The Evolution of Audio Announcements- The Captive Transit User Series Part 7

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.

“A hundred and eleven street, a hundred and second Avenue…A hundred and twelve street, a hundred and second Avenue… A hundred and thirteen street, a hundred and second Avenue.”

These lady robot announcements weren’t always a part of one’s commute taking the bus here in Edmonton. The first time I started hearing them, I think it’s about 2012 or so, I can’t help but giggle while taking the bus because the voice just sounds monotonous and a bit silly. My brother (who was new to Edmonton at the time) and I would poke fun at the robot voice sometimes. But the more I hear these announcements, the more I appreciate its benefit when taking transit in Edmonton.

When I first came to Edmonton in 2008, I used a print map of ETS to get around. I have both the city-wide map to help me understand the different routes available, and the the route-specific maps as well. I needed to be familiar with the route number 4, 106, 150, 111, 112, 100, 119, 136 and the LRT so I can to go school, work, hang out with friends and do other activities. I still had a flip phone during those early years and Google Maps is not as good as it is now.

A public transit bus rapidly passing through.

I tried very hard to make sure I get off the right bus stop, but in the winter, when it is dark and the windows are frosted it can be tough to look out by the window and keep track. If you end up missing your stop by a few blocks, walking a few extra minutes late at night and in the winter is not something I – or anyone – look forward to.

I also realized that the audio announcements help people with disabilities! I remember reading a quote from a news article from a person who is blind, who said that the automated announcements of the next bus stops are really useful. I bet that for people who are also new to Edmonton, it’s handy as well.

Screenshot of Google Maps showing walking and bus directions in Edmonton.

When I visited New York City last year, a city where sure, there are numbers in the street names, but the system is so different, hearing the audio announcements of the upcoming bus stops, while looking at the app on my phone, helped me navigate around really easily.

But then, we all know that technology is not perfect. When I lived on the further west side of the city, taking the 136 bus, one of the words that is in several street names kept on being mispronounced. For some reason, ‘Potter” became “Potters” and the word next to it loses the letter S at the end. So, Potter Greens Drive sounded like Potters Green Drive. The city’s app for reporting different city issues also wasn’t perfect – there wasn’t an option to report operating issues specific to buses at the time. But I did my best to report it anyways. I really hope it’s been fixed.

At least twice a week, there seems to be technical issues with the LRT announcements when it is supposed to indicate the next station. Either the next station announced is a few stations off, or the announcements were in reverse order. Luckily, now there is an option in the City’s app to report issues about transit vehicle operations.

Selfie of woman outside in winter, wearing a knitted winter hat and most of her face covered in a light blue scarf

LRT stations have additional types of announcements as well which is handy. Particularly right now during the pandemic, there are audio reminders that masks are mandatory. Back in early 2020, both the above-ground and underground LRT stations started to give passengers a heads up that bus transit fares are increasing in the near future.

Overall, audio announcements has been a handy feature for all users of our transit system. I hope that it continues to have the proper resources to maintain and update its functionality so that it works most – if not – all of the time.

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.

“I Think I’ll Walk Instead”: The Captive Transit User Series Part 5

Woman wearing an orange fabric mask with plastic windown showing her smile, and wearing a straw floppy hat.

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.

Time is money, and time is finite. At the same time, health is wealth. These are the different ideas I wrestle with whenever I think about how to travel to a location, as someone who cannot drive.

My family doctor’s clinic is located in a place that is accessible by public transit. At the same time, I’m aware of how long it takes to go there by walking. I’m very apprehensive about taking the bus right now because at this point in time, wearing masks is not mandatory, it is simply ‘highly recommended‘. I think, it is part of human nature, that if we can get away with NOT doing something, even if it is a small inconvenience, many of us tend not to do it. So what I did is walk the 45 minutes to get there and back. As the posters say, travel only when it’s essential. Might as well follow the advice.

Edmonton Transit Service Poster: COVID19 Update: Travel only if it's essentaial.

I’ve gotten so far as evaluating whether I’ll be capable or brave enough to consider biking to downtown. As I’m short and have a mediocre health levels, I always add 20% to the travel time that Google Maps recommend. If riding a bike takes 35 minutes, then for me it will be close to an hour, which is not bad. Is it worth the switch? But I think about my coworker who cycled to work who got hit by a car last December and was really badly hurt. That scares the daylights out of me. I don’t think I want another permanent dent on my skull. Falling of a mountain cliff and fracturing my skull once in my life is enough, thank you very much.

