I thought I'd describe the situation today as an example of how our transit network fails even for someone who is fairly committed to using it.
I have a trip to make today. I have a dentist appointment at 4:10. Funny story: I picked a dentist, doctor and chiropractor based largely on their location and accessibility. All three have since moved: the dentist from near Belmont Village to Sunrise Centre, the doctor from King & Stirling to down to Fischer-Hallman and Westmount, and my chiropractor from its location a short walk from home on Union to inconveniently half-way between home and work (but close to neither.)
So far (especially in the case of my doctor) I am reluctant to find better-located replacements. And today, I must venture from work (Northfield and Bridge) to Sunrise Centre (Fischer-Hallman and Ottawa). This trip used to be totally impractical by anything but car, but now I can get there from the opposite corner of town thanks to the new 201 iXpress, with a connection, in less than an hour. Go go gadget Google Maps:
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For a trip like this, it's pretty impressive to make it in under an hour, though if the Expressway is light, that trip still takes half an hour or less by car: I usually plan on having a car when I need to make this kind of trip. But, given that Erin has an out-of-town need for the car tonight, I was prepared to pay the extra half an hour travel time.
Unfortunately, travel time is not just time spent on the bus. I've demonstrated that I'm willing to spend more time getting there if I don't have to drive (and I believe that many people would accept a longer trip time-- to a point-- if they can avoid paying for the car needed to make the trip, or if it somehow helps them avoid some other aspect of driving, like congestion, which our current bus network cannot.)
If you click through to the actual directions you will see the best option to arrive in time for my 4:10 appointment: leave at 2:50pm, arrive at 3:46.
Frequency matters. In this case, route 31 serves up what is usually considered a minimally acceptable 30 minute frequency. You should consider that on average, waiting time for this bus is half of the frequency period: 15 minutes, and this is part of your travel time. You may be able to plan around the bus's schedule a lot of the time, but situations like this show you could be waiting not at your departure point, but at your destination. Not to mention that when things go wrong (a bus runs early or doesn't show-- not unknown for me here at Northfield and Bridge!) you are stuck for a long wait.
Human Transit has a great article on the critical importance of frequency in the uptake of transit, for which my situation serves as a good illustration. This is why GRT's expanding frequent express bus network cannot arrive soon enough, and I eagerly look forward to the new and extended iXpress routes that are planned to serve Northfield and Bridge in 2013.
In fact, an extended 201 iXpress may mean that in the future, I won't have to worry about the distance to my doctor and dentist from work as it will serve as a direct route with fairly frequent (15 minute) service.
But today, I have to drive... and Erin will be late as a result.
As an addendum: I would not even consider this trip if the connection order (31 to 201) was reversed. Attempting to connect to a 30 minute bus is fraught with time-wasting hazard, thanks to the noise introduced by the arrival time of the first bus, no matter how frequent that first bus is. This is a point I've tried to make clear to transit planners in town... connections are okay, but only if the routes themselves are frequent. If connections allow for a higher-frequency network, then they should be preferred. But connections on a low-frequency network are death.