Raise a Little Green

It Ain't Easy Traveling Green

If all of the subsides that we currently offer up to the auto sector and petroleum companies were shifted to support a national public transit system, would could that look like?

By Darren Kaulback
Published April 29, 2009

This year my family and I decided to spend March break in beautiful Old Montreal. My wife found us one of those "older" grand hotels. You know, the ones which still attempt to cling onto their former glory days, but which have long ago been dumped for the sexier, newer hotels with sleek new hot tubs and real WIFI access. Yet these old dames, they hang on, masquerading as upscale luxury ... but at Motel 6 prices.

So the plan was set. The "Hotel 6" sat directly over Montreal's RESO - French for "network", an underground cavern of tunnels and passages that connect the city's businesses, shopping centres and condos to the subway and each other.

It's reminiscent of the '70s movie "Logan's Run" where the protagonists attempt escape from their domed world through an endless underground labyrinth. A perfect setup for a family longing for an urban adventure.

And to complete this picture, the VIA rail station was directly across the street from our hotel.

But I as soon discovered, our green family adventure was not to be. When I enquired about booking train tickets from Toronto to Montreal, I discovered a return trip would cost $700+ for a family of four.

My heart sank. The plan was so perfect. We didn't want to have a car in Montreal. There was clearly no need. Yet, this time we couldn't afford to take the higher track; finances did not allow it. In the end, we took our Corolla to Montreal and saved more than $500, after gas and parking.

The point I'm trying to make is that there is clearly something wrong with our national transit systems when people, like myself, who want to take public transit, cannot. People who are willing to endure the long cues, train transfers and the lugging of suitcases in order to take the greener path. As long as the easier way is the cheaper way, can I blame people for not always putting the environment first?

One could argue that a five-speed Corolla loaded up with two adults, two kids and a lotta luggage isn't so bad for the environment. And you could also say that a higher principled person could have opted for an alternative plan.

But to what degree do we limit our activity? The Amish live light on the earth, as they buggy down Main Street, in a milieu of methane. But do you want to be Amish? (No offense to any Amish currently reading this.)

The truth is that we need to move on as a society, "move" being the operative word. An analogy I heard in Montreal, from the "Solar House Guy" at the Biosphere, was this: If you live in the USA and you want to get to Canada, heading south towards Mexico will not get you there. Even if you slow down to half speed or a quarter, you still will not get to Canada.

Could this be true? Could our new and improved environmental policies and initiatives just be taking us on a slower trip to our eventual annihilation? (Melodrama intended)

Perhaps, as a society, we need to consider heading in a radically new direction. If all of the subsides that we currently offer up to the auto sector and petroleum companies were shifted to support a national public transit system, would could that look like?

This was originally published on Darren's blog, Raise a Little Green.

Many of us have our own take on what it means to be green. For Darren, "green" goes beyond just the mechanics of living lightly on the earth, to a more soulful understanding of ourselves as part of nature. He authors a weekly blog, Raise a Little Green, where he highlights the "mis-adventures of turning green," challenges our cultural ideologies and assumptions, and asks the deeper questions of purpose and fulfillment. Darren is a TV director and filmmaker who lives in downtown Hamilton with his wife and two children.


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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 21:32:52

Ah, Old Montreal.

What a wonderful place. I drove there as well, via Bath and Ottawa. I took 4 adults and 2 kids in a massive Ford Expedition. I took the Ford, my in-laws got my fuel sipping (kind of) Mazda for the week. Yes, the beast was wonderful on fuel if you own an oil company!

When we got to Old Montreal we parked the beast and left it until it was time to go.

The few cars passing through the cobblestone streets passed slowly. No overnight street parking in most areas. The trucks?? Well, they can only enter in the wee hours of the morning for deliveries. I awoke at 6am to take some photos and the trucks had all but disappeared for the day.

The hotel Le Guilleret. A b&b style hotel, built in 1760. I recommend it to anyone.



"Through the mid-to-late twentieth century, the old city decayed. However, major urban renewal programs have resurrected its commercial and residential life while protecting its heritage".

"The 1960s breathed new life into Old Montréal, as astute renovators and artists lovingly restored beautiful old homes. Bonsecours Market was rejuvenated. Place Jacques Cartier was given a facelift for Expo 67. Since then, and even more since the late 1970s, major public- and private-sector investment has helped highlight the heritage value of the historic city centre and the Old Port".

