Ottawa's publicly owned transit system works best when large numbers of people want to go to the same place at the same time. Riders often get squeezed in like sardines, but they usually get where they want to go more or less on time, and they don't have to pay for parking when they get there.
This raises the question: is OC Transpo's service likely to get better or worse when the transit company begins replacing buses with a light-rail system?
The changeover is due to begin in 2018 with completion of a railway tunnel under downtown Ottawa that will allow passenger trains to run initially between Tunney's Pasture west of downtown and Blair Road in the east.
For many people who now ride the bus to or through downtown, this will mean transferring at least once between bus and train.
The biggest advantage of a bus system is its adaptability. When the tech boom brought massive development to Kanata, all OC Transpo had to do was introduce new routes serving all those office towers along March Road.
Whenever a new housing suburb springs up in Barrhaven, Stittsville or Orleans, it is immediately served by regular bus service - plus express buses downtown in rush hour when there is demand for it.
The same goes for a major employer, such as the Department of National Defence. You can be sure that when DND moves thousands of employees to the former Nortel campus in the next few years, OC Transpo will have service to the door, or close to it.
OC Transpo is a heavily subsidized public service from which we all benefit, whether we ride the buses regularly or not. For all of us, it keeps down the cost of building and maintaining city streets and highways.
But while OC Transpo is a public service, it operates on a supply-and-demand basis, like any business that must make a profit to survive.
Buses don't run empty, or almost empty, if OC Transpo can help it. That's why, for example, the vast industrial areas of southeast Ottawa have very limited bus service.
There are dozens of industrial premises in this area, which include the Ottawa Business Park and Hawthorne Industrial Park. Yet the area is served by just one bus route - the 192 - which runs at peak hours only, eight times in the morning and eight times in the afternoon.
Free parking in the area is one disincentive to ride the bus to work. Another is probably that a transfer would be required to ride the 192, unless you happened to live close to Hurdman station, where the route originates.
Contrast that with a residential area of Kanata like Bridlewood, where I live. There are two express routes within a five-minute walk of my home, the 61 and the 66. For a three-hour period during the evening rush, there is a bus about every seven minutes from downtown on one or the other of those two routes.
That's terrific service, almost door to door, for anyone who works downtown and lives in my neighbourhood. The monthly $116 cost of an express bus pass is paltry compared with the cost of downtown parking every weekday for a month.
Ottawa is not a really big city, and perhaps never will be. It's not like London or New York, where huge numbers work downtown. Many Ottawans work in or close to their neighbourhood.
Many more work in suburban industrial parks, or in high-tech clusters far from downtown.
It could take decades for those who don't work downtown to benefit from light rail. For those who now take one bus straight downtown, it could be irritating - and time-consuming - to transfer from a bus to a train when within sight of their destination.
Light-rail proponents say we must have such a system to meet future public transit needs for a metropolitan area that already has 1.2 million inhabitants, and is growing faster than the national average.
But at a price tag of $2.1 billion, many Ottawa taxpayers may fairly wonder whether it's worth it.