I’m a strong advocate for better transit, which is why I spoke in favour of the SWBRT at Wednesday’s marathon session in council. But I was reminded last week of what “better” includes.
On Friday my daughter came to join me at the Calgary Folk Festival. Like me, she waited for the bus close to our home, boarded, and took a window seat. Shortly thereafter, a man moved to sit beside her. He began to pepper her with questions, ranging from “do you have a boyfriend” to “where are you going” to “what’s your phone number” to “do you like to smoke weed”.
My daughter is a strong, independent adult, and has travelled alone in Europe and in major American cities. She knows how to take care of herself. She firmly rejected this man at every turn. But physically much bigger, he made her a virtual prisoner by blocking her access to the aisle. He became more demanding and aggressive.
I take transit every week. On very rare occasion I’ve encountered a belligerent passenger. At no time have I felt unsafe. I’m also a male of above-average size.
My daughter told me while this is the first time she ever felt harassed on a Calgary bus she has felt uneasy waiting at certain transit stops. Occasionally uneasy walking alone at night. She told about me what it can be like to be a young woman at times during Stampede. Or, simply, to be a young woman.
I felt angry. And dismayed. And a little sheepish. It’s 2016 and we still have a lot to do.
Thankfully it turns out my daughter wasn’t alone that evening. First one passenger, then another, began to call this man out for his harassment and told him to stop it. He moved, she exited the bus at her destination and joined me for a fantastic evening with thousands and thousands of others at the Folk Fest.
I’m grateful to the passengers who came to the aid of my daughter. It’s what Calgarians do. And it’s clear to me that our public realm is safer when more people look out for one another.
Still, my daughter’s experience reminds me that we have more to do to make our city feel safe for everyone. And that includes public transit. Advocating for better transit means more than improved frequency and reliability, it also means comfort and safety for all.