now) that the local bus drivers in Chilliwack, where I live, seem to treat their schedules as more of a polite suggestion than something they are expected to adhere to. Now, to give credit where credit is due, they have gotten better about this since I arrived, but occasionally I still have to put up with buses showing up several minutes late, or even not showing up at all. Things like this will happen even in the best transit system, but I find myself having to budget enormous amounts of travel time to compensate for this.

Recently I went on a field trip to Vancouver for one of my classes. Travel time one way using public transportation was about three hours. When returning from that same class on other days, my time travelling from Abbotsford to Chilliwack is also three hours. Something is wrong here. This situation is a bit of an extreme case. I have the double misfortune of having a Friday evening class. Commute times are not so bad from morning to afternoon on Monday through Thursday, but on Fridays, the UFV shuttle bus does not run frequently enough, and in the evenings, neither does the city bus. Also, the UFV shuttle and city buses do not make any effort to synchronize their schedules. If only my shuttle home on Friday left 15 minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have to wait almost an hour for the next bus at Chilliwack. Even at the best of times, my commute one way is an hour and a half. By contrast, travelling the same distance by car takes about half an hour. This is time I could be spending studying, running errands, or relaxing. I wish I could get an allowance in my marks for all the work time I lose commuting compared with other students.

Buses in general do not run as frequently as they should in the Fraser Valley, nor do they go to as many places as they should. I understand there are only so many resources to spare for public transit services, but some areas seem conspicuously underserved, even at peak travel times. To those of us who do not have ready access to a car, this greatly limits where we can go and when.

Getting more specific, I have a real problem with the Fraser Valley Express (#66) that goes from Chilliwack to Langley via Abbotsford being an exception to the U-Pass program, while other Fraser Valley public transport is included. I do not see why this has to be the case; it makes no sense to me. This came as a nasty shock when I first found out about it. Fortunately, I had a fiver on me to pay at the time. A young man trying to get home on the last bus on a freezing New Year’s night was not so fortunate. The driver refused to move and threatened to have him arrested if he didn’t get off, ignoring that it would leave him stranded in the middle of nowhere. I would have given him some of my own money if I had had enough. The young man stuck to his guns, and the driver gave in. He didn’t get arrested that I know of. I hope he got away.

Sadly, this attitude of callousness and disrespect is not unique. Sometimes bus drivers will refuse to stop where passengers are waiting. Other times, they will refuse to open the back doors and let people off. Sometimes they will do things that make no sense, like stopping much longer than necessary for no apparent reason. One time I had a driver come over to my seat and hassle me for pointing out that he was unacceptably late earlier. Honestly, the only reason I don’t give these drivers a piece of my mind is because I need them to get where I need to go, and I can’t risk getting banned from my only means of transportation. It is like being trapped in an abusive relationship.

I could go on and on, but you see what we have to deal with. I haven’t heard good things about transit in Abbotsford either. My experience of the Abbotsford system is limited, but based on that, and experiences elsewhere in the Fraser Valley, I am inclined to take others word for it. Frankly, I am sick to death of being treated like a second-class citizen just because I do not own a car. Even if the number of buses and their routes in the Fraser Valley remained the same as they are now, it would be a huge improvement if they could only have more convenient and consistent schedules and staff with better attitudes.

Image: Cory Jensen/The Cascade

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