"Old Montréal is more alive than ever, with more than 2,000 households and upwards of 35,000 people working there in design, business and trade, and municipal and legal institutions. Every year, millions of Montrealers and tourists come to enjoy the charms of the old city's meandering streets and sunny squares, fascinating museums and alluring shops, excellent restaurants and the "new" Old Port".

No, we cannot be Old Montreal, but many cities with heritage value should look at the Old Montreal example.

Thanks Darren for the article.

We probably will become another lost civilisation one day. Your Canada/Mexico analogy may be spot on.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 22:32:31

excellent piece here. It's so true. We've been subsidizing the auto industry for decades. Your average joe who gets his news from the mainstream US media thinks this whole 'auto bailout' is big news.
It's the status quo. We've been sending billions of taxpayer dollars their way for decades....and they're still going bankrupt.

I'd love to redirect a pile of that money into a great urban and inter-urban transit system. Even at a local level, I can drive to Toronto and park for the entire day cheaper than a round-trip ticket on the GO Bus (which sits in the same traffic as my car).

Pretty sad.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2009 at 09:41:57

Don't get me started on VIA Rail...! Our national rail service is a joke. I too have sought out cheap train fares and routes for many trips, and VIA has never delivered. I once took a return trip to Halifax,NS for $850. The train failed to make it - in either direction! We stopped every hour or so for no apparent reason. When I stepped off during one of these stops, in the middle of a forest, and asked a guard why we'd stopped, she drew back on her cigarette and said, 'for smoke breaks'

Hey but if you really want to be green you could always bike to Montreal - right?

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:53:48

I tried to take VIA once - and was informed that the train was at least 2 hours late. Joke indeed. Nonetheless I plan to take it across the country this summer. For travelling alone it is the cheaper alternative but even I end up driving when the group is large enough.

I know that back in the 50's CP Rail offered some truly competitive rates. This was when both rail companies were pushing hard to make passenger rail viable to their business. They introduced demand based fares and you could get dirt cheap tickets for travelling during non-peak times. Apparently the strategy worked.

Nowadays it seems like VIA is in survival mode, doing everything on the cheap at the expense of growing ridership. They run trains with 2 or 3 cars packed. Why not run a few more cars but discount fares based on availability? The seats would fill up and the extra revenue from discounted fares should at least break even on the cost of carrying those passengers.

I won't even get started on their abandonment of downtown stations, throwing away one of the key selling points of rail travel.

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By Voyageur (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2009 at 14:03:38

Man, I loooooooooooooove Montreal. Always felt a kinship that I've never been able to feel towards Toronto (sorry Leafers.) Maybe it's that I detect a working-class sensibility that I cannot find in relentlessly middle-class Ontario. Maybe it's the mountain looming over my shoulder as I head to the waterfront. But my Montreal is Mordecai Richler and The Main, though recently we're more Cote de Neige. Always another neighbourhood, eh?

I've driven, flown and railed. Hate the drive, especially after a good night of wine & joie de vivre. Brockville makes for a nice stop, however. Flying isn't cheap and leaves you stranded out by the airport. Took Porter the last time. Price wasn't too bad but poor weather meant it took longer than the train. Flying isn't reliable, don't care what anybody says. VIA rates are best booked well in advance. About $80 each way, I think. Always liked arriving at Windsor Station.

What I like best are the small, chef-owned BYOB restaurants in residential communities. Can't quite figure why they don't seem to catch on in the Hammer. Dig their fringe festival and small press fairs too. And the jazz festival is amazing. Terrence Blanchard & Cassandra Wilson, but that's a few years back. Good Shakespeare in the park in Mt. Royal last year. Best memory is feeling my wife up during La Boheme at Place des Arts. Didn't dare do that in Hammer Palace. Wonder if many city employees have to be paid directly to make Montreal events run.

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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2009 at 20:38:34

Little too late now Darren:

On Via website, between June 1st and September 15th book one adult ticket and get a free kids (2-11yrs) ticket.

1 kid and 1 adult is $186.90 from Hamilton (Aldershot). $144.90 if you depart from Toronto.

Big difference if you can get a deal.

With gas at 0.87, I could get there and back for under $100. I would be prepared to eat a little bit of money for the convenience of not having to drive, but without the kids free special, I think I would be on the 401 with you Darren.

No doubt, there is potential. Unfortunately, the prices would have to come down a little to make it a viable family mode of travel.

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