I heard perspectives that there will be frequent transit users that the system will lose due to COVID19. Unless the policy changes, I am one of them. Through my volunteering with the citizen-based volunteer government advisory board, the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, I expressed my thoughts as clearly as I can. The chair of our board sent an official message to the councilors about the matter. While the outcome is not what we hoped for, there is some comfort in knowing that we made deliberate effort working with the government system in place.

White LRT vehicle on an outdoor train station platform.

In addition to the health-related aspect of wearing a mask, there is a safety component that I need to be more conscious about. As a woman, an Asian woman who visibly looks like one, I am aware of the additional hostility that Asian people are subjected to due to the pandemic. Comments such as “you bring coronavirus in Canada!” or “you’re a dumb sheep for wearing that mask”, can be hurtful, and potentially dangerous if the person saying them is being physically aggressive. That is the reality of sexism, racism and just overall xenophobia. One can argue that it is internalized victim-blaming, but there is merit in doing some preventative measures to stay safe. If I get hurt or killed by a racist, sexist person, I won’t get to continue my goals of living a positive life for myself and the people around me.

So this is where I am. Until mask wearing is more normalized, I will likely steer away from taking transit as much as I can. I might even take an Uber more frequently, given their firm policy of ‘No Mask. No Ride’. It will be interesting to see how transit policy changes in preparation for the upcoming school year.

‘You Don’t Want Me To Be Driving” The Captive Transit User Series Part 4

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 in-laws love watching reality TV shows that have a bit of a competitive element to it. Survivor, The Amazing Race and Canada’s Worst Driver are just a few. The one that I’ll focus on in this post is Canada’s Worst Driver.

There are so many complaints I hear all the time about people driving aggressively. Those who are disregarding the rules of the road, or even those who apparently don’t “go with the norm” such as going over 10 km on a highway. Makes we wonder what speed limits are for, if the ‘norm’ is going just a little over it to not make other drivers upset.

What caught my attention closely when watching the show is not the drivers who over-speed or multitask such as putting makeup on while driving on 100k/ hr highways. It’s the nervous, anxious ones. The ones who were clearly shaking as they grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white as they exit a ramp onto the highway. The ones with tears streaming down their face, as a child on the car seat at the back tries to give comfort by saying ‘mummy please don’t cry’. The ones who need to speak to a family member over speakerphone for comfort during the entire drive, but be really stressed and rude, screaming and snapping at whoever is on the other end.

I feel more convinced that I am likely to become one of those people. I think it was one of the reasons that despite the nagging I got when I was living with my relatives, that I didn’t do anything beyond passing the learner’s test and then having the ID.

I was pretty young, but unfortunately, old enough to understand that driver error might have played the biggest factor in the accident that killed my family members and a bunch of other people. There is a heavy weight of responsibility and implications, that comes from holding the steering wheel of this fast-moving hunk of metal. And most likely, for me personally, a deep sense of fear.

Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why I feel more comfortable utilizing all the other options to be a passenger of a vehicle, and not be the driver of one.

With our city’s growing population, there are a few major demographics to consider when it comes to transportation and driving. Seniors, people with permanent disabilities who at some point, won’t be able to drive, and newcomers to Canada who would experience being a ‘captive user’ like me for a while. Those who cannot afford a car, who need to work low-paying survival jobs and won’t yet have the time and money to learn how to drive.

From my colleagues at the lunch table, friends who come to visit my home, and from observing my husband as a passenger, there are so many stressful stories about the issues whey encountered while on the road, either in their own cars, another car causing issues, or even as a pedestrian or cyclist that had to deal with cars. I have genuine fear of making these driving mistakes, even unintentionally, and causing great harm.

I heard that an anxious driver can be much more dangerous than an aggressive one. I believe it. And I’m positive I’m not the only one who would rather not drive, but might feel compelled to grudgingly do so if our transit system is too cumbersome. I’d really rather not do this, and I hope that those involved in providing transit services take this into consideration.

The city has an initiative called Vision Zero (https://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/traffic-safety.aspx) which talks about traffic safety. This is part of the reason why I’m not too objectionable to the idea of having bike lanes, and not just the painted ones on the road, the ones with actual cement island barrier things that separate the lane from the road. This is part of the reason I prefer traffic lights than crosswalks. This is part of the reason I think that the city is doing people a disservice when major roads are shoveled first but not the intersections where a neighbourhood road connects to a major road, resulting to pedestrians crossing the street on an ice rink.

