114 – Ninety-Five Percent

201102_14_02 - Almost Complete

201102_16_01 - Northern Telecom

201102_16_02 - Traffic

201102_18_01 - Alley

Three of these four pictures were taken waiting at bus stops. The last one was taken walking to a bus stop where I had to wait.

I’m not happy that my local bus is on the list being considered to be downgraded from a regular black route to a red peak period route, going from available morning to night everyday to rush hour-only route for school kids at 8 and 3.

The city has the idea that they can ave money by taking the 98.6% of Ottawa that live within 5 minutes of a bus stop and shrinking it to 95% within 5 minutes… some of the time [article]! It’s bad enough that I have to wait so long at night between connections, but at least there is a connection. It doesn’t make any sense to make it hard for people to get home, especially at night. Aren’t buses supposed to be an alternative to keep people from driving after drinking? How about the parents who can’t always pick up their kids after going out with friends? Or all the older people who need buses to kneel for them? Can they walk an easy 20 minutes (because they tend to be slower than an average walker) in the rain or snow or humidity?

You want to hit a high ridership percentage, then the system has to be usable. If you want to increase (or maintain) ridership, you need to keep local buses accessible.

The public transportation system and ridership are always stuck in this cyclical chicken-egg pattern. But in order to save costs, you cut service, which cuts ridership – which in turn means less revenue, leading to more cuts. And what gets cut? The least profitable routes, which coincidentally are the routes that help make those bigger more profitable rapid-transit routes the successes that they are.

You need to save money, start at the top. Curb the overspending there. I’ve heard nothing but terrible things about OC Transpo management for years, and clearly this scheduling system isn’t working the way it was meant to on paper. You want to reduce inefficiencies to save a few pennies, then redesign the whole system! Keep to running the local buses more frequently (drivers get paid the same, regardless of where they end up) into hubs where other buses will take us riders where we want to go, quickly. Merge local routes at night if you have to, but don’t kill them altogether. Will Samuel, a fellow Ottawan that I started following during the last municipal election, has a great read here.

Spend a couple hundred million and get us light rail that can hold way more riders to the city’s biggest destinations! Where’s the fast, reliable way to go from downtown to Scotiabank Place, and all the stops in between? Building a tunnel where we don’t really need one doesn’t help either.

I would gladly spend over $100 on a monthly pass (we’re almost there now anyway; Toronto riders spend less than $130/mo for a system that, in my experience, works very quickly, but that’s another story) that saves me 20 or 30 minutes a day. Rail could do that. Frequent local buses could do that. Making me walk more and wait more won’t.

You want to give OC Transpo a facelift? You don’t need crazy fancy rebranding – OC Transpo is probably one of the top 5 known local brands. Concentrate on making buses a social experience. When people think buses, they think of dirty transports that rarely come on time and are crammed with strangers. Really, it’s a great way to find time daily to be with friends and neighbours on the way to work or play. Make it easy for riders to bring friends and family with them!

OC Transpo needs to change at a fundamental level, and it’s going to cost money, whether that’s new buses (I’m looking at you, double decker), rail, more drivers, redesigning routes, and or a new paint job on the brand. Spend the time and energy and money now to take OC Transpo to the next level… or a new level. Focus on increasing revenue through more stronger ridership. In return, can we just have an accessible system that just works for us all?

112 – How Did Shopping Carts Get Up There?

201102_11_02 - Next Stop: Carleton

201102_11_03 - 501 Heron

201102_11_04b - Bronson / Airport PKWY Overpass

201102_12_01i - Shopping Atop a Mountain

There’s so much waiting done each and every day. It’s so easy to become annoyed and pace while waiting for the waiting to end. I do most of my waiting at bus stops (and increasingly, O-Train stops), and for a while, I took a fair number of pictures for those 5- or 12- or 30-minute waits. Then DS games, books, and eventually the iPhone got in the way, demanding my full attention not only at stops, but for the whole commute. Yet lately, a sudden reversal. Perhaps I should apologize now!

Speaking of iPhone, the Google Translate app is available, free, and pretty much the most amazing tool ever. Just speak into it, and it can speak your phrase back in another language! Hoshi Sato might even be impressed. I want to go to a non-English-speaking area and see if I can really get by using it to communicate. Would anyone like to take a trip to India, China, or Mexico? In fact, Google if you’re listening, I would blog and Youtube the whole experience!

Photos: I love the view of the O-Train heading North from Confederation Station. If I were more daring, I would jump down onto the track after it departs to get a better shot. There’s only a few seconds before the train is too far away!

