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Stuck in a moment

Whitehorse should end the handwringing and simply kill its transit service. But it doesn't. And that's strange. For more than a decade, residents, politicians and city officials have tried to hash out transit's problems, which boil down to one - people do

Whitehorse should end the handwringing and simply kill its transit service.

But it doesn’t. And that’s strange.

For more than a decade, residents, politicians and city officials have tried to hash out transit’s problems, which boil down to one - people don’t want to ride the bus.

It seems simple enough.

But there’s this lingering belief in the public that we should have a bus service.

So officials have held meetings, funded studies, run tests and tried loops. They have, in short, jumped through hoops. And all the seeming effort has been a waste.

The system costs residents more than $1.76 million a year to run. And what do we get for the expense besides a lot of frustration?

The money is blown on a service that, for lack of a better word, sucks.

It doesn’t serve anyone well.

The buses don’t run early enough in the morning to benefit commuters. And they don’t run at night at all, except on Fridays. And that’s only because council issued the service a last-minute stay of execution.

What this boils down to is that the buses only run during the day when most people are at work or school.

And even then, you have to be a theoretical mathematician to work out the bus schedule.

For example, between 8:20 and 3:05, the Porter Creek/Crestview bus leaves six times, running at intervals of 35 minutes, 90 minutes, 105 minutes, 70 minutes and 105 minutes.

Got that? If so, what are you doing wasting your time? - there’s a university looking to hire you.

In fact, the only time residents deign to take the bus is when it’s so cold outside that their cars don’t start. Then, suddenly, for a week or so, transit is an essential service.

But, once the cold abates, it’s back to the car. And the buses run empty.

Transit doesn’t serve politicians well either.

It’s a constant headache. Most residents grouse that the huge vehicles are empty, which they are.

But, when politicians go to cut the service, people emerge and complain, in person, arguing the little-used service is essential.

Confronted by an angry group, council gets all wobbly and backs down. Or pretends to take action, by commissioning another study or staging a trial run to gauge ridership.

And so substandard service continues.

The buses run at their irregular 35-, 70- and 105-minute frequencies during working hours, and, for some reason, residents don’t use them.

Go figure.

Of course, there are solutions to make the system work. But nobody wants to make them happen. They would cause too much strife.

The city would have to invest the money to ensure the buses ran every 30 minutes, like clockwork. It would force a tax increase.

The city would have to build transit shelters and advertise the system’s benefits. It would have to establish transfer stations near coffee shops and bookstores, to make the whole experience more inviting.

The city would have to stop expanding, and raise the population density in the existing subdivisions.

The Yukon government would have to start charging employees for parking. And for the plug-ins that are provided gratis through the winter. That is, employees would have to start paying the true cost of driving.

And so would residents. The city would have to jack up the parking meter rates downtown. They would also have to restrict parking, make it more of a hassle to drive.

All that would, eventually, make public transit more attractive.

And it would help the territory cut its carbon footprint.

It would also save households money, because, though most people don’t realize it, riding the bus is far cheaper than driving a car.

But today it’s not cheap enough.

Society makes it too easy for one person to drive to work.

The only way to make transit viable is to make driving more difficult.

But the public isn’t willing to give up their personal vehicles.

So we pretend to support transit, paying millions for a system that angers everyone while serving only a very few. Poorly.

But, still, Whitehorse is not willing to kill the dysfunctional system.

The political support isn’t there to improve it. Or to kill it.

We’re at an impasse.

Or, perhaps, stuck at a tipping point. (Richard Mostyn)