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If transit is good enough for the kids, why isn't it good enough for you?

This week's Market Squared confirms that the children are the future, and we can teach them better by doing stuff in the present
20210526 Guelph Transit bus bike rack RV
Guelph Transit buses include bicycle racks to allow for cyclists to use the system. Richard Vivian/GuelphToday

These columns are like episodes of Law & Order, one and done. Once you get to the end, you can put it aside and wait for the next one knowing that you don’t have to remember what happening in the last column so that you can enjoy this current Market Squared.

So guess what I’ve done now?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to scramble through your browser history. I’ll just begin by saying that there was a detail that I left out of last week’s commentary on the transit fare strategy discussion at Committee of the Whole because I wanted to look at in a full column. It’s about the children.

Along with the staff recommendations, Mayor Cam Guthrie brought forward an additional motion to direct staff to look at ways to promote more transit use among Guelph’s high school students and seniors in advance of the multiyear budget this fall. The motion didn’t say it explicitly, but Guthrie has talked before about his desire to make transit free for those two population groups.

Before the motion, Transit Advisory Committee chair Susan Carey focused her comments on the need to create a “culture of transit” among Guelph’s young people. This was also one of the justifications in the Kids Ride Free program, “Get ‘em while they’re young!” The idea that transit use can be made a life long force of habit by getting kids used to it early and often.

All of this is sensible in theory, but here’s the thing that people making these decisions don’t seem to understand: The kids are already taking the bus.

Getting on a Guelph Transit bus that goes past a high school at 8:30 or 3:30 on a weekday is to become acquainted with the fundamental condition of a canned sardine. You will either learn to love the feeling of 10 pounds of textbooks in a backpack being pressed into your face, or you’ll go mad. Likely, you will learn to avoid certain buses at certain times of the day, like me.

The problem is that young people aren’t dumb. They know that Guelph Transit has issues that prevent it from being a viable alternative to having your own car. As soon as that high schooler on the bus realizes that their 75-minute bus ride from their north end high school to their south end part-time job would only take 10 minutes in their own car, they abandon ship.

Also, given everything we know about car culture, I have to ask that if the University of Guelph had enough parking capacity, and the Central Student Association offered students either a parking pass or a bus pass for their tuition dollars, how many buses do you think would still be running in and out of campus?

I know how I would answer that question, and I don’t think it would fit with the comfortable narrative that the next generation are a bunch of car-hating dissidents longing for their idealized 15-minute community.

So here’s another question, why are we dumping so much on the kids? Why don’t we talk as much, or do as much, to create a “culture of transit” among Guelph’s adult population?

Over the last several years I’ve seen it time and again on a whole host of issues. From the environment to economic inequality and social equality, mental health, and in the case of young people south of the border, gun control; grown adults are always looking at young people admiringly and say, “The children will show us the way.”

This is called “passing the buck,” and what galls me is that our society seems split between the ones that want to hold the kids up and the others who want to hold them down.

I used to be a fan of the comedian Bill Maher until he started confusing cancel culture all-stars like Ben Shaprio and Joe Rogan as genuine contrarians, but one of Maher’s favourite targets is young people, who’s desire for equality and inclusion he describes as a sign of weakness and delusion. He says they’re unprepared for the real world, but I think Maher’s just mad that college-aged people don’t want to laugh at his Asian driver jokes any more.

To say that the youth today are weak is a gross oversight of what this generation has had to live through. If you were born in the years leading up the beginning of the 21st century, you’ve experienced two once-in-a-generation economic collapses, a once-in-a-century pandemic, existential crises in affordability, social equity and environmental ruin, and, oh yeah, the Nazis are back!

Counting down to my 45th birthday this year, I can see it both ways. Understanding that there are more likely fewer days ahead then behind, I know why in the face of unfettered youth I’ve channelled some serious “get off my lawn” vibes in recent times, but I at least have the good sense to regret it later.

And while I do have a respect for the youth who do have a genuine desire to make things better, I don’t want to lean on them either. Throwing every problem to them as if it’s meant for them to exclusive solve is not only a dereliction, but it’s also a comment on our own failures and unwillingness to change since many of these issues are systemic and passed down from older generations to begin with.

This how you turn youthful exuberance into cynicism, you show them adults that don’t want to change but are more than willing to throw the ball to people who are still learning the rules of the game. It’s painful to watch, but apparently not as painful as expecting our civic leaders to encourage themselves to get on a bus.

If you don’t want to get on a bus right now, what the hell makes you think your kid does when they’re your age? It’s not a problem of generations, it’s a matter of will.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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