Tuesday, 18 February 2014

My Rant on the Durham Region Transit

I got off work today and went to catch the DRT Pulse bus home. Last year I would have caught the bus directly outside of the building where I work, but the Durham Region improved the bus service so now I have to walk a block west to catch the bus.

I started walking down the sidewalk only to realize a snowplow was heading towards me. It blocked the entire sidewalk and, thanks to the last couple of snow storms, there was no way past it. Just to make things better, my bus was at the next set of lights. If the sidewalk was open, I could have made it to the stop without any problem but I can't leapfrog a snowplow. So I used my only option, I walked to where the bus stop used to be and waited for the bus there. I knew it was a safe place for the bus to stop, buses had been stopping there for several decades.

I know the driver saw me. I waved to him and he made eye contact with me. And I know he saw the snowplow because it caused a minor traffic jam at the entrance to the parking lot where I work and the bus had to wait for that to clear. Despite it being obvious that I had no real way to get to the bus stop, the driver drove right on by. Chances were he told anyone on the bus who asked him, "She can catch the next bus. It's not that long." I have heard this line before. This is not good customer service.

Fifteen minutes on a street corner in February with drivers spraying slush on me was "that long". If it had been last year, I would have had a bus shelter to protect me from the slush. But that disappeared during the "improvement" along with the more convenient stop.

My son has a youth group every Tuesday evening. On paper the buses sound ideal. We walk a block to the nearest bus shelter and catch the bus at 6:38pm to downtown. Our bus arrives at 6:50pm and our connecting bus gets there at 6:52pm. It drops him off right beside the Boys and Girls Club at exactly 7pm when his group meets. Perfect.

Reality is we get to the stop at 6:35pm and the bus arrives ten minutes later. I tell the driver the bus we're connecting to and she shrugs then informs me that she's running late (as if the ten minute wait wasn't our first clue) and can't call the other bus to let him know there are passengers waiting. Tonight we could SEE our bus at the next set of lights, we'd just missed it.

Missing that bus means standing downtown, in the dark, for another ten minutes. Then getting on the next eastbound bus and getting off as close to the Boys and Girls Club as possible. Then walking six blocks south. And, since I'm not staying with him, it means I miss the bus heading home and have a 20 minute wait on a dark street corner in south central Oshawa.

I have a similar missed bus story on Sundays. This one involves catching the regional bus running along Taunton from Oshawa to Whitby. It's supposed to connect with the bus running north along Brock Street. I inform the driver and he shrugs and says he'll call them "soon". I remind him and get told "soon" again. Finally he calls them, the bus has gone by, and I need to turn around and go home. The buses only run once an hour. An hour later is an hour too late.

Lately I've been hearing a lot of negative comments about the DRT. There's always been complaints about bus service but, these days I hear them regularly and unprompted. The Pulse buses are usually late and way too overcrowded, which they are. Seven and a half minute service often stretches into 15 minute service, with two buses coming at the same time. And those buses are crowded. It was rare to have an overcrowded GO bus or 306 bus. It's common to get on the Pulse and discover there isn't a single free seat. And I'm hearing a lot more negative comments about drivers as well.

I take the bus almost every single day and I know there are a lot of good drivers out there, but the bad ones are the ones who tend to get noticed.

Two of my coworkers have already bought cars just so they wouldn't have to deal with the DRT anymore and several more are organizing rides for the exact same reason. You can be sure they've told other people why they're not taking the bus. I know some of the complaints told to me were from people who have never taken the bus, they were sharing complaints they've heard repeatedly from friends.

If Durham Region truly wants people to use and count on this bus service, they need to make sure connecting buses actually connect and their fast efficient Pulse line lives up to its name.The service has a lot of potential but that potential won't be realized if they lose their customers due to poor and overcrowded service.