Dear OC Transpo…

I’ve just sent the message below to OC Transpo, Ottawa’s public transit service. It was written as a result of an oddity I witnessed this morning on the bus ride to work:


I boarded a #20 bus this morning (not sure if it was A or B) on Portobello corner Nesting at approx. 7:25 a.m. A woman was driving.

It occurred to me, at a red light on the corner of Albert and Kent, waiting to get off at the Kent stop, that the driver was reading a novel. I apologize for not noticing the title, but as the light turned green, she placed a grey plush elephant bookmark on her page and set the book aside. Or was it a grey mouse? It’s hard to tell, what with the head being so much smaller than actual size, and there being no body. I guess if it was a mouse, the size difference would be considerably less, though.

Anyways, I was hoping you could enlighten me on OC Transpo’s on-board reading policy for drivers. Are novels acceptable reading material? I must say this surprised me a little. I would think that the attention required for driving would impede on the concentration needed to actually follow any well-developed storyline. At most, perhaps magazines with short articles – like People magazine, or a fashion magazine with lots of pictures. Perhaps those fall under Green Light reading material?

Do you offer special training to drivers so they can both drive a busload of paying clients to and from their families in peak traffic time and read books simultaneously? Either way, please accept my sincere congratulations, since I evidently showed up to work in one piece and was able to send you this message.


Nadia Zwierzchowska


I’ll let you know if I ever get a response…


File this one under Ick

My list of bus-riding grievances might just warrant its own blog.

I spend my bus rides almost exclusively reading old-school science fiction, and occasionally checking e-mails and Facebook on my iPad. I keep to myself, so as not to bother or be bothered by other people. Seeing as my home time is mainly taken up by my daughters, my husband, household chores, meals and laundry, I enjoy these few minutes in my little literary bubble.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I was reading Nineteen Eighty-Four (Yes, for the first time. Yes, I’m serious. Those of you wishing to taunt me on the subject can use the Comments section), when I noticed a small, repetitive scraping sound. Its source was the girl sitting directly to my right, filing her nails. Right there. On the bus.

The girl wasn’t just fixing a chipped nail; she went on for over 10 minutes. This girl, who seemed perfectly normal at first glance, simply had no basic concept of acceptable behaviour. I suppose I should be grateful she didn’t start picking and flicking random bits of her breakfast from her teeth.

But it’s difficult feeling grateful when you’re staring at a small pile of finely ground nail bits accumulating at the top of her backpack. I tried focusing on my book, but the relentless scraping sound of her file was too distracting. I kept looking at her, thinking at some point she’d remember she wasn’t in her bathroom. Eventually, she looked right at me, realized I was in fact staring at her, and finally stopped filing, dusting off the top of her backpack with her hand.

As I sat there watching the fingernail dust falling to the floor, I pondered: how do I always end up with such fine specimens of humanity on the public transit sweepstakes? Between the Nail Filer, the guy who repeatedly passed gas next to me, and the man who yelled at the girl on the cell phone, I’m feeling nostalgic about traffic and outrageously unjustified downtown parking fees.

The arse on the bus goes on and on…

I was on an overcrowded bus tonight, heading home. The ride’s soundtrack consisted of cell phone ringtones, traffic, and a young girl chatting loudly on her cell phone, in a nasal voice only slightly less annoying than Fran Drescher’s, discussing various TV shows. Noisily. Incessantly.

I’m sure that, like me, many other riders were annoyed at this mind-numbingly obtuse waste of air. But since she was relatively harmless, we ignored her. Except for the man sitting directly to her right.

The man looked at her and said, “Excuse me, would you mind keeping it down and lowering your voice?” His own voice was resonant, I assumed, to be sure she would hear him over the sound of her own chatter. She looked at him, uncertain.

He continued, louder still: “You’re on a bus, you know? I don’t need to hear this – no one needs to hear your STUPID conversation”, the word STUPID materializing into a thunderous grey cloud over his head, just waiting to release its lightning.

However uninterested I was in the girl’s titillating opinion of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory, she didn’t deserve being spoken to this way. She calmly and softly replied, “You just had to ask me. You don’t need to speak to me this way.” She gets points for keeping her cool.

One might think that was the end of that. But one would be mistaken.

The man barked, “Here, let me show you what it’s like to have a loud conversation on the bus.” He fished his cell phone out of his pocket and hollered to a nonexistent pal: “HELLO! YES, OK!” before flipping his phone closed. The girl just looked at him, dumbfounded.

Still not done humiliating her, he yelled: “You see what it’s like? No one cares what you have to say about some stupid show [mumble mumble] inconsiderate [blah blah] insensitive.”

Despite efforts to resist, the words “You’re an asshole” were just about to roll off my tongue, when he stood up and got off the bus. Everyone followed him with their eyes and finally remembered to breathe.

Evidently public transit isn’t for everyone. For a man so irritated at hearing a phone conversation, it sure as hell didn’t seem to matter that his rant was heard by people three buses down.