Also, on my way home tonight, I noticed that, somehow, a couple of shopping carts have ended up atop a parking lot snow mountain. Alas, I didn’t have my camera, but the iPhone worked to prove the insanity of such a discovery. I hope Loblaws isn’t missing their carts…

095 – A Tale of Two Buses

There’s this one space near my house where I can hear if a bus is coming, but I can’t see it. And when I hear a bus, I better be running, because to make it to the bus stop, I need to cross a fairly busy road.

Yesterday, I was in just that predicament. And I ran. World record running. I could have bested a Jamaican sprinter. Granted, that sprinter is probably 73, had one too many rum and cokes, and is missing a toe due to an unfortunate fishing incident… but still, pretty fast. And the bus stopped! Good thing there is someone getting on at that stop, embarking on an adventure that very well might have changed his life.

I zip across one side of the northbound lanes, which thanks to a light that just changed a couple hundred metres away, has zero traffic. As I reach the island, the southbound traffic in both lanes actually stop for me just so that I can make it to the bus. If Ottawa drivers get a bad rap, certainly the rap-givers never saw that sight!

Just as I run right behind the bus and start to head for the door, I hear that all familiar engine churn. “he can’t be serious!” Slowly, but just fast enough, he takes off. Those cars that stopped for me star honking to no avail. Seconds later, the bus, now in the far turning lane, stops at the red light – the one that allowed me to cross the street in the first place, where he waits over a minute before he can turn.

Waiting 4 seconds for me to board would have made no difference. Especially when he was already three minutes early.

If that wasn’t enough, the bus I used to get home from work was eight minutes late arriving at the stop, the one just after the start of a route. Usually at night, the driver will leave a few minutes late just because there are few stops made, but not eight minutes.

OC Transpo claims that their “on time” percentage, the number of buses that are not early, but no more than five minutes late, is a whopping 58%. Their goal is to have 90% on time service. I’m not sure about the frequent buses I used to get between school and work, but certainly I would consider today to be a poor day for bus service. They really need to start using time points use synchronized onbaord clocks, set up more time points, and watch mirrors for people who are running! Especially if that same mysterious “they” want to justify the second (and a whopping one at that) fare increase in a year, both off the heels of the cold, cold winter ’09 bus strike. Yep, I’m still displeased about that one.

Of course, I’ve had wonderful experiences. There are some remarkable drivers out there that go out of their way to just be nice to us poor public traniters… some even on those routes that I use all the time. I just didn’t get them yesterday. Those are the drivers that should be coaching everyone else.

And on a completely unrelated note, here’s why you don’t give kids markers when they ask for them in your store (that doesn’t sell markers). Especially not permanent ones:

201003_08_01 - Why not to give markers to kids

No, I didn’t give the marker.

092 – OC Transpo Strike Started a Year Ago

200912_09_02 - Mailman

200912_09_03 - Blizzard

200912_09_04 - Crow

200911_22_01 - Wall-E CakeAlign Center

So the OC Transpo strike started a year ago. And looking back at it all, I still have these annoyed feelings about the fact that it happened, and they didn’t really get anywhere, since the reason for it ending was originally on the table as a way to prevent it. And lately, I’ve been getting more and more annoyed with the service. I actually called and made a complaint about an issue, but that doesn’t go far enough. Maybe I’ll write them a letter old-person-style, stamps and all.

That first day of the strike wasn’t unlike today – blizzardy. It felt like the first true day of winter – just in time for the Christmas season too! And only 9 more days until I’m done school for the year. Then a bit longer.

Then what? I do have some ideas, some of which (unfortunately) involve even more school. We’ll see what grows to fruition.

Speaking of school, here’s a sequence I worked on with my teammates for one of our final projects:

200911_26_01 - Gilette Man

200911_26_02 - Gillette Man Hand

200911_26_03 - Gillette Man Photoshop

Dave, our model, is part of an ad campaign for Gillette’s line of hair care products. We got a picture of him holding the bottle. While this was a start, it lacked what experts call “oomph”. To fix this, I took a close-up picture of his hand holding the bottle, and with some Photoshop magic, made his picture come to life. Maybe I’ll showcase all the ads next time.

And yes, I had a Wall-E cake for my birthday.