I appreciate the big-picture perspective, and it’s important to not get discouraged on the details. It’s not just an issue with roads, or bike lanes, or trails, it is an issue on transportation.

“I’ll Make it on Time, I Think?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 3

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.

Volunteering and attending events take me to many parts of the city. Whenever people I chat with ask how I got there, and I say “public transit”, there’s a short flash of sympathy on their faces, followed by a slight grimace. One of the reasons is because they know and I know, how much time it takes to get around.

Taking transit, or at least using this method to get around, should never replace a car in terms of speed. I think that’s mindset flaw that many people have, particularly those who drive.

But I am not going to deny the fact that it does take a lot of time to get around places, while being optimistic that the connections that a transit user has to take actually work. Given the realities of travel, traffic, construction, and winter conditions cause a lot of delay. Missing connections cause stress and can discourage people from using public transit, or worse, grudgingly use it day in and day out, while making plans to get out of ‘feeling trapped’ as soon as possible, which is in the form of getting a car.

Frequency and convenience are two important factors that influence the appeal of taking transit.

Honestly, this is why I have mixed feelings with the Bus Network Redesign on a personal level.

First, the very micro-thinking, self-focused, part of me laments that I will lose the frequent bus stop that’s just a few steps away from my house. It’s so close, I shovel snow off the bus shelter during the winter, haha! I mean, the bus stop will not be removed altogether, it will be replaced by a less frequent, local bus route. The frequent major route is a 13 minute walk away.

Second, the solution-focused part of me is curious on how I would adjust to a 7 minute walk eastward, or a 13-minute walk northward to one of the several new, frequent bus routes. The 13- minute walk northward is a more familiar setup for me since I have done the same route on the weekends when taking certain buses. The idea of hopping on a bus that comes every 8 minutes is quite appealing. And since I’m an office worker who sits on my bottom most of the day, I suppose that a walk is actually a healthy thing to integrate in my daily routine.

Finally. the big-picture, community-oriented side of me is hopeful that once this new set of routes and schedules are implemented, there will be some hard evidence that will encourage the city to tweak things for the benefit of Edmontonians. Because I volunteer for our citizens -based government advisory board on public transit, I learned that revamping a city’s entire public transit network is something that many North American cities are going through right now.

The busy and fast paced way we are living our lives, pushes people to do things the quickest way. Traveling is one of those tasks that people don’t always have time or patience for. This is an important consideration when planning, changing, and implementing effective transit services.

“I Don’t Want To Be Raped Again” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 2

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:

My frame of mind for the longest time was, the most dangerous place to be is my own bedroom. This however, didn’t prevent me from associating darkness and public places with being at risk.

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.

When it comes to big picture thinking on social and political topics, this is a short list of a trauma-informed approach (the 4 R’s) that I compiled.

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  4. Resists re-traumatization 

I sincerely hope that government officials and service providers, especially with transit, would integrate this perspective in very clear and tangible ways more often.

The way the human psyche works, all it takes is one horrific and traumatic event to discourage someone from doing something, or to have a very negative association towards something.

That makes a lot of sense. If a person gets attacked in a specific LRT station, that person will likely try to not use it ever again, or if they don’t have a choice, to be more wary, stressed and anxious every time the use it. Certain bus routes apparently have a prominent reputation for having lots of disruption, where the likelihood of being harassed is a lot higher. Imagine being in an ongoing state of high alert and anxiousness on a regular basis?

As a high school student in a city in the Philippines, I always got told to go home way before sunset, because taking public transportation after dark is dangerous. As a relatively new resident of Edmonton back in 2008, I was also told to be careful when commuting in downtown because of the “sketchy people” that are around.

This is tough, because when I was hearing these messages, many of these people don’t know of my history of sexual assault. My frame of mind for the longest time was, the most dangerous place to be is my own bedroom. This however, didn’t prevent me from associating darkness and public places with being at risk.

When I got home from my office in downtown, sometimes I say to myself with a huge sigh of relief “Today is a good day! I didn’t get raped…or stabbed, or groped. Thank goodness!” There are numerous stories of harassment that I hear from fellow residents of Edmonton about unwanted attention while waiting for a transit vehicle, or while onboard one. Many people crafted strategies to minimize the likelihood of this happening, such as wearing headphones and staring blankly when someone is trying to strike up a conversation.

