Guest Post: The Girl, Her Dad, and the Future of Public Transit
Featured guest post from Rob Jones on his experience of taking transit with his daughter. Post a comment below before April 7th, 2011 to win four tickets to Telus World of Science and two books of Faresavers.
Recently, I wrote a piece about my daughter and public transit, and how my travels as a single, and car-less (or is that car-free?) parent has impacted our relationship. In the past two years, I've shuttled my daughter back and forth on buses and SkyTrains, with feelings of joy and adventure, along with a modicum of frustration at times, too. It's been an education, for both of us.
All the while, my daughter has learned the skills it takes not only to travel on public transit, but skills it takes to be in the world, too; the ability to wait, to make the most of one's time while waiting, and to travel on one's own without necessarily having to rely on family members. Also, she's learned to share space with other people who are both like, and unlike herself. This is no small thing. To me, it is an important aspect of recognizing the common needs between people, no matter who they are, with whom one shares a city. Public transit in this way, makes her a better citizen. Again; no small thing.
The fact is, I've been getting around on public transit for a long time. At the time of this writing, I've never bought a car. I've felt that using public transit to get to work, to social events, and with the greater challenges of managing logistics with a toddler, and now a school-aged little girl who lives in the suburbs, has sharpened my own skills listed above. Of course, it's certainly helped that in the past I've lived in cities where public transit is looked upon as being integral to life. So, it comes as second nature to me.
Toronto is one such place where I've lived, and London England is another, where I'd say public transit is the norm for most of the people who live there. In these cities, the (entirely arbitrary) divisions between city life, and suburban life are diminished, just because it's much, much easier to move from one area to another without budgeting hours of time to get from point A to B, or needing access to a car. Sure, these individual areas still have distinct personalities of their own. But because of a robust transit system that covers a lot of ground, there is less disconnect between suburbs and urban centers, just because if you want to get from one to another, it's easy to cover that ground you need to cover while not needing to own a car.
We will continue to ride transit as much as we can. It's fun, and there are benefits, as mentioned. But, a car is now necessary.
In the Lower Mainland, we've got a great transit system with a lot of skilled and helpful staff. But, there is a lot of improvement to be undertaken when it comes our public transit system connecting our whole region, as good as it is. I'm not going to lie: there are times when I do complain. There needs to be more coverage in the suburbs in our region, to enable the increasingly ballooning populations of Surrey, Delta, Coquitlam, and beyond to leave their cars at home, and be able to access areas of our region more easily and more affordably without the need to even own a car, if they would prefer to live without one.
That feasible choice not to own a car while living in these regions, in my opinion, is the future. I believe that choice is what life in the 21st Century Lower Mainland must include, in the face of unsustainable fossil fuel dependence and the resulting negative environmental impact that it has borne on our world, from the issues of air quality in major cities all over the world, to the environmental disasters associated with the Deep Horizon oil spill.
But, for now, despite all of that - I have to buy a car.
I wouldn't, if I didn't feel I need to. But, the way things are going in my life right now, I can no longer sustain my relationship with my daughter, in terms of my ability to manage the logistics of spending quality time with her, without one. For instance, I can't pick her up from daycare, take her home to my place, feed her, and get her back to her Mum's without rushing, and without looking at the clock instead of enjoying that precious time, and without rely on her Mum to bail us out when weather is inclement, or if I miss a bus connection before my daughter's bedtime.
Despite not really living that far apart from her, it takes me over an hour to get from my side of the river to the other, with only a few options to enable the journey after a certain time in the evenings, and with lots of rushing around so that we don't miss our connections. Since my daughter's new house requires a bus, a SkyTrain, another bus, and a car pick up, often during inclement weather and darkness in the winter time, it's just not feasible anymore.
All the while, I have thought a lot about how much fun the Girl (my daughter that is) and I have had on public transit. When I do get my car, it will be the end of an era. And I do feel good about introducing her to the idea that public transit is one of the hallmarks of civilization. We will continue to ride transit as much as we can. It's fun, and there are benefits, as mentioned. But, a car is now necessary.
I've thought too about car co-ops. It's a great idea that I hope will gain more mainstream traction, particularly for people like me with kids to move around the Lower Mainland in areas where buses are annoyingly scarce after a certain hour. I think it's a great solution for those without kids, who occasionally need a car to fill the gaps on certain occasions, but without the expense of owning one. But for me, right or wrong, I don't have the confidence to use them with a child depending on me to pick her up from daycare and/or school twice a week. Waiting for the last user to drop off a car that's late just isn't a scenario I can afford. Then, there's the question of car seats ...
Maybe all of this is the 20th Century man talking, in a new, 21st Century paradigm when it comes to transit. But, that's where I'm at.
This doesn't diminish my belief in public transit, and the absolute necessity is represents when it comes to sustainable lifestyles, urban (and suburban!) planning, and responsible government spending to support it. I'm keeping my transit pass. And I will continue to bore people about how important easy and affordable access to public transit is, and how important it will increasingly continue to be as our century rolls onward.
Further to that, I believe that by investing in public transit we can avoid a common trap that befalls many cities and the people who live in them when sections of a city are not efficiently connected. I'm talking about isolation, and that which isolation can create, to wit; destruction of self, and of property, that comes out of sheer boredom. When one can't take control over one's circumstances in the form of independent travel, it's easy to feel trapped, and easy to view your surroundings as something oppressive, rather than as something to be valued as one's own. This is particularly pertinent where impressionable youth are concerned. But, I think this kind of isolation affects everyone in our culture.
Among other things, this is what accessible, affordable, and extensive transit will mean to those of my daughter's generation living in the suburbs after all; nothing short of freedom, of empowerment, and the knowledge that their home in the Lower Mainland is indeed theirs, as much as it is their parents', just because they can explore it, and value it on their own whether they can drive or not.
Public transit is a great equalizer. We need it.
Rob Jones is a writer and online content creator who lives in New Westminster, BC. He's a dad of a five-year old girl, about whom he writes in his blog Me and The Girl, The Girl and Me. He is also a music blogger on the music blog The Delete Bin, which he has been developing since 2007.
Rob is also content editor and social media manager for BuildDirect, an online building materials firm. He edits and authors the BuildDirect blog. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @Clippernolan.
Big thanks to Rob Jones for sharing his experience of taking transit with his daughter. Post a comment below before April 7th, 2011 to win four tickets to Telus World of Science and two books of Faresavers. Do you enjoy taking transit with your children? What are some of the benefits and challenges you’ve faced? We’d also like to hear feedback from parents who have used a car-share service.