A gassy situation

As I’ve stated in a previous post, I bus to work. It’s an environmentally friendly travel alternative; it costs less than paying the exorbitant downtown monthly parking fees; it reduces traffic-induced stress; and it also gives me a little bit of time to myself, morning and night, to enjoy a good book. Any parent can appreciate how little time there is for reading at home.

So I was recently on the bus, riding to work. As usual, I’m in my own bubble, reading some old-school sci-fi novel.

As a side note, I’m an absolute sucker for classic sci-fi. Can’t get enough of it, from Isaac Asimov to Frank Herbert to William Gibson to Orson Scott Card. There’s just something absolutely fascinating about how these writers can paint such vivid pictures of the future, however much they differ in both what the future looks like, and how far that future is. And what a great exercise in exploring the human psyche within the confines of their respective realities.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, in my bubble, reading.
Generally, I pay very little attention to other riders. In fact, I notice very little around me when I’m reading. Luckily, my subconscious keeps track of where we are along the bus route. Only three times has it failed me altogether, and I’ve gotten off past my bus stop and had to double back on foot.

That morning, the bus was pretty crowded. But since I board the bus at the beginning of the run, I almost always get a seat.
Anyways, about 10 minutes into the ride, a rather disgraceful smell assaults my nostrils. Someone had passed gas, and judging from its pungency, it was someone in my direct vicinity. I gave a quick gaze around me to see if I could somehow identify the guilty party, but no luck.
Unpleasant, but it happens. I went back to my book.

A few minutes later, the putrid odour returns. This time, I looked around, conjuring up my best “Does anyone else smell that repulsive stench?” facial expression, trying to spot anyone who might be looking around guiltily. No one. Whoever the culprit, he’s smooth. (Enter cheesy jokes and puns here)

About 10 minutes later, the fumes returned to vandalize the air once more. At this point, although I couldn’t be certain, I believe it was coming from the young man sitting directly on my left. Just in case, I lifted my head again and looked his way, wrinkling my nose at the rancid smell, in the hopes that he realizes I’m on to him. I figured that surely a dirty look would put a stop to this cruel and unusual punishment.

Why would someone repeatedly cut one, on a bus full of people? I don’t believe for one stinkin’ minute (see? cheesy pun) that he doesn’t notice it. Perhaps he enjoys the smell of his own flatulence? Or perhaps he thought he would explode if he didn’t let it out?

At this point, I was reluctant to breathe at all, as I imagine much of the bus load was. Air good, toxic gas bad. Just before my brain suffered lack of oxygen, I gratefully got to my bus stop and hurried out, expecting a black cloud to seep through the bus doors.

Inhale, exhale. Ahhh, nothing like a refreshing breath of downtown pollution to clear the lungs.

Public Transit Driving Us Mad

OC Transpo bus

OC Transpo bus

We all know the advantages of public transit: it’s better for the environment; it helps reduce traffic; you avoid eye-gouging downtown parking fees; and for some, it’s even a bit of free time to read or listen to an iPod.

Public transit works great in theory. In reality, anyone who’s utilized OC Transpo’s services might tell you differently. It seems we’ve forgotten, but after the OC Transpo strike that started on December 10, 2008 and ended 51 excruciating days later, OC Transpo vowed to offer Ottawa residents a better, more courteous service. And I have to admit, that first week back nearly brought a tear to my eye: drivers were on time and seemed genuinely happy to greet riders.

Since then, bus drivers have, with a few exceptions, returned to their old habits: they’re rude and impatient, they close the doors and take off even when they see you there, and they think bus schedules are just a suggestion.

Their mandate is “to deliver safe, reliable, and courteous service at a reasonable price.” Seeing as I haven’t yet had an accident while riding a bus, I’ll grant them “safe”. I’m still waiting for “reliable” and “courteous”. Buses are so often late (or fail to come at all) that I’ve got their customer service number in my cell phone contacts. This despite the fact that after the strike, their customer service reps stated a zero tolerance for lateness.

But why doesn’t their mandate mention “sufficient”? OC Transpo has held consultations, where the public can attend and express their opinion — if they happen to see the tiny notices temporarily taped to bus stop poles. Following these consultations, some bus routes were changed, while others were eliminated altogether. All to better serve residents.

Meanwhile, other buses are so over-packed that after the first few downtown stops, people are standing packed all the way to the doors, and the buses can’t take in any other riders.

I and many others have been both calling in and e-mailing our grievances. I question whether the online form we fill out even goes to a valid account, since we never actually receive a response. However, by phone, the reps take note of every comment, and encourage riders to call. The rep today (with whom I’m now on first-name basis) informed me that the next schedule changes will take place in April. I urge all disgruntled riders to do their part and tell OC Transpo we expect better, either by phone (613-842-3600) or through their online form.

What do YOU think of OC Transpo’s post-strike service?