Many share the feeling that they are forced to be nice to not “set him off” and to avoid being an ‘active hostile target’ of harassment. There was that story of a woman speaking out when a man on a bus started making racist remarks to an Asian-Canadian person. There is two types of hostility in this instance, the one inflicted towards the Asian-Canadian person, and then towards the woman who called out the harasser.

Commuting late at night poses a additional set of challenges. There’s that heightened sense of panic when the bus is missed or the last route has passed. There’s a recent announcement that the city’s telephone service line, 311, is unavailable in the evenings after 7PM, which is a disservice to those who are more vulnerable in the evenings.

One time, I was stuck at the U of A South Campus because when I got off the LRT, the connecting bus I was planning to take just departed, and it is another half hour for the next bus since it is after 10 PM. I realized that instead of waiting completely alone, it is better for me to take the train back to the University of Alberta station and take a taxi there to get home. This is a good back-up plan assuming there is indeed a taxi waiting in the stall by the University Transit Station every time. And based on personal experience, that is not always the case. Spending extra time to re-route one’s travel to get home because of safety reasons is a bit counterintutive since the best scenario would be just getting home quicker, but for a transit user with limited money, this is a reality. A trade off between money and time, with safety being potentially compromised along the way.

Being blamed for an attack while taking transit really riles me up. It reminds me of the blame cast at me and that I internalized, and that many others have experienced as well.

Perhaps it is a very high standard, but this is my take on achieving a safe transit system: When an Edmontonian who previously had a horrific experience taking transit, then decides to take a chance and felt comfortable, safe and satisfied in their journey from point A to point B. I have some level of hope from what seems to be the city’s effort to incorporate GBA+ Analysis framework, and the availability of ways to make an impact such as city committees like the one I volunteer for. This is the threshold that ought to be met, and I do hope we get closer to getting to this, in a way that an average person will instinctively notice it.

My Financial Costs to Volunteering

The time and energy that it takes to volunteer in a meaningful way is something I anticipated and embraced. I mean, that’s the whole point. To receive little or no financial compensation for doing something that is interesting and helpful to the community at large. It gives opportunities to meet different types of people, learn information and perspectives that are not always available within one’s home or work environment, and have a fun time making a project or goal a reality.

However, there are two items that I didn’t quite expect, which turned into actual additional expenses. These are travel and food costs.

Overall, I’d say I have a decent grasp of my finances, where the dollars go, how much, and under which category. As I grow older and have reached a level of stability in my life, I’ve managed to aim a certain quality of life that I’m satisfied with, hit savings targets and enjoyed the process, and find ways to be savvy with expenses. That being said, as my list of volunteer activities grew, there are times that spending a bit more to travel around places or to have a quick bite is inevitable.

As a non-driver, public transit user, who attends meetings and activities outside of “regular” transit hours, the cost of ride hailing services do add up. I’d say 90% of my taxi, Tappcar and Uber trips are related to a volunteer or community service activity. Whenever possible, when heading to the location I try to take transit, and then only take a cab going back. However, traveling from downtown Edmonton where I work, to the very far edge of Edmonton farther west from Anthony Henday, it’s just not feasible. It’s a hefty car ride as well. Such trips would likely be $40 one way. I’ve done this a few times, and given my duties in this particular volunteer board, it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

For another board I volunteer for, the main office is on the south side across the river, around the Scona area. When the weather is good and I can leave the office from downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, taking a bus and walking for 20 minutes (if the weather is good and the sidewalks are not slippery) is feasible. Otherwise, it’s a $20 cab ride to get to the meeting. And then, since the meeting ends pretty late, no way can I take transit going home. Fellow board members had kindly offered a ride sometimes, for which I’m grateful for. However, when that is not an option, that’s another $20 minimum for another trip. One volunteer meeting, $40 expense, but I get a nice dinner, so there’s upsides and downsides for sure.

For one board I am a member of, our sub-committee meetings usually take place in restaurants. Typically it would be a bar in downtown Edmonton. Sometimes there would be two of these meetings in a month, and that’s where the expense can add up.

I was worried about this when my husband helped me put things in perspective by asking a simple question. “Is it within the budget?” Regardless of what prompted the expense, there is comfort in knowing that the expense is anticipated and that I do have the resources to allocate money for it. Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

I’ve managed to find a workaround to make sure this doesn’t break the bank too much. As far as eating out is concerned, I have given up on my “solo restaurant dates” that I’d have once a month. So, that’s one less restaurant meal I spend on. Whenever there is a meeting in a bar, depending on how hungry I am, I started ordering appetizers half of the time, instead of choosing an entree right away. A board member started teasing me and say “looks like you have a thing for poutine!” when he noticed that for several meetings in a row, I’d get the same thing: iced tea and a poutine.

