Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Guide to the Inconveniences of Public Transit

Read more articles by

Waiting for the busPhoto courtesy of YosemiteDonn

Public transit is invariably less convenient than a private automobile. While its frequency, reliability, and usability can be improved, for those used to driving, travelling by bus or train will always have certain inconveniences associated with them.

Because of these inconveniences, most people use automobiles as their main mode of transportation. Sometimes it seems that only higher fuel prices will make them release their death grip on their steering wheels. These inconveniences have to be acknowledged, since there will never be door-to-door public transit service, no matter how much people push supposed options like PRT (Personal Rapid Transit). I agree with James Howard Kunstler, who states about PRT “If we’re going to replace the car why do it with something that’s not only like the car, but not really as good as the car?”

For the 88% of people in the Lower Mainland who don’t regularly take public transit, here is TransitFan’s slightly sarcastic guide for first-time riders on how to deal with commuting by transit.

Planning ahead – The train or bus will not be available at the precise time that you need it, so you’ll need to either pick up a schedule or look it up on TransLink’s website. Buses are frequent during commute times and if you are close to downtown Vancouver. The farther out you from the centre you get, the more you’ll need to plan ahead. Things will be improving in the South of Fraser region over the next 20 years, but changes will be incremental (See TransLink’s South of Fraser plans). SkyTrain is frequent enough that you won’t normally need to look at schedules, but do check for when transit service begins and ends.

Walking – Sorry, there’s no private train car in your garage waiting to whisk you away to your office at the touch of a button. You will need to walk to either a bus stop or a train station. On the upside, walking is healthy, and if you do it enough you can probably stop driving to your local gym for that workout. Heck, you may even start to like it.

Exposure to the elements – Rain, sun, wind, and even the occasional snowfall. You know, those things that you view through your window as you cruise around in air-conditioned comfort. You will now be experiencing them firsthand. Don’t worry, a warm coat and an umbrella will get you through most situations. Check the ‘weather forecast’ before heading out so that you can choose the appropriate footwear.

Patience – Although trains and buses are supposed to follow schedules, these should only be taken as guidelines, especially during busy commuting times. It’s better to arrive five minutes early than to hope that the bus will meet you at the exact time listed on the schedule. Build in a bit of extra time into your commute so that delays won’t make you late for work. If you arrive early, you can either go grab a coffee or just get into work before everyone else and impress the socks off your boss.

Interacting with other people – Most transit riders keep to themselves. iPods are a very popular way of shutting out the world if this is what you want to do. If you can get a seat, books and newspapers are good way to spend long commutes. There will very occasionally be people who will, out of the blue, start a conversation with you. These people will usually be drunk and/or slightly crazy. It is your choice to interact with them, but ignoring them is often the best tactic if you still have some distance to travel.

Discomfort – There’s no gentle way to put this. Transit vehicles can be crowded. You may have to stand sometimes. On rainy days the buses will smell damp. On hot days you will find out just how many people don’t wear deodorant. You’ll often find yourself in physical contact with strangers. If you’re in the aisle seat you’ll have to get up if the window seat passenger wants to leave. There may be annoying people next to you talking on their cellphones. And sorry, no cupholders.

That’s about it. Once you get into a regular commuting routine, many of these so-called inconveniences become non-issues. The rest are just part of the ride.


John Calimente is the president of Rail Integrated Developments. He supports great mass transit, cycling, walking, transit integrated developments, and non-automobile urban life. Click here to follow TheTransitFan on Twitter.