Go-go gadget transit - Metro US

Go-go gadget transit

We put a lot of faith in technology.

Last week, I unwisely dropped by without any press credentials to take a picture of a wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial and was accosted by security.

The clincher came when they asked to see my camera, which is, shall we say, inexpensive. Once the earphone brigade saw it, it knew it couldn’t possibly be dealing with a real journalist and I was out of there.

I tried to call my editor, but it appeared cellphone signals were being jammed. Cool toys everywhere.

I couldn’t help but wonder if I had shown up with an expensive, state-of-the-art sniper rifle they would have taken that as irrefutable evidence of my professionalism and just let me go about my business.

When it comes to transit, we are also much in the grip of technophilia. Last week, Coun. Rick Chiarelli, chair of the city’s IT committee, was waxing futuristic about GPS-enabled real-time tracking of your bus’s location via your smartphone.

Even in nerd-rich Ottawa, I wonder what percentage of transit riders are actually equipped with smartphones, but as they grow in utility and shrink in price, they’re likely to become ever more common. And you may as well have something to do while you’re waiting for the bus.

The city is also planning to introduce a smart card, which would function as your bus pass, library card, city parking pass, etc. Presumably included in this exciting new initiative would be a system for the speedy replacement of lost cards, both inevitable and potentially crippling with so much tied up in them.

All of this is good stuff, but public transit ultimately runs on people power.

Our soon-to-arrive automated system for calling out stops will no doubt be a big help for both drivers and passengers. But it might not be necessary, and the drivers’ current not-too-shabby 81 per cent compliance rate for verbally calling out stops might be even higher if labour relations at Transpo weren’t still mired in the dark ages.

Satellite tracking of your bus’s exact location won’t do you much good if it’s sitting in the garage because, thanks to scheduling wrangles, nobody showed up to drive it, as the transit union says happened to 18 buses over the Victoria Day weekend.

So by all means, bring on all the high-tech bells and whistles we can afford for our buses, and maybe even light rail some day, but public transit will always rely on human intelligence and co-operation to get the job done.

– Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; ottawaletters@metronews.ca

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