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An Ottawa Transportation Commission bus circa 1970s.

Confessions of a bus rider

By Bruce Burwell on July 9, 2019

My first confession is that I am not really a bus rider. I took an OC Transpo bus recently (an #85 if that’s important to you) and it was my first OC Transpo bus ride in 40 years. Yes, you read that correctly. I suppose that if I hadn’t actually lived in Ottawa for the 40 years in between 1979 and 2019 I would have had a fantastic excuse for not bussing. But I Iived here for about 32 of those years so I did have a few opportunities.

I do recall my last bus ride in 1979 very clearly. I had to take my cat P.K. (don’t ask) to the vet for his annual shots. The various car owners who might usually have given me a lift were busy that day so I had to take a bus from my Glebe apartment across town with him.

P.K., Janet and Bruce.

They say “don’t let the cat out of the bag.” And once you’ve managed getting an energetic young cat into a small canvas bag you wouldn’t ever dream of doing so.

I didn’t own a cat carrier at the time so my cat-containment options were quite limited. I did own a heavy canvas laundry bag and that seemed like a great idea at the time. They say “don’t let the cat out of the bag.” And once you’ve managed getting an energetic young cat into a small canvas bag you wouldn’t ever dream of doing so.

When I first got on the bus P.K. was quiet in his canvas prison. Perhaps the trauma of being stuffed in the bag had overcome him. I sat with him on my lap across the aisle from a young mother and her two kids. The bag was heavy enough canvas that I knew he couldn’t get his claws through it into my legs. My bigger fear was that he would seek revenge by peeing on me.

We made it halfway to the vets clinic before the trauma started to wear off. He began struggling and shooting his paws off in different directions to make the bag move. At first the kids across the aisle didn’t notice. Then the continuous and very loud yowling started.

Today I am older and wiser and I would have handled the situation quite differently. I would laugh and explain that, no there wasn’t anything strange going on – it was just an unhappy cat on his way to the vet. Back then I silently stared really hard at the family across the aisle as if to say “Maybe I do have a baby in this bag? What possible business is that of yours?”

Photo: Bruce Burwell

We did make it to the vet clinic on the bus but I decided to take a taxi home.

That was somewhat traumatic but not quite worthy of a 40-year break. I do have some other great excuses though. For about 20 years I lived in and around Manotick. When I first lived there OC Transpo service was a distant dream. Then one day we heard that the buses were, quite literally, coming to town. Our excitement was short lived when we saw the actual details. Exactly one bus a day would leave in the morning from a stop about a kilometer from our house and head downtown. Then in the evening a bus would drop off the weary commuters in the same spot. Not exactly what we had dreamt of.

Then four years ago we downsized and I moved a little closer to the core. Suddenly it became harder to justify not riding OC Transpo at least occasionally. My home is a 2-minute walk from Carling where the buses whiz by constantly to various useful destinations. Hey – I could even go to the airport without transferring! My bus resistance was starting to fade.

But time went by and the recent advent of Uber further eroded my will to bus.

It was fun for a while. Till the night it was pouring rain and no GPS-enabled bus icon appeared on my phone for a very, very long time.

Then one day it happened. I had signed up for an evening course in the downtown-ish direction from my west end domicile. However parking was limited and cost $14 for the evening! Outrageous! It was finally time to bus.

Technology had moved on a bit since the 1970s and so I acquired a Presto card and learned how to use it. Very nice!

Then on the day of my first ride I learned about the BusBuddy app! So cool! I could see the bus on the map and get an up-to-the-moment estimate of when it would arrive. This bus riding thing was going to be fun!

And it was fun for a while. Till the night it was pouring rain and no GPS-enabled bus icon appeared on my phone for a very, very long time.

Final confession. I found free parking close to the course and stopped taking the bus after only a couple of rides. And apparently I’m not the only one. A recent CBC article noted that overall ridership is down due to people shifting their commuting to walking or biking to work.

Maybe when that LRT thing starts up I’ll ride OC Transpo again. Hopefully it will be less than 40 years from now.