City committees will shortly be discussing a redevelopment proposal for the site of the Voyageur Bus Terminal/Gare d’Ottawa.
Alas, the development will proceed only if Voyageur moves out of the terminal. Bizarrely, some councillors and community activists want the bus station to stay on Catherine Street. They express concern for the price conscious users of the cheapest mode of intercity transport.
I think their concern is misguided thinking that is twenty years out of date.
In the old bus model, Voyageur had to have a terminal building for passengers to arrive early and line up for the bus. Passengers who wanted a good seat had to spend their time in line (cheap in price = expensive in time). But everything was uncertain. What if the line was long — wait in it and get a seat by the washroom… or wait for the next line and maybe be near the front… but no one knew if there would be an extra section added or not, because not even the bus company knew how many people would show up. If less than half a bus, the next section wouldn’t run, and everyone would have to stand and wait hours — even overnight — for the next scheduled bus.
I do not have fond memories of taking my daughter to the Voyageur terminus to make the trip back to university in Toronto. In fact, the whole place leaves me feeling queasy. Despite numerous delays and disappoints, airports don’t leave the same sense of abandonment, in part because there are amenities and pleasant surroundings.
The uncertainty was hard on the bus company too. They had to keep extra buses handy, running them for hours to keep they warm in the winter, and extra drivers had to be on hand just in case another bus had to be dispatched.
Does anyone think the bus terminal is a good neighbor to the adjacent residential areas?
The intercity bus market has been reformed in many markets. Megabus and similar firms run nicer buses than the standard Grayhound. They offer lower cost fares because they avoid the costly urban terminal properties, buildings, and uncertain schedules. Instead, buses are garaged in a suburban industrial park. Buses depart on fixed timetables, making several curbside stops through the city, thus bringing their services closer to the public. All seats are reserved and paid for in advance over the internet or toll free phones. The new firms tend to offer free wi fi, TV, better seats, and minimal waiting. Uncertainty is largely removed. No more need to get to the bus terminal and hour or two before your scheduled bus, not knowing if it would leave early, or late, have a choice of seats, or be crowded.
The new bus services, such as Megabus, have revitalized the intercity bus market in the US and Europe. Cities there are offering incentives to get these services to their centres. They attract a wider range of users, a wider range of income groups, at travel times and reliability comparable to fixed rail services. Win win.
What they don’t have is a decaying downtown terminal. Or its parking lot. Or its noise. And they don’t have the old buses and uncertain schedules. Let’s get rid of the downtown bus terminal now, and get better bus service at the same time. Bus users will bless us for it. Our downtown neighborhoods will be better off.
Bus depots are dead, thankfully.