Category Archives: Public Transit

Green Play

(HALIFAX – Memory Lane) – I don’t remember a great deal about the morning commutes. Perhaps the single parent, pre-schooler, bustle and hustle, getting up and dressed then breakfasted followed by the out the door skedaddle to catch the bus wasn’t wholly conducive to nurturing deep-rooted memories.

The afternoon pick up at daycare was different though. It was good to be reunited at the unwhirling end of the day. Time seemed more expansive, leisurely, almost langurous as my daughter and I made our way hand in hand to the bus stop.

We were regulars on our route, transit riders by necessity. Other than a short-lived, hand-me-down ’66 Beaumont Acadian I received as a gift at 17, cars were not part of my reality. Articulated buses were in high rotation on this route. Whenever one pulled up to the curb, we couldn’t wait to get on. We’re talking a mobile affordance par excellence.

Accordion streetcar – Edinburgh, Scotland

Midway down the bus was the pleated accordion section. There were no seats here. On the floor was a large circular steel plate. We positioned ourselves just inside the perimeter. As the bus swung through a 90 degree corner with the circle rotating, the accordion expanded on one side as it contracted on the other.

We loved to ride that circle. Sometimes we managed to keep our balance standing up through two full quadrants. If the bus was moving too fast we held on tight to the shiny vertical poles reflecting stretch versions of ourselves. On straightaways the accordion section’s suppleness made for big, almost bowl us over bumps. It was the cheapest theme park ride in town and one that never seemed to get old.

On days that the force wasn’t with us and we were relegated to an accordion-less bus ride we’d go into Plan B mode. Scrinched up in the seat next to the door where people entered to pay their fares, we would settle in for storytime. We had favourites including The Paper Bag Princess, The Wheels on the Bus, Badger’s Parting Gifts and The Giving Tree.

In public view we created a space that was both private and shared. Some of our fellow passengers we knew by sight. Those who were attuned to our ritual seemed as appreciative of the stories as we were. The analog readings required no external energy source unlike today’s portable devices.

Many, many years after those daily commutes home, I thought of our  adventurous, mildly risky rides and wrote round and round. They were fine moments of bonding, laughter and the occasional tumble. We were creators of public transit fueled unintentional green play.

round and round

got a gentle squeeze
on the accordion bus
pumped up and down
memory lane

in one bending corner
shrinking and stretching
in one breath of moment
i was laughing right next to you

you danced the floating circle
small fingers extended
my paper bag princess
taming a bucking urban dragon

got a gentle squeeze
on the accordion bus
a little girl you were
in one breath of be

I love the gentle squeeze of memory. After more than 25 years, it is probable this particular rear view mirror has a rosy rose tinge to it. To this day, I still get a lift when I’m riding the accordion bus’ spinning circle.

 

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round or Do They?

Years ago – how quickly a decade zips by – the kids and I explored playgrounds in the east, west, north and south of our Halifax, Canada home. Nestled on the shores of a big harbour by the sea, Noah, Nellie and Lila, after she mastered the two legs scamper, sashayed, hurtled and laughed their way through 50 or more playgrounds over the course of a couple of years.

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Without exception they were eagerly anticipated, joyous expeditions. Of course there was a meltdown here and there – sometimes papa, sometimes one or more of the kids. There was plenty of stretching limits, risking, reaching, jumping, grabbing, rolling and rocking – new accomplishments, fancy tricks, the occasional disappointment, or wipe out.

On this particular day spontaneity rippled across the weekend schoolyard. A springrider larger than any we had seen became a kid collective fun zone. No planning, no asking, no inviting – it just happened, a ticket to now. Magic Bus seemed to be the no brainer sound bed for enthralled kids clearly immersed in the journey. Noah nailed the happy-go lucky driver groove. Just watch….

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Long gone now are the Wheels on the Bus days, the rush to find the best seat for kneeling, peering out and making face squish prints on the windows. I so remember the kids doing the transit scramble on those early thrill rides. And don’t get me reminiscing about the unbridled rush of the accordion buses bending this way and that in their reticulated glory as we readied ourselves for the impromptu bounce and weave two step…

From my own childhood I still see the hazy top levels of double deckers cutting through the Clydeside dark. All smokers upstairs – hot ends glowing, smoke clouds wafting, curling – an indelible memory burn from nearly 60 years ago. A belated thanks Mom for indulging me and taking me topside. I’d scramble to the very front seat perched over the unseen driver in his cabin below – the big windshield like a picture window, a panorama show, the best view in town, up high looking down.

These days our three kids spend way too much time on school buses – on average a couple of hours each per day. The shine has worn off. For the youngest there are still shenanigans and quality socializing. Spotify is the high school commute solace for the two older kids – all hail earpods!

But what about transit and kids? At the school level, I’m not aware of any jurisdictions in our province that consult with children on routes, on alternative transportation, or on transportation policies for students. Readers, if you know of any enlightened examples please share….

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As for public transit systems and kids, that’s another story. Generally speaking there is lots to be done, plenty of room for improvement. Children are tomorrow’s riders. Now is the time to engage them, to win them over to a greener choice. What age should kids be able to ride without adult accompaniment, go solo and expand their horizons and mobility?

Here in Halifax, a pilot project provides free bus passes to students in four high schools. Our two oldest, neither of whom have a driver’s license, are benefitting from the program and enjoy the freedom of movement the passes afford them. It’s a start….

Will those wheels keep going round and round? Not without advocacy, not without pressing local governments and transit and education authorities to implement policy changes to benefit children and students. Remember the cause célèbre of Vancouver father of five, Adrian Crook? Nearly three years later he prevailed. In the interim, writer Rob Thomas rolled up this smorgasbörd of fare charges for kids in Canada.

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Then there is the quintessential North American young adult rite of passage – the driver’s license. What awareness programs are out there to put the brakes on a new generation of gas guzzlers? Are driver education ‘schools’ providing context about the demise of the internal combustion engine and the need to shift and adapt to new transportation norms? Are transit authorities developing persuasive advertising for the soon-to-be new driver set? Our oldest is just about ready to gear up and get behind the wheel. He’s raring to go. Will transit just be a receding memory in his rear view mirror?

Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers – safe travels.