Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Captains of Hospitality - Saint John and Transit

Reliable public transportation is essential for any city.  It is much more defining than many imagine.  Transit systems affect everyone.  When it operates smoothly it's something that's easily taken for granted, but when things are awry, it becomes a cat in an exotic bird sanctuary.

Saint John is a city that is reliant on buses, whether or not those inhabiting the many satellite communities that make up much of the blind affluence care to admit it.  The regular Saint John Transit buses are obvious, but there is also Acadian Lines, school buses, the trolley buses, the many tour buses, and those horrible Pepto-Bismol pink double deckers.  I know because they all assault our home regularly.

The first time I visited Saint John, just over a year ago to the day, I utilized the accommodations at University New Brunswick at Saint John and took the city bus to the convention I was attending each day.  Doing this allowed me to rid myself of my preconceived notions that Saint John was the same as Halifax, Montreal, Boston, Toronto and other North American cities with which I was familiar by allowing me to become intimately acquainted with areas outside of the uptown core, which has been transformed and dressed up like a six year old pageant girl for the tourists.

Of note are the plastic wrap-around bus stop signs that adorn some utility poles (if there is a piece left that hasn't been stripped by the harsh weather), the 'phantom stops' that sport no pole or apparent marker of any sort, the antiquated buses that make up the city's fleet, the high fares, the smell of depression, motley drivers flirting with younger female passengers, and the many unkempt riders that dominate the scene inside these vessels.

On one of my first 'dates' with my fiancee, Holly, we waited at an uptown bus stop one evening and she regaled me with stories of adventures on the bus warning me, to my mockery, that the drivers very often don't bother to stop.  As if on cue, the bus rounded the corner and left the two of us, along with another older gentleman, gawking in disbelief.  We hightailed it to King's Square where we found another bus waiting and Holly told the captain of the ship about our misadventure and ordered this driver to radio ahead to demand that the other driver wait for us at a transfer point.  I thought, "Right, as if this would ever happen," and lo and behold it did.  I'm convinced it was my intimidating stare while looking over her shoulder that made these events transpire.

To make things even more difficult for an already pedestrian-challenged city (expect much more on this subject!), many bus stops are located at intersections.  While speaking to Saint John Transit's Assistant General Manager on the telephone, who seems to be convinced their new GPS tracking system is the magic step in solving these problems, I was able to look out of my office window and convey my concern that the pole for the bus stop sign I was viewing shared said pole with a crosswalk sign and that both myself and Holly have had close calls with vehicles (including a City of Saint John pickup truck that had to actually steer into a snow bank while sliding to avoid colliding with her) attempting to pass buses stopped, often without buses using proper turn signal indicators.

Breath out.  Sigh.  Remain positive.

I'm actually trying to have hope for my adopted city, but I feel like Saint Johners have no desire to remove their blinders and tell officials to get their acts together.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Three Rs

Last night was my favourite night of the week - garbage night.  There's something freeing about things you no longer need being voluntarily and willingly removed from your life.  I misspoke a little with my opening line, as Saint John only collects every second week, allowing me this guiltless pleasure only bi-weekly.

We love to recycle too.  We make a point of reducing, reusing, and recycling.  If something is unnecessarily over packaged, we don't buy it.  If we have something we no longer use that is perfectly fine for someone else, it goes to Kijiji or freecycle.  While Kijiji gets used on a fairly regular basis in this city, it's disappointing that the local freecycle site isn't used a lot.

Now, I've been a strong advocate of recycling for a long time and it has become second nature, which is why I was surprised to learn about the Saint John recycling system.  The city provides you with assorted dumpsters in various locations around the city and you bring your recycling to them.  My initial response to this was, "What?"

Recycling is something that, in theory, saves the city money as materials that would normally wind up in a landfill are recycled and sold for profit.  It would make sense to make such a service convenient and even mandatory.  As it stands, you can't force people to recycle because those who don't own vehicles can't simply walk it to the curb for pickup.

We are happy not to be contributing to the carbon emission problem by owning a vehicle.  With systems such as this pathetic recycling system and unreliable public transit options (oh, there will be more on this subject in the near future) it becomes very difficult not to own a car.  Approximately every eight weeks or so we rent a car and incorporate a getaway weekend with shopping for large items that can't be taken home on a bus and getting rid of the accumulated recycling.  And it's fun.  I can't imagine what we would do if I didn't drive though.  We certainly wouldn't be able to recycle as much.

I'll mention here that there is a redemption system in place for bottled items such as pop (blech!), juice or water where you are charged ten cents at the grocery store when you purchase them and you receive five cents back when you bring them to a redemption centre.  We are fine with this to offset the costs of producing and disposing of these convenient items, but those said centres are not anywhere handy.

What can be taken away from this post is that Saint John likes to pretend they are a full-fledged city with everything that should be offered, but it is strictly a half-assed attempt instead of an efficient operation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

This Ain't Kansas... or Halifax

Moving 413 km from the familiar confines of Halifax, NS to Saint John, NB to be with my fiancĂ©e sounded like a great idea - and it is the most fantastic thing to have ever happened to me.  That being said, this city has provided a number of surprises that I have not expected, at least not in the magnitude experienced.  The intention of this blog is to highlight some of the differences and, perhaps, vent and maybe even get motivated to initiate change when possible.

Saint John is a tremendously historical city that has always been one of the major centres of Atlantic Canada.  It is Canada's oldest incorporated city; home of Canada's first public museum, first chartered bank, oldest public high school, first YWCA, first Miss Canada, first public playground; first quarantine station in North America; the world's first foghorn (oh, there'll be more on this subject); the world's first police union; and there is actually more.

The name of the city is most commonly spelled "Saint John," as opposed to the abbreviated "St. John."  Both are acceptable, but in order to further remove themselves from being mistaken for the similar St. John's, Newfoundland "Saint John" is what you'll see most often and be prepared to have your head chewed off should you shorten it.  I'm one of those that actually prefers to see the unabbreviated name myself.  I bring this up because I noticed as I am writing this that the "location" this site has is the "St. John, NB" spelling.  Haven't they received enough nasty emails to warrant a change?  Am I sounding petty enough to dismiss yet?

According to the 2006 census, Saint John has a population of 68,043 and the metro area numbers 129,364.  That ranks it as the third largest city in Atlantic Canada, behind Halifax and St. John's.  Moncton, NB is pretty much the same size with lower city numbers, but higher metro numbers.

Okay, I'm aware this is boring, but two particular stats - being one of Atlantic Canada's largest cities and the fact that it is only 413 kms away by car (that is 257 miles for the metric system impaired) from Halifax - made me believe living in Saint John would be more or less the same as living in Halifax.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.