HELSTON: How I fared for a day without a car

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.

There are many things we neglect to do in our own hometowns, and for me, one of those things was riding the bus.

Before this week, I had never used Vernon’s public transit system. So, after a recent trip to Vancouver in which I relied on buses and skytrains, I decided it was time to see what our own town had to offer in the way of public transportation.

I got my chance earlier this week thanks to a car appointment. With my vehicle in the shop for the day, I bid farewell to my keys, made sure I had some pocket change and set off on foot to the nearest bus stop. It was a busy day on the reporter beat with both a news conference and city council meeting to attend in different areas of the city, so it would be a true test to see if public transport could meet my needs.

A brisk ten minute walk brought me to the bus stop about 15 minutes early. I calculated in my head: I could wait, but I could probably walk to my destination just as fast. Impatient, I realized it wasn’t really that far, and continued on foot. My first bus ride would have to wait.

I got to the press conference on time, and managed to catch a ride with a fellow reporter to my next destination, City Hall. Another cop-out, you might say. But it was more convenient than waiting for the bus (which was coming in about ten minutes).

Finally, around 5 p.m., I showed up at the transit terminus downtown and hunkered under a bus shelter. It was dark, and beginning to snow. My mind drifted to heated car seats and the comfort of the radio.

Shortly after I arrived, two young women joined me under the shelter. Friends, sisters maybe, they huddled close together and began singing softly. A mixture of people young and old, some toting shopping bags, others textbooks or children, waited under lamplight for different busses at the transit loop. Vernon has eight bus routes, and they all converge at the downtown exchange.

My bus came a few minutes early, releasing a welcome rush of warm air as its doors opened. The small handful of us waiting hopped on gladly and took seats on the empty bus.

Rarely the passenger, I was happy to gaze out at city streets I rarely drive. The bus stopped a few times to pick people up, but there was never more than half a dozen riders — quite a contrast to the crammed Vancouver buses.

I got off near the mall and began the roughly 10-minute trek back to the mechanic’s shop. The bus ride hadn’t been extremely exciting, but it got the job done. It picked me up on time, and delivered me close to where I needed to be.

As I approached my destination, I saw a bus pull over just ahead and halt at a marked stop practically right in front of the tire shop. It was the same bus I had just been on, and had apparently gotten off several stops too soon. I waved with embarrassment at the confused bus driver as she continued on. I guess I thought it was just too good to be true for a Vernon bus to drop me off within steps of where I needed to be. In my impatience to get going, I hadn’t given it much of a chance.

At points throughout the day, I walked and caught a ride when I could have waited for the bus, but when I really needed it, that big lug of a vehicle was there for me with its ugly, yet comfy seats. In fact, it was there for me in places I least expected it.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724. 

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