On the buses

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I had circled Jan. 31 on my work calendar as that was the day of the last TOK Coachlines bus going from Haliburton to Toronto.

With a service having operated for more than 30 years coming to an end, I thought I should ride that last bus to the city in the morning, and take it back home again that evening.

I easily ordered the ticket online, only having to decide whether I would get off in Scarborough or Vaughn. I did a little online research and figured there would be more for me to do in and around the Scarborough Town Centre for the close to six hours I would be waiting for my bus back. The cost was $58.50 one way or $117 return.

I was doing this for a story. Taking my journalism hat off, and thinking like a rider, I asked myself if I would ever take the service otherwise. I hadn’t before. I’m lucky enough to own a car and while I am not crazy about it, I am capable of driving to the city. But what if I didn’t own a car, or couldn’t city drive?

Initially, I thought it was a bit pricey. However, when I factored in that I would be riding the bus for nearly eight hours… it worked out to less than $15 an hour. After some initial interviews with the driver and some passengers, I was able to just settle in from about Norland on. There was nowhere to plug in my laptop and there was no Wi-Fi so earlier plans of working as I drove along flew out the door. But that wasn’t entirely a bad thing. I sat and looked out the window and watched the world go by. It was relaxing. I’d also packed a book.

It definitely took longer than if I had been driving myself. But I was in no rush. I was gathering research and taking photos. Had I been going to a specialist appointment in Toronto, I would have had time with that nearly six-hour gap. If I was not coming back that night, three hours and forty-five minutes was not that big of a chunk out of my day.

At Scarborough, I had a short walk to Scarborough Civic Centre. They have a branch of the Toronto Public Library so I was able to get my laptop set up and Wi-Fi to work from there. After a few hours, I was then able to pop into the Scarborough Town Centre for a quick shop and to grab an early dinner before making my way back to the bus stop.

On the return trip, I was greeted by Stephen and Mieke Foster who were on their way to Haliburton. We chatted as the GTA receded. On the highway to Lindsay, we all settled into our own little worlds. There was a stop at Lindsay to let some people off. Some stretched their legs. Others grabbed coffee. Then it was onto Norland and home. This nearly four-hour ride did seem long – and by the time we got to Haliburton, I was happy to get off the bus. I’d left at 8 a.m. and it was now 9:30 p.m.

On the drive, I learned that a new company is taking over the service. My advice to them? They need to market. A lot of people do not know about the bus and word of mouth is not a good advertising plan. I was told there were only two passengers on their Feb. 2 inaugural trip to Toronto. The new operators might have a Minden connection and want to ensure people are not left without a service but their patience will thin if they cannot cover the cost of fuel, maintenance and a driver. And for the people of Haliburton County the message is also clear: they need to use the service or they will most definitely lose it.