Car-free city dweller finds thrill of public transit discovery – in Brockville

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Four months after living in Brockville, I needed a white tissue wrap with confetti sparkles. Only one place would do: Dollarama.

There are no Dollaramas in downtown Brockville. Living in downtown Brockville with its heritage architecture is like living in an episode of “Murdoch Mysteries”; I half expect Crabtree to berate some scalawags. There’s a Dollar Bazaar Plus store, but it doesn’t have the blinding array of bullshit that the leading supplier of cheap goods offers. I had to go up town, past the 401, into the land of the big box stores. But how to get there?

I have never owned a car. As a born and raised Montrealer, I grew up taking public transit. When I decided to move to Toronto in the mid-1980s, my father, a Torontonian with a transplant, told me to ride the 501 Queen streetcar around town. Driving the tram was a revelation. The car was sliding along the rails! People boarded the jalopy in the middle of the road!

The initial thrill of riding the TTC quickly turned into a benign acceptance that it would be my primary mode of transportation. For nearly 27 years, I have traveled the TTC almost daily, certainly weekly, to get to work, classes, shows, and events. I have to admit that the past few years have seen this benevolent acceptance turn into weary resignation, even abject despair. Now that I lived in Brockville, traveling around the small town other than on foot became a necessity, but I didn’t feel like getting on my bike yet and buying a car seemed like giving up.

And then, one day, I saw it pass by my house: a minibus with LED signs that proclaimed “Red Route”.

Could it be?

I followed the bus up the street towards Court House Square, the equivalent of Queen’s Park in Brockville. There, before my eyes, idle in clusters, were three minibuses. This is a transit hub here. A bus shelter displayed a transit map detailing the red, blue and green routes.

Passenger Linda Goertzen was waiting to board the green bus and answered my barrage of questions. “I’ve been using public transport since day one,” she said. “It’s very convenient, the price is right and it gets you from point A to point B.” She spoke to the driver. “Ron, how many years have the buses been running?” Ron. She knows the bus driver name. “Over 30 years” was the response.

My need for sparkly fabric could not be delayed any longer. I paid the $2.25 fare and boarded the Blue Bus to Big Box Land.

Besides an elderly gentleman, I was the only other passenger. I immediately peppered the obliging driver with questions.

“We only have three buses running each shift,” said driver Jeanette Patterson. “When the Brockville Mall redevelopment takes place, it may bring a bigger bus or additional buses.”

I left the friendly driver alone and rushed to sit down. The minibus crashed over bumps and potholes. I looked out the window and saw streets of bungalows and low apartment buildings that I didn’t know existed. The bus then passed through an industrial park which is home to 3M, Newterra, Northern Cables and the soon-to-open LeClerc Foods production plant.

I was quickly dropped off at the Big Box hub outside the Superstore, where shoppers were waiting to be taken home. I felt this joie de vivre again, the thrill of discovering the transit. I transferred to the green bus to return to the city center and see where this road winds.

Driver Mindy Jollymore, a veteran from the city of Brockville, was quick to answer my incessant questions. “Commuters use this road primarily to get to their retail and restaurant jobs. They rely on the bus. I wondered out loud if there was a stigma associated with taking the bus in Brockville. Mindy didn’t flinch. “For $2.25, it’s a bargain,” she says. “Its price has not increased since 2014. Many people on fixed incomes take the bus. And on a retail income or a restaurant income, owning a vehicle just isn’t worth it.

This eco-conscious relocated city dweller who takes public transport was duly impressed.

“In the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Brockville Transit is the only conventional transit service,” Brockville Transportation Supervisor Matt Locke wrote in response to my zealous emails. “City staff often use Cobourg, Port Hope, Quinte West and Wasaga Beach as comparators because they have similar populations and annual ridership. City staff also communicate with staff in Cornwall and Kingston to discuss transit policy and initiatives.

Transit Policy and Initiatives. I wanted to take Matt Locke to dinner, I was so happy, or at least ask him if he knows he has the same name as a TV character played by Andy Griffith. I chose to leave it alone, which may be an even bigger thank you gift.

In my joy of taking the Brockville transit and in this city-dweller’s realization that there is some civic unrest outside of Toronto, I forgot to buy a bright white tissue paper. Guess that means I’ll have to take another bus ride to the city center.

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