When a friend of mine first suggested I take the “Magic Bus” from Montreal to New York City, I was skeptical. However, he told me it was the fastest, least expensive mode of transportation between the two cities. Intrigued, I contacted the driver. After a few e-mail exchanges which involved him telling me I could only book one week in advance and that I would have to meet him at a particular metro at a specific time, I was still a bit uncertain but my friend reassured me and I left for the magic bus, money and backpack in hand.
I noticed some other luggage-laden individuals standing at the intersection where I was told to wait. A white van pulled up and people I assumed were experienced “Magic Bus” riders flocked towards the vehicle. I said “Hi” to another girl, gave the driver my bag and hopped into the van. Soon it was full, primary of young people. Several individuals said they took the van regularly. I quickly became comfortable, chatted with my fellow passengers and was impressed by this unique lift to New York: No long lineups at the bus station; no need to arrive an hour before departure; and considerably less expensive than the bus or the train.
The driver told us that Greyhound has a monopoly on ticket sales to individuals. This makes organizing rideshares difficult, as drivers cannot charge each passenger a fee, technically. This is unfortunate, as it is currently the most efficient way of getting from Montreal to New York: the bus takes 8 hours and always gets stuck at the border. The train takes an incredible 11 hours. Both other options are more expensive than the cost of a rideshare. This makes rideshare a competitive option for those of us without cars. There are obvious restrictions: rideshares do not leave as often buses and do not usually have Wi-Fi as do trains.
Some of my friends and family were a bit perturbed when I told them I was getting a lift to New York with a man I did not know. The idea of a rideshare – getting into a car with strangers – does not bode well with most. Even the border guard warned me I should be more cautious; as he took my name and my passport he said: “Ma’am, you have to be more careful; you can’t get into a car with folks you don’t know, that ain’t safe”.
The fear of getting into a vehicle with a driver or individuals that are unknown deters us from rideshares, carpooling and taking the bus. On a continent where rail was long ago relegated to sporadic service, on tourist circuits, the results are inefficient, expensive and unsustainable: People fly from New York to Boston, Montreal to Toronto – or they drive alone.
How can we make rideshares, carpooling and buses more appealing, in lieu of (or while we await) better rail, recognizing that people are afraid of strangers. Perhaps we need to take advantage of social networks to show individuals that they are connected, in even the most remote way, to their fellow passengers (dynamic rideshare). Perhaps we need to create a community of rideshare users that is based on a rating passengers and drivers on their past behaviour, like Couchsurfing does for accommodation. These are just two ideas that have already been put into motion.
This can all come into place as we begin to structure our environment around more sustainable modes of travel, and away from single-occupancy vehicle commutes and air travel over short distances.