By Rebecca Dickson
Calgary Transit is responsible for managing the 3,864 km of train tracks and bus routes that move thousands of Calgarians across the city every day. With over 3,000 employees and an estimated 110 million customers in 2014, the interactions that take place in this public space form an integral part of the social fabric of our city.
When tragedy struck at the Chinook C-train station earlier this month, I was caught up in the resulting service interruption alongside several hundred other people trying to get home. What struck me most about the scene was everyone’s preoccupation with the resulting delays, packed shuttle buses, and the inconvenience impeding their way home. The scene was mayhem, but this wasn’t the usual technical malfunction or weather-related incident, and I was surprised people were more preoccupied with the wait than they were with the fact someone had been killed a few hundred feet from where they were jostling in line and jamming their way onto the shuttle buses.
Has the experience of travelling by this city’s much-maligned public transit routes so desensitized us from the plight of our fellow passengers that we forget to respond to the news with more than, “how much time will this cost me in my schedule?” And yet out of this accident came an even more surprising encounter that highlights the generosity of others. I hope it encourages all of us, myself included, to approach the transit experience with open minds and kindness toward each other.
I broke my foot at the end of September, and Wednesday was one of the first times I had taken the train since my accident. While hobbling around the bus loop at Chinook station trying to figure out where the next southbound shuttle bus would be picking up passengers, one lady started telling people to move aside, so I could get onto the next bus without having to fight the crowds for a seat. I felt embarrassed, to be honest, as I’m sure almost everyone there had been waiting much longer than me. I could have stood and waited for one of the next buses, but she insisted.
When we got to Heritage Station, it wasn’t apparent where I could easily access the platform with my crutches, so I took the stairs like everyone else. Right away two other people jumped in to offer their help as I jumped my way up and down both flights of stairs. I couldn’t stop apologizing and thanking all the way to the platform.
We waited for several minutes, and as more shuttle buses began arriving, the platform become quite crowded. I always marvel at how people tend to be more open to talking with each other during a major transit delay as everyone finds themselves forced to interact with those around them. I struck up a conversation with the woman I met earlier at Chinook.
Suddenly there was a commotion at the other end of the platform as two people began shouting at each other. The energy of the crowd was electric as the argument became more heated. The woman turned to me and said, “I’m getting picked up. We’ll drive you home.”
I learned her name was Brenda, and she jokingly told me that her husband, Craig, would hardly be surprised that she’d offered his services up to someone on crutches. We talked as we waited for Craig, and I learned that Brenda regularly bought the coffee of the person behind her in line at Starbucks, and once she broke up an intense fight at another C-train station involving one girl against five other teenagers.
For the entire car ride home, Craig and Brenda discussed their pet peeves on the C-train and how many frustrating situations and people they’ve encountered. And yet, here they were, giving a perfect stranger a ride home for no reason other than temporary crutches. They were the ones I was hoping other people would talk about, but it turns out they would become the stars of my own story.
My new mandate as a C-train commuter is to be a Brenda. Once I get off of these crutches, I can’t wait to give someone in need a helping hand or a ride home. Instead of buying the next person’s coffee, I’ll pay for the next rider’s ticket. What will you do? Or do you have your own story to share about the great people you’ve met on public transportation?