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.

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