Victoria is commuter hell.
Hell on a different scale than L.A., or Vancouver, or Toronto. But hell nonetheless.
Bike lanes, mountain views and ocean living, do nothing to tackle the fundamental problem, a car culture where tens of thousands of drivers, a handful of main roads, and many chokepoints make for much frustration.
Most cities experience similar issues. Unlike Victoria, they adapt. In southern Ontario, ‘GO’ trains and buses are part of the fabric of life in the Greater Toronto Area. Quality transportation in the midst of traffic chaos.
Not so Victoria. Train tracks rust – totally unused. And buses are “Loser Cruisers,” filled with the the poor, mentally ill, drunks, creeps, criminals. And students. Few would actually say those words out loud, but that is the popular perception. None of my colleagues take the bus to work, though for many of them it would be an inexpensive and plausible alternative to expensive gas and long delays. The same could be said for most workplaces in Victoria. But for every man or woman in a business suit who steps off a bus in the morning, ten luxury cars speed by, battling for rare parking in the congested downtown core.
I’m part of the car culture. Usually. 40K in, 40K home, 4 days a week, doing my part to clog the lone highway connecting Victoria to the rest of Vancouver Island.
But sometimes I take the bus, one of the few commuter ones that actually service the area. Fewer stops and a little more comfortable than the rest of the fleet. For a price. Ten bucks a ride instead of three.
I run to the bus stop, with a yellow reflective vest on my torso and a bright headlamp leading the way. My arrival is a glowing and infrequent interruption in the daily routine of the handful of commuters who are always there. They see one another every weekday. Nod. Exchange pleasantries. Develop friendships.
I’m the strange guy who shows up occasionally, always sweating. I drop my knapsack, stretch and sometimes duck behind the bus shelter and change my shirt. An oddity disrupting, or perhaps enlivening, their daily routine.
There’s always a seat for me, although it’s not always pleasant. Last week I boarded, found a spot, and, on the seat next to me were the dirty shoes of the guy sitting across from me, sprawled out like he was on the couch in his home. I wanted to smack him. I settled for glaring instead.
A couple of days before that, a lean, rough-looking guy in his twenties smacked my arm hard as he exited the bus. I was pissed. He got my death stare. But he never saw it. He never once looked back to see the extent of my anger, let alone to offer an apology. He just charged off the bus. I wanted to hit him too.
Near assaults aside, I like riding the bus. I read and write. Think or don’t think. Rest and recharge. Remind myself how lucky I am to be travelling to a job that is occasionally rewarding, often challenging, and rarely physically exhausting.
Because the bus is full of construction workers whose job must drain them daily, hourly, minute-by-minute. Their commutes are longer than mine – an hour, each way, morning and night. Toiling in the heat, saturated in the rain, freezing in the cold. The yellow vests they wear are for safety on dangerous job sites. They always look weary, both before and after the long days they spend building roads and homes in Victoria. A city they probably can’t afford to live in. A city many working families increasingly can not afford to live in. Or near.
Last week, as I waited to board a bus home, an intoxicated male fell on the sidewalk. Several people watched. Me and another male went to him. He was okay. Hot on a blistering day. Drunk but not obliterated. He declined an ambulance. And a friend came to be with him.
I boarded my bus, thankful that the drunk didn’t follow.
Thankful to be heading home.
Thankful for the bus.