Friday, March 02, 2007

A stormy ride on Viva

I know I wasn't alone in having a long commute home last night. Mine went something like this.

I decided in the morning that taking the bus/subway was the most sensible thing to do, given the coming snowstorm. Most of us left work early to start the trek home.

Viva, the local express bus system, has two kinds of buses. It has normal length buses, which I'll call the short buses, and articulated buses. There was a lot of hype about them, and they seem to deserve it. The seats are comfortable; they're easy to get on and off; a large display gives you the time and tells you what you should be buying. They were designed in Belgium.

According to the bus stop sign, an articulated bus was meant to arrive at the stop in 1 minute. It doesn't show up. I get picked up by a short bus after waiting about 15 minutes. It moves along Highway Seven, getting us all quickly to Yonge Street. At Yonge Street this bus turns south to head to the subway. Rounding the corner, we pass two articulated buses that are stranded on the ramp. Police are eyeing the buses, and I'm half expecting them to make a chalk outline if it would have shown up in the snow.

We pull onto Yonge and crawl underneath the 407. The traffic is heavy. We crawl. And crawl. It takes us about 30 minutes to go 400 metres. The bus is jam packed. While we're crawling, my neighbours and I are talking about European history. Yeah, right. We were talking about how slow we were going.

I start working out how far it is from the next stop to Finch Subway Station. I make a few errors and calculate that it's 3.5 km to 4 km away, which I declare is very walkable, and in fact if I jog, I would get to Finch Station in 40 minutes and beat the bus there. If I had GMap Pedometer handy, I would have seen that I was way off, and the real distance was 5 km. Not having a map, I figure I'll be a genius and start jogging.

I hop out of my short bus at the next stop and start running. Despite having listened to my reasoning, none of my fellow passengers decided to follow. It turns out, when a bus is going slowly because the street is covered in snow, it means the sidewalk is covered in snow too. Wearing a winter coat, back-pack, and my boot-like shoes doesn't really help me keep a good 10 minute-kilometre pace.

I leave my bus behind and run past an articulated bus that's sitting at a bus stop. I wave to the bus driver confidently to say I don't need to get on. He's stuck in traffic anyways. Casually jogging down a big valley leads to the somewhat predictable challenge of making my way up the other side of the valley. Traffic is opening up a bit here and I notice the articulated bus catching up to me. The short bus is still well back, so no problem. I still made the right decision.

At the top of the hill, the articulated bus passes me and the short bus catches up. I see that I can still reach the articulated bus up ahead at the stop, and if I get on it, I'll still have gained by getting on the earlier bus. I'm pretty much out of breath at this point, so I hop on the bus. This is probably the exact scenario that Viva imagined when they formulated their hop-on-hop-off-for-2-hours policy.

The bus goes about 100 metres at a good pace (faster than a jog), then it's back to a crawl. I'm too tired at this point to do anything about it, so I settle in. Just after the next bus stop I see two articulated buses at the bottom of the hill, empty and off to the side.

I figure the buses didn't make it up the hill, so this could be where I part ways with this bus. My driver was evidently thinking the same thing, so he let the short bus go past us and disappear into the mess of traffic. The next sentence covers about 30 minutes. We pass the two articulated buses.

Whew! We made it. Well I won't celebrate yet, since we're still going up hill. I see another bus up ahead stuck on the right side and another one in the middle of the road. I keep thinking that I'm going to see the short bus, but it appears to be long gone. All the buses I see are the articulated ones.

I must have had a very good driver, or a lucky one, because we make it up the hill, passing a total of 7 (seven!) other articulated buses on the way. We moved about 1 foot every 30 seconds, but eventually made it to the top. I clap for the driver and so does a guy sitting behind me. The two other passengers didn't seem interested. (There were 4 of us. I think everyone else in York Region has already learned to only ride on short buses when the weather is bad.)

We do well for a kilometre, then reach a red light on a tiny slope. The light turns green and we inch forward. Pedestrians are gawking at us. By the time the light turns red, we haven't even crossed the pedestrian walkway. We're all shocked that we're stuck on this slight slope, after our driver displayed such skill getting us up the big hill. Cars pass in front of us, and we keep spinning. The light turns green. We slowly work our way into the intersection. The light turns red while we're spanning both lanes. Pedestrians, eager to cross, look at us and aren't sure what to do. We're still inching forwards. Clearly confident we aren't going anywhere, they start to pass in front of us. A woman carrying her baby even walks in front of our bus with the engine revving.

More time passes and we make it to Finch Station, where I start an uneventful trip on the subway. My total travel time was about 2.5 hours instead of 45 minutes.


Darren J 3/02/2007 07:01:00 p.m.


I talked to a woman at the video store in Cabbagetown who said it took an hour and half by Carlton street car to get home from UofT (about 2.5 km).
Sounds painful. I'm guessing there wasn't a lot of room to stretch out the legs in there either.

I forgot to mention that I talked to a guy near Yonge and Lawrence who was pushing his bike from the grocery store. He said he had cycled from downtown and it took 2 hours. That's usually about 30-40 minutes by bike.
I was offered a lift by a guy at work who drives from north toronto to north oshawa each day. We left oshawa around 3:10 pm and I got to the Finch subway station about 6:50 pm. Nearly four hours.
From Finch the subway rocked and I was home in about 50 minutes, but all in all, it took me around 5 hours to get home that day. : (

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