How to Ride Public Transit

Bus and light rail services in the Waterloo region are operated by Grand River Transit. Students (but not post-doctoral fellows or faculty) get unlimited free bus rides using their WatCards. Riding public transit is very simple, but newcomers to the region may be unfamiliar with some of the specific social contracts that they are expected to follow while riding.

Basic Instructions for the Bus

In order to use the bus to travel from one place to another, the minimum things you must do are what you would expect if you have ever taken a bus before:

  1. Wait at a bus stop. Make sure that you obviously intend to board (e.g., exit the bus shelter to stand at the bus stop sign and look at the bus as it approaches). High-traffic bus stops have LED tickers that display the time until buses arrive.
  2. Get on the bus. Boop Tap your WatCard on the boop pad card reader and take a seat.
  3. To request the next stop, pull the yellow cord running along the windows or press a red "stop" button on one of the internal poles, if available. When the "stop requested" light is on, a stop has already been requested and thus there is no need to signal again.
  4. Exit via the rear door, unless there is a good reason not to (see below). Buses in Waterloo have two types of doors: "wave to open" and "push to open". In both cases, the door cannot be opened unless the green light above the door is on. This green light will turn on for a few seconds after the bus stops. If the green light has already turned off again then the bus driver is preparing to leave, and so you should yell at them to open the back door if you still want to get off the bus.
    1. The "wave to open" doors have a large circular green sticker in the middle of the door. These doors are operated by a very bad computer vision system. Wave your hand very close to the door, or just push on the green sticker (even though it says not to).
    2. The "push to open" doors have vertical yellow strips running along the doors. Push on the yellow strips to open it. Waving at this type of door will do nothing except make you look silly.

Basic Instructions for riding the ION

The ION Light Rail Transit (LRT) has fewer stops than the bus system, but is faster and more frequent. The instructions are different from the bus in several ways.

  1. Find the right platform. Most stations, including the one at the university, have one platform going both directions (Northbound, to Connestoga, and Southbound, to Fairway). Some locations, however, have split stations, each serving only one direction, that are one or more city blocks apart (notably, stations in Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener). Check the route map to see where the stations are. Some people have been confused by the visual representation, but there are no loops in the system, only splits.
  2. Boop your WatCard on a podium at either end of the plaform. Note that even though you ride for free, and the system operates on a fare-inspection basis (unlike the busses which simply won't let you enter without paying), you are expected to tap as though you were paying fare. Fare inspectors can see whether your card is valid, and the last few times you tapped. So far there haven't been any reports of students getting the $300 fine for skipping fare for not tapping, but the fare inspectors have stated they're within their rights to do so.
  3. Wait for the next train in line behind and to the side of one of the black tiles, which will line up with the doors. Do not stand directly behind on the tiles, since there may be people leaving the train. If you have a large object you're boarding with, such as a bike, use one of the centre doors, which are wider.
  4. Once the train arrives and comes to a stop, and the button on the doors is lit, press it to open them. Let people leave the train, then board.
  5. Note which stop you need to leave at, keeping in mind the split stations. Unlike the bus, you don't need to press the "stop" button (it always stops at every stop, the buttons just came with the train).
  6. When the train stops and the button on the doors lights up, press it to open them. There is a non-zero time between when the train stops, and when the button will work. You can tell if the button press registered if the white lights above the door turn on.
  7. Don't cross in front of the train when leaving.

Social Conventions and Other Rules

The basic instructions above are enough to get you to your destination, but if you don't follow the social conventions then you might make people angry at you. Follow these tips on both the bus and ION to avoid the ire (and in some cases, fines).

  1. If you are sitting on the corridor side of a two-person seating row, make sure you are aware when the other person wants to get off the vehicle. If you notice them attentively picking up their baggage as you are approaching a stop, this is a social signal that they would like to leave. You should stand up to let them exit and then quickly sit back down. This is sometimes less neccessary on the ION—use your judgement.
  2. Do not sit in the priority seating area unless you qualify as one of the priority classes or the vehicle is completely full (hint: if the bus is full, the seats will not be available anyway). If you do unintentionally find yourself in one of these seats, you should preemptively give it up as soon as somebody who needs them boards (they may be too shy to ask explicitly). The (partial) exception to this rule is that you must stand with your bike in the priority seating area on the ION. This does not give you priority though, and if someone in a priority class boards in that car, you need to move your bike to another priority seating area, or wait for the next train.
  3. If you are going to use the priority seating area on a bus, make sure that the seats are lowered. There is a yellow handle that you have to pull out and then fold down. Don't stand in the space where the seats would fold down into.
  4. After you board the vehicle, it will start to move. If you are not seated, make sure that you are holding onto something at all times (i.e., either the overhead handles, the poles, or the seat handles). Otherwise, the vehicle will start to move unexpectedly while you are trying to find a seat and you may lose your balance.
  5. On a bus, always exit by the rear door when possible. If you exit by the front door, you are delaying the bus by blocking the people that want to board. The only real exception to this rule is during the winter when the back door opens into a snow bank while the front door opens into a cleared surface. In that context, use the front door to lower the risk of injury.
  6. If there is nowhere to sit, you'll have to stand. Move as far from the entrance(s) as possible. Do not stop in front of the back door on a bus and stand there; you block the corridor and halve the standing capacity. If you do this, the bus driver will either literally yell at you to move back, or they will play the passive aggressive "move back" chime, alerting the entire bus to your transgression. Do not wait for this to happen. Move to the far back of the bus and stand in the middle of the upper level.
  7. The back doors on some buses close after a short amount of time, even if people are still exiting. Always hold the door open while you exit the bus in order to prevent the door from closing on people behind you. If the door is about to close on you, force it back open. Once it fully closes it will lock and you'll have to ask the bus driver to re-open it.
  8. Unlike bus doors, the doors on the ION are not meant to be held open; doing so can get you fined. Instead, press the button to open the doors again, which resets the timer for keeping the doors open. You should press the button again as you're boarding/leaving if the doors are closing, or if there are a lot of other people boarding/leaving. Alternatively, if you know extra time will be needed at the next stop, you can press one of the blue buttons on the priority seating areas.
  9. You can put your bicycle on the front of the bus before boarding if you want to take it with you. If you do this, don't forget to take it with you when you leave! Bicycles are allowed inside the ION (see point 2 above).
  10. Stay off of your phone until you are either in a seat or have found a place to stand. If you are standing, briefly stop using your phone every time the vehicle stops in order to be aware of your surroundings. You may be blocking some people that need to enter or exit. This can occur in any standing location.
  11. If the vehicle is crowded and you are standing, take off your backpack and hold it. Otherwise you will inevitably slap people in the face with it without knowing that it is happening.
  12. If you are seated, do not put your backpack on the adjacent seat unless you know that there are pairs of seats still available. Do not reserve a seat while each row has at least one person. Again, if you are on your phone or otherwise visually distracted, make sure you re-assess the situation during each stop. Alternatively, just always keep your backpack on your lap or in front of your legs if there is room and then you won't need to constantly check to see if you are being rude.
  13. If you are listening to headphones, make sure that the person sitting next to you cannot hear what you are listening to. If they can, then get a better pair of headphones or risk violating the "no radios" rule.
  14. Buses are harder to stop than cars, and LRTs are harder to stop than busses. Don't test this.
  15. Thanking the bus driver is at your discretion. ION drivers can't hear you thank them—unless you use the emergency intercom, in which case they will likely get mad at you.
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Topic revision: r4 - 2019-12-09 - NikolasUnger
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