090 – OC Transpo gives me a headache

200907_05_08 - Wake

200907_05_11 - Fondue Fountain

200907_25_01 - LEGO Boat

200907_25_08 - Princess-Robber

200909_07_02 - Crepe and French Toast

200909_29_05 - NewCap Radio

The conference room at NewCap radio, home of Hot899 and LiVE885, have very comfy chairs.I was there yesterday with my fellow group work team for a school project. It was a wonderful experience… I secretly wanted to see the actual offices and recording areas, though, possibly to make funny faces at John Moran while he’s on the air. Or, you know, not.

I finally backed up my Disney photos to a dvd, so that I could finally delete them off my memory cards. I didn’t want to risk losing them to technological snafus, even thought they are on two different hard drives. I did have a hard drive die on me, after all. But I bet losing all those pictures would give me a great reason to head back! Supposedly, Halloween is pretty fun ’round those parts, and then the next day, like magic, it’s Christmas.

The other pictures, above, are various ones from the summer. Yes, I finally had breakfast at Cora’s! It was quite delicious, and so big that it was worth my while to take the rest home.

Now I’m craving pancakes.

I read three OC Transpo-related articles today: One, Two, Three. I can’t believe that deep into all these transit plans (that I personally think are taking far too long), the city never really got any formal approval from the NCC to expand on their land, especially given that the next leg of the transitway to be built kinda needs it. And the new bit that just opened to help save time and traffic actually uses up more time? Makes sense to me! And there won’t be a Quickie at the new Baseline station. Silliness.

This city is so ineffective at getting anything done it scare me. Maybe everyone should go and learn how to make a plan and do research. I guess they should be in my classes!

075 – Crisis Averted

200904_17_01 - BEN obtains CAMERA!

200903_28_k01 - Parking Lot

200903_28_k02 - Modern Wine

200904_05_k01 - Evil Laurier

200904_16_k02 - Dining Buddies

200904_16_k04 - Looking Good

I had a presentation on April 1, and I brought my camera with me, thinking that I would record it for later playback. Just as it was my turn to go up, I chickened out of such a plan (ended up doing very well on my presentation… perhaps I should have but oh well), and after the presentations were all done, I came home. Over a week later, I go looking for my camera. It’s not in my room, its not on the main floor… it’s not under my bed (few things end up there, my skates being one of them). Is it at Prashanta’s? Nope. Does Prabin have it? Nope. Is it at work? Nope. Mary’s? Nah. Where could it have gone? I’m scratching my head, before I reluctantly admit that perhaps I lost it. I asked my teacher about it, and who teaches in that room next. This leads to a dead end, though with sympathies – nobody likes to hear a camera has gone missing. Because of the long weekend, OC Transpo lost and found isn’t too easy to get hold of.

Do I really need to buy a new camera 2 weeks before going on a trip?

What kind of camera would I buy? A cheap n easy point and shoot to tide me over? A fancy high end point and shoot like I have now? Plan for the future and go DSLR? Would I even have time to learn a new camera?

I try OC’s lost and found one more time:

Ben: Hi. I lost a camera about two weeks ago. I just checking to see if maybe it ended up with you guys.
L&F: Lemme check *hold*

As I wait, I know the next minutes will reveal to me my future. Whether I get my camera back, or whether someone is enjoying it somewhere and I need to go shopping.

L&F: Can you describe your camera? What make is it?
Ben: It’s a pretty big one, Panasonic Lumix.
L&F: *hold*

Now my heart is pounding.

L&F: Is there any distinguishing features about it?
Ben: It’s in a Lowepre case. I think the memory card is empty… The case has a Wall-E Pin on it.
L&F: What’s a wallapin?
Ben: It’s a pin. Of Wall-E. From Disney-Pixar’s movie? Cute robot? Yellow. Has a pet cockroach…
L&F: Haha, I think I missed that one
Ben: It’s an awesome movie. You should see it.
L&F: *hold*

Everyone should see Wall-E. And yes, I actually said “Disney-Pixar”.

L&F: We have your camera here!

*heart skips beat*

Oddly I was slightly disappointed because I was warming up to the idea of going SLR shopping. But It’d rather have money for Disney. And I love my camera. And was excited to have it back. At my earliest convenience, I went all the way downtown and picked it up. Just as I left it, though more loved. I’d sleep with it under my pillow if it weren’t so big and lumpy.

As celebration for not having to buy a new camera, I bought Rhythm Heaven for the Nintendo DS. It’s so much fun. I’m so happy that Nintendo let this one be its own game and didn’t shoehorn it into a WarioWare game with comical uses of Starfox and Mario and Zelda for the minigames. It’s perfect as-is. It’s also very old school arcade-like in the twitch-perfect mechanic you need to use to get high scores. My only disappointment with it is how long it took to come stateside.

