I drove to Hamilton a couple times this weekend for a hockey tournament with my old Hamilton buddy Paul. During my visit in Hamilton I reflected on how much I’ve changed in the 5 years since I moved away from that city.
Like many people I grew up with, we were raised as “car people”. We relied so much on our cars that it was like the world was ending if you were without a car. You’d have to ask a buddy to pick you up to take you wherever you needed to go, or else you were stuck at home. A neighbour of mine growing up used to ride his bicycle 5KM to work every day when the weather was nice. Everyone in the town thought he was a bit nutty for doing that, but I think deep down I thought it was cool. I mean what the hell; it was a beautiful bike ride on the bike trail along the Welland Canal; why on earth wouldn’t you do it? Now that I look back on it, 5KM is nothing. It’s only a 15-20 minute bike ride. But we would rationalize using the car by saying “why would I ride my bike 15 minutes when I can get there in my car in 5 minutes”.
I rode my bike a lot as my primary means of transportation before getting my license when I was 16, but after that it was all about the car. It’s quite sad; but when I lived in Hamilton, I lived a mere 20 minute walk from my college campus. I actually paid $250 per semester to park my car in the school parking lot instead of walking the 20 minutes or riding my bike 5 minutes. I look back on it and think shame on myself. I relied so much on the car that even a 5 minute walk seemed like a hassle. It’s incredible to think that I was so dependent on my automobile, and I’m not the only one.
Nowadays, Southern Ontario is becoming very populated. People’s mentality needs to change if everyone is going to share the same roads. There simply isn’t enough space for everyone to be driving a car. Back home when I was growing up everyone in the house had their own car; but we won’t have this luxury forever. It’s hard to change people’s routine when they rely so much on their automobile. Driving a car is freedom for most people. But I can tell you from my experiences of driving this weekend to Hamilton for this hockey tournament that it’s becoming more and more of a hassle to drive every year as more people immigrate to Ontario.
According to the latest Census, the population in Ontario has increased from 11.4 million in 2001 to almost 12.2 million in 2006. I strongly believe in high taxes on gasoline in urban centres to fund public transit. What some people don’t realize in Toronto is the impact that public transit has on the city. GO Transit carries 49 million passengers a year on its network of trains to downtown Toronto. GO Transit mentions in its Annual report that the number of cars driving to downtown Toronto hasn’t changed much since it started operations in 1967, but GO Transit’s ridership has increased from 2.5 million per year in 1967 to 49 million a year now. This service is vital to Toronto’s economic growth. (It also contributes to Suburban sprawl which I strongly oppose, but that is a different topic for a future article). The Toronto Transit Commission’s bus, streetcar and subway system carried 431 million passengers in 2005. According to a TTC article from 2003, 80% of TTC passengers have access to a car. Toronto also has approximately 1 million regular cyclist commuters as well helping reduce traffic congestion.
Do these numbers tell you something? Could you imagine everyone who currently takes public transit driving into the city at once? There isn’t a road wide enough to support this many cars. Public transit is vital and deserves the proper amount of funding from all levels of government. People are going to need to change their current way of thinking. I never understood the drivers who would get pissed off at cyclists when the cyclists really are doing the drivers a favour.
I challenge all you regular drivers out there to give up your car for a week.