Newcomer to Vancouver: Transit like waiting for a flaky date

Like all great love affairs, the one that occurred between myself and Vancouver’s public transit system was brief and tumultuous. It was a summer fling that began at the tail-end of August, when I, like a gazillion British people before me, moved to the city in search of great landscapes, good people, and endless poutine.

I had told myself I would wait a few months before buying a car. It meant one less job on my ever-growing "moving abroad" checklist, and more savings left in the bank. Besides, isn't there supposed to be a certain romanticism to be found in navigating trains and buses in an entirely new city?

I fantasized about long bus trips winding through Vancouver neighbourhoods, like a Rocky Mountaineer journey but with Metropolis instead of mountains, and Save-On-Foods Nanaimo bars instead of fancy trolley cart fare. I envisaged a journey to work, spent with my nose in a book rather than my eyes on the road, and a revolving door of social events flitted between freely and easily via the SkyTrain.

Earwigging on commuters’ conversations might inspire a local news story or two, I had mused – or at least fodder for humorous dinnertime conversation. I would know the ins and outs of the city better than any local. It would be fun, educational, and better for the environment. Equipped with a Compass Card and a sense of adventure, I plunged headfirst into the world of SkyTrains and SeaBuses.

It took me all of two weeks before I threw in the towel.

In hindsight, the initial house viewing for my West Van dwellings had been a forewarning of woes to come. The singular bus that travelled close to the house ran once every half an hour, and I had arrived 20 minutes early.

For fear of looking overeager to a group of potential housemates, I wandered the sloping streets of the British Properties to kill time before my slot. It was peak afternoon heat, the hills were steep. I arrived red faced and sweating like a turkey on Thanksgiving Eve, any air of nonchalance long melted away. I was offered the room, but the experience set the scene for all future travel experiences.

The house, sitting at the foot of the British Properties, offered the best of both worlds: bars, restaurants and a shopping centre close by, hiking trails in the other direction, and the main city itself just across the bridge. The only problem was, I couldn’t get to any of it.

Catching the bus from my place to the bottom of West Vancouver was like waiting for a flaky date: was it just late again, or had I been stood up? On the rare occasion I synced my social activity with the bus schedule, I could trundle from home to Park Royal in 25 minutes. More often than not, however, I’d be faced with a 45-minute part hill-trek, part bus journey to the bottom.

Just a few days in and the SkyTrains that carried passengers with ease in other parts of the city seemed the stuff of legend, like a mythical creature from far away lands.

The commute to work in North Vancouver would take around an hour, on a good day. Most of the time I would forget my book. The conversation on the bus wasn’t anything to write home about. I never did stock up on those Nanaimo bars.

The final blow came one sunny Saturday afternoon when I had bused down to Park Royal to buy some new home essentials. Unbeknownst to me, and evidently, the utterly bewildered crowd loitering around Bay 5, we were facing a bus strike.

Buses bearing Sorry, No Longer in Service messages driven by remorseless drivers came and went. An hour passed by. Eventually I jumped on a replacement, a smaller vehicle with a bus-meets-Uber type intimacy and a driver who promised he would get me “close enough” to home.

Over an hour later it spat me out a few streets too far east, leaving me to traverse the switchbacks of the British Properties, sweating in the August heat with my freshly bought pillows slung across my shoulders like bindles. What Google Maps promised to be a 45-minute bus journey from Park Royal, and a six-minute car ride, had taken me over two hours.

I thought about how dispiriting similar travel experiences would be when The Flood of Noah eventually came – what I imagine autumn, winter and spring must be, judging by locals' incessant talk of Vancouver rain. It was around this time the inevitable happened.

My eye had wandered, to a tall, bosomy blonde I found on Facebook.

Susie was a car saleswoman, who had picked me up in her top-down car, with a drooling Great Dane in the back, and whisked me off to her showroom in Surrey. She promised there was a car there that was perfect for me: reliable, cheap, easy on the eye. Was I being scammed? I didn’t care. I'd throw my money at any clunker if it meant never having to wait for a West Vancouver bus again.

I slid into the driver door of my used Ford Focus and let out a sigh of relief. I cranked the air-con. I checked the new commute time from work to home: 15 minutes, 12 with no traffic. I started the ignition, turned the radio up, and cruised onto the motorway.

Wait a minute. How am I supposed to drive on the right side of the road? What on earth are the road rules here? Are you sure I won’t get pulled over for turning right on a red light? Sorry, petrol (gas, I mean) is going to cost me how much?!

Bus 254, my fleeting love, had we really been so incompatible? Forgetting all toxicity, I reflected on my relationship-turned-sour with rose-tinted glasses. I suppose it’s true what they say: you never really know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Now, who's going to introduce me to those charming Lime bikes I keep hearing so much about...

Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News