- Jesse Hitchcock is a sustainability advocate working in energy efficiency and climate change mitigation. She holds a MSc in environmental science and has worked extensively on environmental issues in the academic, public and private sectors. She resides in Halifax full-time.
Cars aren't always the most convenient choice. But car culture is deeply ingrained in our society, and this means cars live in our minds as the quickest/ easiest/ best choice for getting around. For many, owning a car is a marker of success. Cars can represent adulthood, freedom and—if you're anything like me—your car enables you to do the things you love. Road trips, hiking, camping, whatever.
Think now, though, about all the things you use your car for that are not awesome. Traffic. Trying to find parking. Paying for parking. More traffic. Pretty much anything about using your car in or around the downtown core is horrible. Enter: public transit!
A regular vehicle lane can carry 1,000 to 2,000 people in cars per hour. A bus lane can carry 4,000 to 8,000 people per hour. Turn it into a dedicated transitway? Ten to 25,000 people per hour. Think about how that could transform our streets. When you bus, you often get dropped off closer to your destination than you'd usually find parking. In the winter, you get into a warm vehicle—no scraping required! You can read, drink coffee or text your friends. Maybe even make new friends!
Cars are bad for our cities. They create pollution (noise, air quality, carbon emissions). Transportation is the second-largest contributor to Nova Scotia's carbon emissions, and the majority of all that pollution comes from passenger vehicles.
Cars make things dangerous for pedestrians and parking takes away from our urban green space. They fill the most vibrant parts of our cities with traffic.
I know there are plenty of reasons that public transit does not work for a lot of people. The routes aren't great, the schedule can be limiting and there is much more to be done in terms of accessibility. We absolutely need better design to increase ridership. But in the interim? Those of us who can use it, should. And we should embrace it for all of the reasons above.
Not only will improving ridership on public transit reduce our carbon footprint, it will also make our city more livable and equitable. Everyone deserves to be able to move easily through the spaces they live—this cannot be contingent on owning a vehicle.
So pull up the ol' Google Maps app and take a look at some of the trips you make in the course of a week. Is there a transit option? Is it doable for you? You might be surprised at how often the answer is yes.
This isn't an all or nothing issue—taking transit some of the time is better than not at all. We can't let perfect be the enemy of the good. Taking the bus, even for a portion of your commutes, shows that we value public transit. It helps us show our policymakers that it is something we want more of. And, ultimately, it helps us take a step toward building a more inclusive and sustainable city. Plus, you might even enjoy it.