Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sunlight on the Bicycle Racks

The Toronto Sun is, for better or for worse, one of those things that's hard to ignore. Its design department sees to that. Yesterday a Sun box grabbed my attention rather forcefully with the headline "BUS BUST," which in true Sun style combines criticism of the TTC and sex appeal in just seven letters. Pictured were two buses on the 84 Sheppard East route, accompanied by a bullet list about how no one's using the bicycle racks on the buses and that they're a waste of money and are stupid and have a stupid face. (My comment: few people using bicycle racks on a North York bus route? Shock! Horror! Maybe if there were some more bike lanes up there...)

Appropriately enough for the Sun, the story's real headline - "Bus fleet's bike racks rarely used" - is rather bloodless, since if you're in a position to be reading it they've got your money. The crux of the Sun's argument is this - that the $2-million it cost to outfit the TTC's modern bus fleet with folding bicycle racks "wasn't worth it," and that it demonstrates "how the transit authority is out of touch with reality."

Presumably, in the Sun's world, the bike racks on this Hamilton Street Railway bus were not a waste of money - because only the TTC is capable of wasting money.

I'll admit that the bike racks aren't used as much as they could be. I've noticed a tendency in Toronto, particularly in recent months, for bicycle riders to dispense with the TTC altogether. But that does not mean they are a waste. The truth is that cities across North America are in the process of, or already have, installed bike racks on their bus fleet. Beyond that, the mere presence of the option is valuable in and of itself. If the TTC had stood fast against bike racks, as the Sun appears to be lamenting, in that parallel universe would it now be criticizing the TTC for being less responsive to its riders than Guelph Transit? This isn't about the possibilities of a choice that people haven't rushed to make - this is more of a flimsy excuse for the Sun to, once again, bash the TTC. Given its own politics, the implication is clear, and disturbing - transit is a "left-wing" concern and conservative-minded folk shouldn't spare two thoughts for it.

In my mind, the real issue with this article is a lack of scientific thinking. If the Sun really wanted to see whether bike rack use in Toronto is behind the curve, there's a simple way to find out - go to the TTC's neighbor agencies and compare usage there. Or, considering it's a GTAH-based paper, shouldn't it also be criticizing the installation of bike racks by GO Transit, Durham Region Transit, Mississauga Transit, the Hamilton Street Railway, even Milton Transit? York Region Transit and Barrie Transit are the only operators from Oshawa to St. Catharines that do not have bike racks on their buses.

That would at least have resulted in a story with more than the vaguest whiff of journalistic value. On the other hand, though, it meant they would have had to find another avenue with which to criticize the TTC yesterday. Not that it's surprising. In my mind, to the Sun, anything that tries to establish a transportation alternative seems to be part of the "War On Cars" and therefore evil.


  1. When I lived in Vancouver, the bus bike racks were heavily used. Of course that city has two major incentives: lots of hills, and long express bus routes that cover a lot of distance.

    In Toronto, I've seen people bring their bikes on the bus, ignoring the racks entirely. It makes me wonder if Torontonians know what the bike racks are and how to use them, and if some of the drivers on tighter routes discourage their use.

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