Expert on transportation has suggestions for Kamloops

Author Taras Grescoe spoke to the Kamloops community on alternatives to automobiles

Grescoe stands in front of Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote on individuals who use public transportation. He would take several shots at the Iron Lady and her elitist views over the course of his presentation. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

As part this year’s IDays celebrations, TRU Sustainability invited award-winning author and freelance journalist, Taras Grescoe, to talk about alternatives to cars and trucks in the ever-growing cities of the world.

Having journeyed through many major cities in a variety of countries, Grescoe has had a long-time interest in methods of transportation, specifically alternatives to automobiles.

Touring the world and talking about his second-latest book, Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, Grescoe told the audience in the CAC’s Terrace Room that private automobiles are quickly becoming a thing of the past in larger cities.

“Private automobiles no longer work as a form of mass transportation in our cities,” Grescoe said. “Cars just aren’t going to fit in the megacities of the future.”

With congestion becoming unbearable in major cities from L.A. to Moscow and transportation becoming the number one source of pollution around the world, Grescoe believes that the future lies with straphangers.

Grescoe, who himself is a straphanger, says the dictionary definition of the term is anyone who makes use of public transportation. However, Grescoe believes that this term is fairly limiting and would like to see it expanded.

“For me being a straphanger can mean being a cyclist or a pedestrian. In many cities bicycles are used for mass transportation,” Grescoe said. “Every ride on a bus or metro ends with a walk to work, school or home.”

Despite Grescoe’s dedication to using public transit, including in his home city of Montreal, he did admit that not everyone sees public transportation the same way.

“To some people, because I don’t own a car and ride transit, that makes me a loser,” Grescoe said. “As far as I’m concerned, elitist snobs can have their limousines.”

Despite Grescoe’s aversion to using automobiles, he did admit that he does have a driver’s licence and is part of a rideshare program in Montreal, even though he’s never personally owned a vehicle. Grescoe added that if he lived in Kamloops, he’d probably own a car as well.

While Grescoe shared many examples of successful bus systems in Colombia and Korea and efficient tram systems in France and the Netherlands, he admitted that many cities around the world have failed their citizens when it comes to transportation. Among those cities, Grescoe said that Phoenix, Detroit and Sydney have implemented terrible metro systems.

Yet Grescoe doesn’t see Kamloops having a metro system of its own anytime soon, despite the city being one of the few medium-sized Canadian cities without an original tram or trolley system. Instead, he believes that Kamloops could become less reliant on cars by revamping their bus system.

“I’ve only been here twenty-four hours and I’ve already heard complaints about transit to the university. Low frequencies, not going where it should and I actually haven’t seen that many buses around,” he said. “The rational thing to do is to increase the frequency and the quality of the bus experience.”

Given Kamloops’ topography and how spread out the city is, Grescoe believes that increasing the number of buses in the city and the frequency at which they operate could do wonders for the city’s street life and small businesses.

However, Grescoe also remarked that given Kamloops’ sports and recreation culture, he was surprised that so few people use bicycles as a form of mass transportation.

“Many places are very defeatist about these forms of transportation. They say they can never do it here, “We’re too windy, we’re too cold, or we’re a car kind of culture”,” he said. “But when people start realizing the benefits for physical fitness and happiness, for a renewed sense of society, then they start finding ways to make it work.”