Regarding travel costs, it looks like I spent $1,500 on cab rides last year and $1,100 in 2018. That jump is definitely directly correlated to the additional activities I’ve been attending. But I have zero car expenses because I don’t drive. This expense is the additional one I have on top of my bus pass. Thinking about how much people spend on their cars, helped me put this in perspective.

I realize that having to spend a few dollars in addition to sharing one’s time and energy while unpaid is too much for some. But I hope that for some who have a bit of financial flexibility, that it would manageable to give just a little bit more. And seriously, the conversations I have outside the actual meetings, when at the restaurant chatting while waiting for everyone else, or during the carpools after a long board meeting, they are just as meaningful as the actual volunteer activity we just had.

“Do You Want a Ride?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 1

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.

I try my best to take transit to where I go. Just like most adults, the most frequent type of commute I have is to go to work, and I take transit almost every day to do that. However, my extracurricular activities throw a wrench in this routine. Edmonton is indeed a big, wide city, and depending on how you contribute to the community, that can involve some additional travel.

When my activity’s location goes beyond downtown, or further south of Whyte Ave, I get into a bit of trouble. And frankly, I see the immense value in helping out at organizations and activities beyond the region of the city I am a part of. If the activity or meeting is planned ahead of time, it might be okay. If there is time between when I leave for work and when the event starts, I take the bus and/or the train. It’s usually for the going-home part that I get into a pickle. When it is 9:45 PM or later after a board meeting, or it is almost 4 AM after a casino volunteer shift, taking a bus is not an option.

After I got my newest volunteer position I was a teeny bit worried because this means I am likely to take a taxi three more times in a month. It is not cheap, but still much cheaper than driving. I feel lucky that as a couple, we communicate about money very openly. As I shared my concern, my husband asked “well, love, is it within the budget?“. He is referring to the budgeting system we both use, which allows both of us to plan targets on an annual basis. I said “yah, so far, yes.” Then he said, ‘well, then it’s all good!”

Now, I’m attending more board meetings at different places, evening workshops and town halls. The more I attend these events, I see familiar faces more repeatedly. There are more of them who know how I get around and it is not by driving my own car.

I realized that there is usually at least one person who offers a ride, which I find both awkward but also really nice. Whether it is a ride right to my home, or at the very least, the closest LRT station that would help me take the rest of my trip home. I’m starting to learn how to be gracious and NOT ashamed when someone offers a ride. A technique I have learned is to ensure that the request is not very cumbersome. So if I know it’s someone from my neighbourhood, then asking for a ride home from our casino volunteer shift at 4 AM is not demanding or imposing. If someone who, like me, came from a different part of the city, and I know they would have to drive through a major road with a transit centre, I would ask it I can tag along at least to the transit centre, and not beyond that.

An unexpected silver lining to this, is the one-on-one opportunity to speak to the person who participated in the same event as I do, and has kindly offered me a ride. It is quite known to many people that I don’t drive, and I comment (diplomatically most of the time) about the gaps in our transit system. I also realized that commenting about how we got to the venue prior to an event is a neutral topic for small talk. So while people are complaining about the traffic, bad drivers and potholes, I’d comment about the poor transit service and how costly it is to get there.

I can say that I learn a bit more about the event or activity on the ride home, than during the event itself. Perhaps because my introverted nature shines more during these conversations in the car.

During the one-on-one chat in the car, the driver and I would comment about the event, and any other related topics that come from the activity or organization we are a part of. I spoke to a fellow board member who drove me home one day about our involvement with the said board. With the fellow columnist for a local Filipino community newspaper, we exchanged stories about coming to Canada and our respective families in the Philippines. The one time an elected representative offered me a ride home after a town hall, we talked about political campaigns, the differences between the neighbourhoods in the constituency, and hostility on social media towards politicians.

What’s the back-up plan when it seems like there isn’t someone whom I feel comfortable asking for a ride? It’s not really a back-up plan, it’s more like “Plan A”! Calling for a taxi and apps like TappCar had made calling for a ride pretty convenient. Thanks to the budgeting skills I learned from my spouse, I am able to keep an eye out on my spending and make sure it doesn’t go out of control.

So, it is unlikely that I will get a car anytime soon, but there are certainly lots of improvements that can be done from a policy and infrastructure side to make sure that other modes of transportation are feasible and desirable for many people.