COLUMN: Transit improvements within reach

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t have much experience with public transit.

Why the chagrin?

Mostly because I’m a big advocate of transit and other alternative modes of transportation that get people out of their vehicles.

Yet, my record doesn’t reflect my rhetoric. I’m undeniably tied to my truck. Have been for most – nay, all – of my motoring life.

Some of the fault is not my own (my parents chose to live on a hobby farm 30 minutes from anywhere remotely civilized, thus necessitating my early addiction to an automobile to attend sports practices, work and ‘social gatherings’), but I must shoulder much of the blame.

Since leaving the parental nest, I’ve made numerous choices that hinder giving up my fuel-sucking habits – such as buying a house a 30-minute drive from my place of work, but a mere stone’s throw (literally, we tested the theory) from several of my close friends.

I could carpool, since other co-workers make similar commutes and work roughly the same hours, but my involvement as a volunteer in search and rescue (with the Ladysmith and Cowichan SAR teams) means I want to have my vehicle handy in case there’s a callout and I’m able to get away from work.

Then there’s regular SAR training in Duncan, to which I drive, of course.

Sometimes I feel like I’m single-handedly keeping Big Oil afloat with my unwavering dedication to driving, but these are personal choices, similar to others made by just about everyone else reliant upon a motor vehicle.

If truly dedicated to giving up on gas, I would make the choices necessary to reflect that desire.

Considering the price of gasoline, which will only keep climbing with the addition of increased carbon tax costs and so forth, it’s no wonder I’m seriously considering a motorcycle, since I’m not willing to move from my cozy abode and I’m equally unprepared to cease my activity in SAR.

I keep thinking a better transit system would help though.

That notion was reinforced during a recent week off, which included a couple days passing through Vancouver (yes, I was flying, yet another hypocritically massive consumption of fossil fuel) and using both public transit buses and Metro Vancouver’s skytrain system.

While I’ve used the Express bus from Horseshoe Bay numerous times, I can only think of one previous occasion of riding the rapid transit trains.

While the Island’s population is far too sparsely distributed to support similar infrastructure, the Island Corridor Foundation’s dreams of getting a light-rail commuter service going on the old E&N tracks would certainly be a good first step and one appropriate to the Island’s population density.

After riding the rails a little around the Lower Mainland and jumping off to make connections to various bus routes, I’m more certain than ever the ICF’s overall plan is workable. And that their intention to get the VIA Rail Dayliner turned around and leaving from Nanaimo first thing in the morning is crucial to properly serving commuters.

I’m also convinced we’re further ahead than many think on adequate public transit. We have plenty of infrastructure already in place, with both our existing regional bus system and the rail bed, although the latter needs some expensive upgrading.

What needs the most work though, and my personal situation is a prime example, is finding ways to get people out of their cars without it demanding major lifestyle changes, such as moving or giving up volunteer activities and community involvement.

Or getting us to make the many minor changes, like walking or taking the bus to get a few groceries, that add up to major impacts.

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