Bill Pugh’s voice is as vibrant over the phone as it is in real life.
“How ya doing?”, he asks me. “I’m thinking of coming by the office to check on my account and chat. Are you in?”
I can hear the wind behind Bill whistling loudly as he makes his way to his next destination. I inform him with regret, thinking of our mutually enjoyable talks at the office, that we are working from home nowadays. He sucks in his breath.
“Of course! Can’t believe I forgot. Next time, then. In the meantime, could you check on my account? Want to make sure I’m good to ride- got a lot to do today.”
Image credit: Jessie Golem, 2019.
Bill has never been one to sit still for long; and walking, for him, feels like a poor use of the limited hours in a day. Biking makes him feel efficient, and curbs his restlessness. Bill has been an ERI Rider since the beginning of the program, and has ridden over 6500 kilometres: thousands of kilometres each year, one 20 minute errand ride at a time. He has successfully graduated through all 3 levels of the ERI’s subsidized passes since he began the program- Tandem, Pedal Pass, and 5 & Roll- and enjoys earning credits on his account as he returns out-of-hub bikes to SoBi stations.
Bill speaks often of the peace he felt when he moved to his own private apartment: a move that was almost entirely completed by hanging bags of his belongings on SoBi handlebars, over dozens of rides. He went without permanent housing some years ago for 37 consecutive months, and reflects on the pleasure of having his own space.
“I remember living at the Sally Ann for 6 months, forcing myself to move away from the TV. The guys there, they’ll watch that the whole day, and I don't blame them. It’s so hypnotic; so simple to just to sit there and not get outside- but I biked instead.”
There’s satisfaction in his voice as he describes the home he gained after waiting on a housing list for over 3 years.
“I cook, but it’s what I want. I pick up groceries by bike, and bring home books. When I’m in need of something, I know all I have to do is bike and get it. Later at night, I sit quietly and listen to the city outside, and there’s a certain peace in that, you know? It took a long time, but this is a home base for me. I go and come back, and when I’m not out, it’s my refuge”.
Bike share is Bill’s primary mode of transportation, and after riding around Hamilton’s lower city for many years, he knows all the streets and alleys. He continues many of the daily routines he had before he got his apartment, including accessing many of Hamilton’s service resources. He lists off an average day, briskly: breakfast at home or at the Presbytarian church: "best pancake breakfast in the city right now”. A bagged lunch to-go at St Patrick’s parish: “you can grab an orange for later- gotta have fruit for energy, when you’re active!”. He volunteers for a few hours, and checks in on people he cares about around the city.
Then Bill's personal errands begin- using bike share to make visits to service providers, go grocery shopping, and read books and articles online at the library. He is an avid reader, and enjoys keeping up with the world's current events.
One habit that persisted long before Bill became an ERI rider is a strong sense of responsibility to his community. As an Ontarian who has lived all over Canada, Bill volunteers with Keeping Six, putting together kits to reduce harm for vulnerable people with drug dependencies. He has a critical analysis of the current opioid overdose crisis in Hamilton.
“These services, these on-site safe injection sites, they’re necessary. We had to fight [the city] to advocate for them. People using drugs, they need food, shelter- basic living help- all in one place, like at the Wesley Day Centre.”
Image credit: Jessie Golem, 2019.
|Bill is an ERI rider with a deep understanding of some of Hamilton’s most at-risk populations. So I ask Bill how he would recommend the ERI program to others, especially people who have not ridden in a long time. I know he is well qualified to speak to lapsed riders: he himself stopped cycling for years, after having his right arm amputated in adulthood. Bill pauses briefly, before replying with conviction.|
“Aside from how the ERI is a great option for people without a lot of money, or things like phones or bank accounts? I’d say to them, take baby steps. Maybe go to pick up a few groceries, or to the corner store a few blocks- it’s good for your health, it’s good for the environment, and it gets easier over time the more you do it. You can go as slow as you need to, and there are always people- especially long time riders like me- who can help you. We were there where you were once, too.”
In our last few minutes, I ask Bill why he feels it is important to consider cycling over driving in the city, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. I can hear the smile in his voice as he responds.
“The way things are going with the world this past season- bushfires in Australia, massive snowstorms in Newfoundland- riding SoBi bikes seems the responsible thing to do, environmentally speaking. If you want to contribute in some small way, riding a SoBi bike is one less car on the road.”
I ask Bill what cycling during COVID-19 has been like.
“It’s unreal- I’ve never seen the roads so empty. It’s beautiful, and peaceful- honestly, the best time to feel safer on the streets is now. Depending on where you go, you have the whole street to yourself with no cars, and you don’t have to worry about getting too close to others [and violating physical distance guidelines]. It’s a great time to start riding bikes and using bike share to stay off transit.”
After I reassure Bill that all account renewal fees for his pass are waived during COVID-19, he ends the call to go on his next adventure. I’m left with gratitude at the connections our team is still able to make during this unprecedented time, and looking forward to registering new riders this season who I might be able to see graduate through our subsidized passes in years to come.
Take care all, and stay safe-
If you know anyone who could use a subsidized bike share pass to get around Hamilton during COVID-19, please direct them to email [email protected], or call 289-768-2453 ext. 2.