Transit Access Influence House Shopping: The Captive Transit User Series Part 6

single family house with a pure white cube style architecture

By: Giselle General

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

My husband and I live in a nice neighbourhood here in Edmonton, with neighborhoods right beside ours with super fancy, multi-million-dollar houses. Whenever we walk through these sidewalks and streets and see these houses, he would ask me, “Do you want me to buy that house? It looks so pretty!” It’s just a fun conversation topic, more like a little game, we do when we walk around the neighborhoods.

Almost every single time, I would say, “No! Because, where’s the bus stop? There’s none!” The proximity of a reliable bus stop was a very important factor when we were house shopping back in 2015. So during these walks I would wield this response in a swift and sassy manner. For many of fancy houses that is definitely the case. Because people are likely to be driving a car or even multiple cars to get to these homes, there is no expectation of accessible public transit.

In 2015 when we impulsively decided to start shopping for a house, we talked about our most important priorities. Price is a factor of course, and having a space or structure of a home that is easy to convert a portion of into an income property. For my husband, the neighbourhood is also important, so he wanted a house that is on the slightly mature west side of the city close to where he grew up. For me, as I have struggled and learned the hard way that going home from downtown Edmonton in the evening is really difficult, I told him it is very important to have good public transit access to downtown all day and all night.

We were so particular about our requirement for good bus access. When we were talking to our real estate agent, I grabbed a printed city-wide transit map, analyzed the different public transit routes that showed up in the map, grab the highlighter and marked the different areas that we would consider for our new house, and gave it to our real estate agent as a reference.

Paper map with a person's hand pointing on a part of the map

And we managed to find it! We found a house that is along a major road but not as loud and busy as the Whitemud or 87th Avenue, with a reliable and frequent bus route, pretty close to the in-laws’ house, and is easy or possible to construct an income property in the basement. And for a good price!

So for the past almost five years traveling around the city has been a lot easier for me. Going to work, going to the mall, going to downtown or Whyte Ave, and just traveling around the city. It is only what it’s super late at night that I would take a cab to go home and go to my destination.

I know very well, that this is the reason why, my husband has been very angry on my behalf when he saw he proposed new bus routes by the City of Edmonton’s Bus Network Redesign. We are not losing the bus stop that is 20 steps in front of my house, but it drastically will change from a frequent 15-minute bus route into a 30-minute community bus route. The frequent bus routes are either a 7 minute walk, or a 15-minute walk. A major selling feature of the home was ripped out from us, at least that is his impression.

My husband was also worried for other people who might be more entrapped and limited with their housing options. How will the Bus Network Redesign affect them?

Think of someone who is low income, who chose a specific apartment in a busy intersection because of the bus route that is nearby, and they realize that their bus route will be gone after the redesign is implemented. And they are just in the middle of their one-year lease. How is this going to impact their ability to get around? What if, they have an employer, a boss at work, who is not very understanding that this worker might be running late or not be able to fulfill certain work shifts that are given to them because of the changes in the bus route?

I wonder how much collaboration did Edmonton Transit Service have with agencies such as the planning department of the city, or even external ones like End Poverty Edmonton or United Way to determine whether these bus routes are the best way to go moving forward. I remember a few city councilors saying that it is true, the new bus network will not be perfect for the first little bit, and this will provide real-time tangible information and feedback on how the bus routes are working and make changes accordingly. It sounds fancy from a political big picture perspective. How can you explain that to someone who is here in Edmonton as a minimum wage worker still navigating our city in our transportation system, and where external circumstances are a bit more unkind? How about the people whose housing options are limited and employment options are limited; can they put up with a year-and-a-half of waiting for feedback before bus routes can be tweaked and improved in a specific area?

In my volunteering for the transit advisory board, we worked on a report recommending marketing strategies to inform as many people as possible, as early as possible, about the changes in the bus routes. It’s an interesting and neat experience to do research, think of my personal experiences, work with staff of the city, and present right in front of the actual politicians during a city committee meeting. It’s a bit surreal. I really hope that our suggestions are well taken, and that the city staff can identify other ways of notifying Edmontonians from all walks of life. Because for some, they might actually have to move from their home if their transportation options no longer work for them.

This is something my husband offered, to sell our house if being within a 2-minute walk from a frequent bus stop is important to me. I told him that moving is not necessary, at least not for now. I reassured him that a 13 minute walk or a seven minute walk is very manageable and I can handle doing that on a daily basis. These conversations took place before the pandemic, and now, the tediousness of a daily commute is hardly a concern, as I am fortunate enough to have an office job that I can do from home. But not for the “essential workers”.

Two 2-storey homes beside each other with the  grassy lawns frosted with snow

The timeline of the implementation of the new bus routes has been delayed due to the pandemic, and I personally don’t know whether I should be relieved or worried. Is it a pain point that is just getting delayed? Or is the right thing to do because there is enough uncertainty in people’s lives? Once the next opportunity becomes available, it will never be perfect but I hope that it will be manageable to those who are most impacted, the captive transit users.

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