About a year ago, I was waiting for a bus on Wellington Street when two teens asked me if it was going to be OK for them to bring their recently purchased smoothies on the bus.

I kind of laughed and said, “Of course.” I must have given them a strange look, because they explained they were from Vancouver, where food and drink weren’t allowed on the transit system.

It struck me as a little funny, since in the cities I’ve lived in it’s always been OK to eat and drink on the transit system. I’ve always assumed that rider comfort, and the difficulty in enforcing such a ban on moving transit, meant most cities didn’t bother with enforcing those rules.

It’s why I was surprised by OC Transpo’s proposal to ban food and drink in a report presented at city hall this past Friday.

“Bus hygiene,” as it was called, was identified as a problem that transit general manager Alain Mercier would like to address by next fall.

In the five years I’ve been a regular bus rider in Ottawa, I’ve rarely seen those people drinking juice, or eating a quick sandwich, leave a mess behind. Of course, I know it happens, and maybe those who clean the buses are exceptional at gathering the garbage and removing stains, but I suspect it also has a lot to do with rider courtesy.

Mercier cites allowing food and drink on public transit as a “huge cost factor,” presumably because of the cleanup involved, but I find it tough to swallow.

Buses will continue to need cleaning, with or without eating and drinking while we ride. We’ve all seen what a day of rain or a sloppy winter day does to the floors, seats and windows.

And for the many people in this city who find themselves on one-hour-plus commutes, the inability to be comforted by that morning cup of coffee or rushed lunch will certainly be an inconvenience and an annoyance.

Interestingly, as part of its report, OC Transpo also released stats from its annual survey on customer service. It found that, so far in 2009, the overall mood and atmosphere of the bus is 75 per cent, while the condition of seats gets 88 per cent and the absence of garbage is at 74 per cent.

Perhaps, rather than taking away riders’ ability to eat and drink in transit, and attempting to enforce another rule that will likely be ignored, OC Transpo can give us a little credit or a gentle reminder to take some pride in the buses we ride and pick up our own mess.

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