Pictures: Me and my camera, finally reuinited (and a dusty mirror), Bayshore parking lot, wine Prashanta, Prabin, and I had a while ago (why I got to thinking my camera might have been there, but then remembered it was before my presentation), Evil Laurier, Shawn and Krystal, guiro lizards hook up after a mating call (yes, rhythm heaven is pretty random).

065 – March Bus Pass Get!

To get from my house to Disneyworld, it would cost approximately $3920 by taxi.

2008_11_25_k01 - Mini Snowman
Snowman from one of the first real snowfalls in Ottawa.

2008_11_28_k02 - Christmas Tree
The Christmas tree at the Train Station on that crazy day when Prashanta and I got robbed, lost, parking-ticketed, and caught trying to sell a train ticket.

2008_11_28_k07 - Victory!
It was around this time when the car got broken in to. We’re none the wiser!

2008_12_10_k01 - Wall-E Paddleball
A Wall-E Paddle ball! I forgot this one in my recent Wall-E post.

2008_12_10_k02 - Mega Snow Storm
Deep Snow as the buses go on strike.

2009_01_16_k01 - Milkshakers
Milkshakes at The Works.

2009_01_17_k01 - Chips
Poker Chips. I won that game.

2009_01_26_k01 - Rotunda
Algonquin.

2009_02_04_k01 - Abandonned Baseline Station
Buses are still not running, so there’s nobody at the station.

2009_02_07_k02 - Riding a Bus for the First Time in 61 Days
First day back for buses!

2009_02_13_k01 - Motion Blur
Spinning around in a chair, getting ready for Disney rides.

2009_02_15_k01 - EVE Lightchaser
Cousin Maya playing with Eve.

2009_02_19_k02 - Umbrella
My ideal umbrella.

2009_02_21_k01 - Hearts in the Toilet
Hearts in the toilet. No, this isn’t commentary on love. Sometimes, little hearts just end up in the toilet.

2009_02_21_k02 - Pinot Grigio
The wine I tried the other day.

2009_02_22_k01 - Strawberry Pancakes
Strawberry Pancakes.

I got my March bus pass today, at a cost to me of $25.00, instead of the usual $62 n change. $62 is a ton of money now that I think about it – and that’s just for students! The woman who served me at the Lincoln Fields station was cranky, and visibly frustrated… Might have something to do with the massive line up (they eventually opened a second till. Eyck). Or it might have to do with the I’m sure tons of dissatisfied people she’s had to serve over the last month. Bu she shouldn’t be short with me, or be rude to me when I ask about the December pass I had to relinquish. She should be mad at her company, and telling them what it’s like working in the trenches.

I still think I’m being cheated, however. OC Transpo announced free service for December bus pass holders until the end of March. I just thought now about how it actually would have been cheaper for me to refund my December pass and then but the March one at full price. I didn’t even consider that scenario until it was too late. I should call them about that.

057 – Day 38

There was a Friday in November that I considered to be among the worst days of my life. I had bought $100 worth of presents for Christmas, and brought food to work in my Ratatouille bowl. That night, Prashanta picked me up from work, and we went downtown to eat and then meet up with some friends. While at the restaurant, somehow, someone had broken into the car and stolen the gifts and my backpack, and even the spare change ubiquitous to any car. At the time, I thought I had 6 DS games and my mp3 player in by backpack. All I could think about was how rare The World Ends with You is and that I wouldn’t want to restart it from scratch. Or how many crosswords I had completed in Crosswords DS, or how I was going to give my mp3 player away whenever I break down and boy an iPod touch.

Fortunately, I found my mp3 player while cleaning my room! Suddenly, that day didn’t seem so bad. And the other day, I was cleaning out my locker at work where low and behold I found my DS games, complete in the game case Vivi brought back for me from Japan. I was so excited at that moment, you could have compared it to a kid getting what he or she really wanted for Christmas. Except for maybe the Nintendo64 kid.

But I was still out a $50 bag. And gifts that I had to re-buy. I guess it all worked out, mostly.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Transit Union wants to end the strike. If all goes according to (whoever’s) plan (this is), buses could be back as early as the end of next week. I’m excited at the prospect of progress, this being the first possibility of such in a month, but I can’t help but wonder why now. Why not on day 1 of the strike? Why not before the strike? Why not 2 weeks from now? Are the picket lines getting a bit chilly these days? Are union members starting to suffer from not working for 6 weeks? This comes just as withdrawl dates from classes are here. I know people who are dropping courses just because they aren’t able to get to class. Plus, the city is just now lowering downtown parking rates to help out.

