En transit

Since I board the Skytrain at Burrard, I’m one of the lucky few to get a seat during rush hour. Feeling somewhat indecisive, I scroll carefully through my iPod, struggling to find something earsome. I feel the passenger next to me nudge me deliberately, and I turn to face him, expecting to see some former high school classmate I had failed to notice when I sat down. Instead, a man with an entirely unfamiliar face says: “I think you want to listen to Refused right now.”

We break into a brief banter about my music selection, culminating in his apology for peering at my iPod screen. Awkwardly, I select In Rainbows (upon his suggestion) and face determinedly forward. At this point, it occurs to me that I am literally trapped on all sides by people. Someone’s bum is directly in front of my face, and I’m sandwiched on both sides with my back against the window. I spend the rest of the ride staring at my hands, attempting to avoid further awkward contact with the music-creeping stranger.

Vancouver’s buses and  Skytrains are well designed, compared to their previous versions. Each new fleet increases capacity while trying to maximize the number of seats, according to Translink Fleet Manager Dave Leicester, while remaining equally or more spacious. Additionally, the latest set of seat coverings are perhaps the most comfortable and practical ever installed on buses.. The same is true of the more rider-friendly trains added when the Canada Line opened, with their helpful LED displays and on-board light-up maps. 

However, despite the massive bus windows that help to prevent us from feeling too trapped inside the bus, the view can be difficult to appreciate when one feels physically penned in by the hoardes of other riders. Particularly during rush-hour on the Skytrain, there is  no way to subdue the feeling of being attacked from all sides. The middle bank of seats on the older Skytrains face each other, meaning that most riders see only people, wall-to-wall, on their commute home. Thankfully, this problem has been remedied in more recent models of both buses and Skytrains, due to customer satisfaction surveys indicating displeasure with this design.

However, not all developments have been positive across the board. According to Leicester, the solution to the sideways facing seats was to install banks of quad seats on the new Nova buses. The design, which Leicester notes is common on European buses, seems to make conceptual sense for rowdy groups of teenagers, or for transporting groups of friends going out in the evenings. However, for the average commuter traveling on his or her own, it is simply awkward to be placed directly across from a perfect stranger at 7:30 in the morning.

Since the addition of the original quad seats on the 2007 fleet of Nova buses, a new version of this design has emerged where the seats are placed even closer together. Recently, I spent an entire 45-minute morning bus ride with my legs squished awkwardly against the wall to avoid touching knees with the girl across from me - who, by the way, was snuggling with her boyfriend. I limped to class that morning, trying to walk off my leg cramp that reinforced why no one should have to start their morning in that situation.

As Vancouverites, Canadians, and, according to a Cornell study, simply as humans, we are unaccustomed and unwilling to share our personal space. The population density in Vancouver is incredibly low for a city that some would consider world-class, and the population density of Canada is among the lowest of any country in the world, meaning we are used to having room to stretch out, and little need for unnecessary conversation with strangers. The city of Sydney, Australia appears to have addressed this issue through the presence of flippable seats, which allow riders to face either forward or backwards at their will.

For countless reasons including health, well-being, and the environment, it's important that Vancouver is able to encourage its citizens to use public transit. For many students who go to Capilano, even those who live in North Vancouver, it takes twice as long (or longer) to take the bus than it does to drive. We do it to save money, because we have a U-Pass (or no access to a car), and, in some cases, just because we care about the environment. However, for the average citizen, transit is often an uncomfortable inconvenience, and that inconvenience should be diminished in any way feasible, otherwise ridership numbers may be threatened.

//Natalie Corbo

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