Monday, December 22, 2003

Holiday Shopping

As this past weekend was the last for shopping before Christmas, I joined hundreds of thousands of other GTA'ers in stampeding to the malls. In past years, I have avoided key retail areas and their parking chaos — particularly Square One, the mall around which Mississauga built its city centre. (I recall a particularly bad last weekend before Christmas, five or six years ago, in which my brother Craig and I were stuck in our 1984 Plymouth Reliant, waiting for a good half hour or more just to get out of the parking area onto the mall ring road.)

This year, though, I continued an experiment that I began a year ago. I persuaded Philippa that we should drive from Brampton to the carpool lot at Highways 10 and 401 in northern Mississauga, and take Mississauga Transit's Route 19 to the mall instead. (Last year, we came from south of the mall, parking at Cooksville GO station.) This route is one of Mississauga Transit's busiest, and even on Saturdays and Sundays it runs fairly often (every 10 minutes on Saturdays, which is pretty good for a suburban system on a weekend). We make good use of park-and-ride facilities that aren't that busy on weekends. But best of all, we make it to the mall in a not-too-unreasonable trip (perhaps about 20 minutes), and upon arrival at the city centre terminal we simply get off the bus and hop across to the mall.

Sunday was a repeat, but in Toronto. The TTC's Day Pass allows unlimited travel for a couple on Sundays (actually, for a family) for only $7.75 (about the price of four tickets), and there are lots of major retail areas within walking distance of the subway. We stuck to downtown this Sunday, but in the past have gone between Yorkdale, downtown, Fairview (via the new Sheppard subway), as well as the more traditional "main street" retail strips. It's a very low-stress approach to holiday shopping.

So you have to wonder why more suburbanites don't bother to consider it. Is it the cost? Perhaps, but the cost is not terribly significant compared to how much many people spend on gifts this time of year. I suspect it's more a combination of never having considered it, and the attitude of, "Why should I take the bus? I have a car!"

This is an area where the media could do wonders. Every December, every TV and radio news program invariably has a story on last-minute Christmas shopping, and focuses on parking chaos outside malls. This year was no different, of course; either CFTO (CTV) or CityTV (I forget) had a reporter in the Fairview Mall parking lot, getting people's strategies for finding the perfect parking spot. Not once did they mention that, for those who don't fancy having to cruise the lot looking for a vacant spot (or deal with the queues leaving at the end of the day), well gee, there's a brand-spankin'-new subway that just happens to stop right outside the mall. (Similarly, in past years I've seen stations show aerial shots from their news helicopters hovering over Yorkdale Mall's parking lot and its sea of brake lights and headlights; if they just panned their cameras slightly to the north across the 401, they'd show the Wilson subway station's park-and-ride lots virtually empty — and just a couple minutes' subway ride away.)

The only news media to suggest taking local transit to the mall, if only for your own shopping sanity? Metro (one of the free dailies distributed at subway stations), through its transit columnist, Ed Drass (thanks, Ed!) — and a brief mention on 680 News.

Next year, I'd like to see local transit authorities (especially in 905) take a lead in promoting service to major shopping areas. Perhaps it could be in partnership with retailers offering "validated transit tickets" (in the same vein as validated parking). Perhaps a good media push would be enough to encourage more people to leave their cars — and parking stresses — behind.


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