Public transit’s future begins ... this summer
Future public transit users are best trained early – now. Summer holidays for school-folk has just begun. This is a time when youngsters old enough to get around Aylmer by bus should be doing so. And they are, at least those who can afford it, but there’s the snag.
If the STO were serious about expanding the long-term viability of public transit, shouldn’t the STO’s strategy be to hook teenagers into using the bus system early enough that it seems natural. Plenty of Aylmer adults have never once taken a city bus. The same with teens. Yet this is the safest and most convenient method of getting around town for teens.
Teens already have reduced rates and some conveniences. For example, there are four methods of obtaining tickets, with pricing between $3.50 and $4.85 per ticket. But a day of roaming from houses of friends to parks and the beach means the cost of this independence eats up teens’ lunch money. Which family is putting aside $50/week for their kids to ride the bus during the summer?
If STO paid attention to the ability most teens have for purchasing tickets, STO’s planners would quickly realize that keeping the price too high for teens guarantees that these teens will not be bus-riders in the future.
Free-ranging teens may not be everyone’s idea of best-parenting, but their alternative becomes spending so much time on the couch that they get neck problems from looking at their phones. There is a window of only a year or two when teens have the freedom to dip their toes in the waters of mature responsibility before finding the employment that marks their permanent entrance into the adult world of debt, career advancement and other challenges.
Since we’re a suburb of Ottawa’s public service, many Aylmerites do take the city bus to work. Traffic congestion, plus scarce and expensive parking, makes driving ridiculous. One new public service building holds monthly lotteries to allocate parking spots – so the bus will always be needed. And it will remain expensive for taxpayers, who subsidize public transit, if ridership numbers don’t grow.
Offering free bus use to teens is one way to train the population away from car culture – and guarantees the future ridership needed by the STO. Because buses are packed to capacity in the early morning and after work, free passes could be limited to off-hours. Teens love rules, so they’ll make the system work for them. We all pay for the system, so for a smart plan for the future, don’t we need to invest in transit now – and not just in glamorous high-tech transit dreams?
Let’s teach those teen-brains now that they can live without personal cars – and they can still revel in their summer freedom without losing their lunch money.