The city better use this oppotunity to do what they can to get buses back on the roads. And then both sides will have to work hard at earning everyone else’s trust – and even respect. I’d say it’s pretty likely that we’ll get some ads like this favourite of mine:

055 – Day 30

Over the years, my wallet and my bus pass have developed a great relationship where they stick together. This help me, since I always know where my bus pass is (unless of course, I don’t know where my wallet is, which happens on occasion). It also helps my wallet and bus pass, since the two of them can talk and cuddle in my pocket.

I’ve only recently decided to split the two up, if only to protect the pass from accidental loss or cold-related fracturing. Plus people make fun of me when they see it! Turns out that my leaving it behind wasn’t premature – Transit workers voted to reject the city’s offer. I’ve had an inkling since the beginning that this strike would last a while, but I’m really starting to get scared at how long it may be before all is well.

To add to my troubles, my laptop needs to be sent away for servicing. Supposedly, my laptop has a fan, and that fan is not spinning at the speed that it’s supposed to be. As a result, my computer can become a makeshift hotplate when needed – and it just turns off sporadically. I’ve already been in the middle of videos or trying to burn disks or in the middle of fun conversations when it has just turned off without as much as a cough. I would hate to be in the middle of an assignment, or online quiz, or presentation.

On a somewhat related note, I must say that I’m impressed with the phone support that I’ve had to deal with of late – with Dell and with TD – the former in dealing with my computer issue, and the latter with a work-related issue. Top notch, helpful bunches of oats those guys are. Perhaps that isn’t exciting as some of the hellish stories you can read about incompetent, rude, unhelpful joes servicing you needs from who knows where, but it’s still very important to praise the good guys when they help.

Now, city and transit unions, please help me to get buses back. Or pay for driving lessons and car insurance.

054 – Day 26

Thursday. Thursday is the day we find out how much longer this transit strike of ours will last. There’s a small part of me that is crossing his even littler fingers in hopes that the wonderful drivers, maintenance staff, and others will vote (thanks to some federal intervention), to have their say on the city’s most recent offer, in favour of the offer. this means buses, after multiple inspections and revving up, will be back within one and a half weeks from now. The bigger part of me, ever sceptical, knows that the vote will ruin any chances of getting back to travel normalcy and that buses won’t be back on the streets until the better part of January – at the earliest. A little Transit Union-run website has this lovely message for its members:

BREAKING NEWS – January 4th, 2009
Forced Second Vote On City’s Latest Offer Details Known

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The vote ordered by Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose and conducted by Canada Industrial Relations Board will be held on:

Thursday, January 8th, 2009
6:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Civic Centre – Lansdowne Park on Bank Street
FREE PARKING AT LANSDOWNE PARK

Please be sure to bring photo identification with you as well as OC Transpo identification on the vote as the Board officers may require it.

Please be sure to vote to reject this offer and show the City our solidarity.

Your future, your families future and your Union’s future depends on this vote.

Please, vote NO.

I have to wonder why this whole process is being drawn out, not unlike a kid looking to hear stories, tell stories, get water, and inspect for monster activity every nook and cranny to avoid going to bed. Any decent person would expect that both sides of any work stoppage, especially one that cripples a city, would work long and hard to resolve their differences. Instead of picturing a bunch of balding, middle-aged men sitting at an uncomfortable table in a windowless, cigarette smoke-filled room into all hours of the morning, I see text messages bouncing back and forth from one blackberry to another:

MaireLaire613: wanna go bak 2 werk?
ACorn279: R U GONNA WIN UR NEXT ELECTION?
MaireLaire613: i’ll txt u after my ski trip.
ACorn279: CAN I COME? I JUST WAXED MY SKIS!
MaireLaure613: r u gonna win ur next election? lolz
OCMercy: burn!

Winter break is over and classes are starting. I imagine many students have worked hard at making exams when the strike started, then relegated their time to becoming hermits, just staying at home whenever possible (or a friend with a fancy car comes along). The weather for my walk to school tomorrow morning: cloudy with sunny breaks, and a high of ohmygosh I still need to walk a hour to get to school! And I shouldn’t even be complaining all that much, because at least I can get to my classes in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of effort. All the walking I’ll be doing this week will render my Wii Fit useless.

And it’s -3C, for the record, feeling like -9C. Where’s my scarf?