Car Less in Calgary: Day 7, the Final Stretch

Posted by: Shelton Kwan onDecember 9th, 2012

In a car centric city like Calgary, I’ve decided to challenge myself, and raise some money for the Food Bank by ditching my car for a week, and try to get on with my hectic schedule by using only public transportation. That means no cars, no carpooling, no free rides with friends, no Car2Go, no taxi. 1 full week without a car cold turkey, for the biggest car guy on Beyond. Join me as I detail my daily progress going Car Less in Calgary in this one week daily special feature.

Day 7

Today is a great day. It’s the final day of my car less week, I only have 1 thing on my schedule. Head on over to Stir Crazy in the NE (right by Sunridge Mall) for my newphew’s birthday party, then head home. Quite the simple trip that would take 25 mins by car, and over 1 hour by transit. I checked the schedules to gauge an approximate arrival time, and my options were to arrive 30 mins early or right on time. I choose to be early instead, because as I’ve learned over this week, you’re more often late than early.

I stood at the 299 bus stop with a smile knowing that this would be my last time at this stop. It’s been a rough week for me, I’m very detailed in my time management, and transit has basically dropped my productivity to an all-time low. In the last 6 days, I’ve “lost” a staggering 11 and a half hours by using transit instead of a car. I don’t even want to think what the opportunity costs would be if I did this on a regular basis.

I arrived at my stop 10 mins early. I’ve learned my lesson. Ended up standing around for 15 minutes, because the bus was 5 mins late. I’m glad this is the last time I have to be subject to this helpless feeling of not knowing when I should expect to start my trips. 2 C-Train transfers, a bus transfer, and a short walk later, I made it to my destination in 1 hour and 25 minutes, which put me 20 mins before the start of the party. I ended up walking to the stores next door to stay warm by pretending to shop while I waited for everyone to arrive.

The journey home, my last trip of the week, went somewhat smoother. Google Maps had suggested I walk instead to the C-Train station, which really was a better idea, since I wouldn’t have to be handcuffed by the random bus schedules. A completely uneventful trip, no waits at either C-Train stations or for the 299, and I was home in 1 hour and 15 minutes.

And with that, my car free week is complete. Would I do it again? A definite no. Including today, that’s 13.5 hours of lost time. That’s losing 1.5 work days. If I was a 9-5 downtown worker (I’m not), I would consider using transit to get to and from work, and that’s it. I would still own cars to get around elsewhere. There is no way that you can manage to traverse the city purely on transit, it’s a colossal waste of time. With that being said, what have I learned this week?

1. Transit users have great/unique etiquette. Every time someone gets off the bus, regardless if it’s from the front by the driver, or way at the rear on a bendy bus, they make sure the driver knows their work is appreciated by saying/yelling a thank you. Also, I learned that you shouldn’t press the next stop ringer if the bus is stopping at a bus hub/C-Train station where the bus has to stop anyways. Everyone looked at me funny when I did it.

2. Transit users have terrible/unique etiquette (during rush hour). Everyone wants to cram on before anyone can get off the bus or train. You would never do this in an elevator, why would you do this on transit? Then there are the escalators, you may not be in a rush, but others might be trying to catch a connector. Follow the universal escalator rules. Stand on the right, walk/run on the left. To be fair, escalator etiquette doesn’t exist anywhere in this city, and not just transit.

3. Always arrive at least 10 mins early for a bus. That way, you’ll catch the bus if it’s late, or if it’s early. Teleride and Google Maps schedules are not accurate because bus drivers do not follow the schedule properly.

4. Know when to use your phone/tablet. Don’t do things before entering a tunnel if it’s not going to finish before the tunnel. Our tunnels don’t have cell phone reception, so your calls will get disconnected, your text messages will fail (or send 3-4x), and you’ll double post when replying on beyond. Any other time, it’s fair game. I overheard people talking about money struggles, drama with friends, and even medical test results. Nobody seems to care.

5. Buy a car. That’s right, I’m going there. It’s impossible to live in this city without a car, and that is my conclusion after this week. There may be some exceptions, such as if you have no friends, or you’re completely selfish and make your friends meet you at places convenient to you, then sure, you can get by. If you have to get anywhere in this city, it’s a huge waste of time. Sure it’s great to get to work if you live in a suburb served by the C-Train, but for anything else, you’ll need a car. That is, until our transit system is improved for trips that do not originate or terminate downtown. You may argue that not everyone can afford a car. I was in the same situation in my teens when I started out with nothing. I held 3 jobs at one point in various parts of the city, so unless they’re lucky enough to have them right beside each other, transit will just hold you back with less work hours. I was lucky enough to be able to use my parent’s old car after they upgraded.

6. Switch to an Android based phone. Or downgrade your iPhone to iOS 5, so that you have Google maps with transit directions. I would have been so lost without it.

7. Gas, grass, or ass. Nobody rides for free. That is, except for transit users. Bus drivers rarely check for correct fare, or ANY fare for passengers getting on. While I have no direct evidence for C-Train users, I do know that many have bragged about using park and ride, then not paying. Getting busted once every 6 months is cheaper than buying 6 months’ worth of bus passes. As for the fare machines at the C-Train stations, not once did I see it used. Sure most users at that point are transferring from busses or have bus passes, but you would think there’s at least one person that has to pay?

That’s it. While it was a frustrating experience, I’m glad I did this. It’s opened my eyes to how bad our transit system really is except for work commutes. I often hear from people how great our transit system is. Even on the city’s transit website, they claim the system “is capable of becoming the preferred mobility choice of Calgarians”. Not even close.

I’ve used public transit in cities around the world, and we are nowhere close to any of them. Sure it may be because Calgary is such a sprawled out city, but there are ways to improve things. Maybe Calgary Transit management should try the Car Less week, undercover boss style, to really open their eyes to the mess that is our transit system.

Day 1: 318mins (transit) vs 65mins (car). 4.9x longer by transit.
Day 2: 183mins (transit) vs 95mins (car). 1.9x longer by transit.
Day 3: 120mins (transit) vs 65mins (car). 1.8x longer by transit.
Day 4: 320mins (transit) vs 84mins (car). 3.8x longer by transit.
Day 5: 84mins (transit) vs 50mins (car). 1.7x longer by transit.
Day 6: 34mins (transit) vs 10mins (car). 3.4x longer by transit.
Day 7: 160mins (transit) vs 50mins (car). 3.2x longer by transit.

Total: 1219mins (transit) vs 419mins (car). 2.9x longer by transit. An additional 13 hours and 20 mins was spent by using transit over a car for a week.

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