Winnipeg Transit: Ahead of the Curve?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

With the largest segment of the Earth's population entering into it's senior years, I'm curious to see what's going to happen with the New York City Subway System. The only people who seem to use this underground transportational maze are those aged 16 to 50. It's rare to see any small children canoodling about, or any cane-wielding senior citizens milling around, engaging in strories about flea markets, or just fleas in general.

And it's not hard to see why. Subway stations, although nowhere near as dangerous or seedy as purportrated in popular culture (see Ghost), are humid dungeony places with little airflow, and are a tad on the glass half-empty on the supervision or security side. The trains move fast, wait for no one, and aren't accessble to those who rely on wheelchairs or assistance walkers. If you need directions, good luck. These massive cars seem to drive themselves. Maps are hard to come by, and the MTA staff are some of the cheekiest people I've ever come across.

That said, the system is brilliant, and can get you anywhere in New York within minutes, all for about $2.25. That a system built on efficiency and mass mobility caters to only a select and shirking segment of the population is interesting. That no one seems to care (ie, the seniors) is even more interesting.  

Riding the bus in Winnipeg somewhat off-and-on for the last 15 years, I can tell you that NYC-style transit would never fly here. There would be sit-ins and demonstrations in front of city hall. Mickey Rooney would be there giving fiery, fist-wielding speeches. Canada's top-tiered ranking as a peaceful and progressive nation would recede faster than Jeremy Piven's hair line.

The next time you get on a bus, take extra notice to the first 10 seconds. You'll probably hear the hissing sounds of the bus' hydraulic system, bowing to meet the demands of those who need a little extra help getting off and on. You'll see the front row of seats to your right and left occupied with silver-haired foxes. Or, maybe the seats won't be there at all. Instead, a cranky, on-the-verge-of-throwing-a-monumental-trantrum child will sit strapped into a stroller, backed by a parent or guardian.

Did the CEO of Winnipeg Transit (a fictional character, btw) pick up a copy of Boom, Bust, and Echo in 1998, and heed all of its advice? If you haven't read the book, a) you should, and b) it stresses the importance of catering services and businesses to the needs of seniors, for they represent --and will for the foreseeable future-- the largest part of the globe's population.

With over 18 million people in NYC, and a mere 700,000 here on a good day, the question begs to be asked: Where are NYC's seniors, and how do they get around? Do they get around? Do they stay in and watch reruns of Golden Girls all day? The Price is Right maybe? (probably not since Drew "I haven't been funny or relevant in a decade" Carey took over). Are they plotting schemes? Who knows. They certainly aren't driving. And I don't mean that in an apathetic way: NYC is no place for even the most seasoned of drivers to be cruising in.

Maybe it's just the nature of Subway versus Bus. Maybe it's not. It just seems for all the gruff Winnipeg Transit gets for their slow service and inconvenient routing, they're ahead of the curve in providing thoughtful and compassionate service to people who deserve it most.
***UPDATE 08/20/11***

On second thought, it might be somewhat unfair and inappropriate to compare a subway system to a bus operated transit system (well, really, its not. It's still all about the accessibility of a mass public transit system. But someone, who's name I shall withhold, thought that it's like comparing apples to oranges.)

I didn't take the bus in NYC, and from what I remember, neither did a lot of other people. They weren't the style of bus we have here, you know the ones that could double as Dr. Dre's low rider from the iconic Still DRE video. They're ones with the 3 to 4 step walk to get into.

If anyone does have an New York City BUS story they'd like to share, drop a line.


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