C ouncil has a responsibility to provide a range of viable transportation options for our residents, including transit allowing residents who don’t drive to participate in our community (young people, seniors, and people with mobility challenges) and helps our environment by easing congestion and reducing pollution. We have work to do to make transit the viable option for Burlington residents, and it boils down to better routes that get people where they are going quickly, for a reasonable fare.
Many of our residents take transit because they have no other option – they can’t drive, or don’t own a car. They will endure high fares, long waits between buses, and lengthy trips that would be half or less the time in a car, because they have no other transportation option. But we need to make transit a viable choice for people who do have other transportation options, and that means making transit convenient and time-effective.
A number of people don’t choose transit because they can’t afford the “time penalty” – the extra time it takes (versus driving in a car) to take the same trip by bus, waiting or transferring or on meandering routes. And they won’t pay top dollar in fares for service they can’t afford the time to take. Targeted investment in transit routes – like the high school specials and community buses serving the seniors centre – is a step in the right direction to meet the needs of these unique rider groups. Routes along the employment corridors would also help ease congestion.
We need to ensure transit funding and decisions are tied to overall transit strategy; sometimes proposals are based solely on bean-counting – the proposal to close the downtown transit terminal, for example, because it would save money and the bus drivers could use washrooms at the new GO station. However this completely overlooked the importance of the transit station for riders – to buy tickets, stay warm (or cool) in extreme weather, to get maps and information. I successfully brought a motion to keep the station open. The proposal shouldn’t even have come forward, since the downtown is identified as a provincial mobility hub (which includes transit) and would work against our overall strategy of supporting people to use transit.
Regarding specific actions on transit, I support:
- Adding resources to the transit budget for specific initiatives, including three extra community buses serving the Seniors Centre, and 13,000 hours of additional service. Transit staff has already asked for funding to be included in the 2015 budget, and I will support both initiatives. I also support adding back transit services that were redirected from downtown routes to other areas in the city, including restoring high school specials. Additional investments in transit must be geared to achieving specific routes/ridership/and outcomes for riders.
- Restoring transit’s share of Provincial Gas Tax funding back to 30%. In the last term of council, we reduced transit’s share from 30% to 20%. I supported the diversion of transit funds to roads as a temporary measure to provide much needed, short term funding for deteriorating roads, that cost three times to repair if we let them go any longer. The redirection of funds did not affect the operating budget of transit; the fund were earmarked for capital expenditures (i.e. new buses) which staff advised were not needed for another 10 years. Staff advised council that they could support a short term redirection of transit capital funds toward now-need road repair. However, having addressed road repair needs before they deteriorate further and cost more to repair, we are now in a position to redirect the funds back to transit. I will support a vote to reinstate transit funding to 30% or higher of the provincial gas tax.
- Reviewing transit fares to consider a range of options, including a mid-day rate to get more riders on the bus at off peak times; further reductions in the youth rate to keep them on transit; free for seniors; and reduction in fares for people with special needs or financial difficulties. Council could consider topping up the Regional SPLIT pass program, which currently covers 50% of the fare for people who qualify. Regional Council, myself included, supported expanding the SPLIT pass program, making it easier to apply and adding additional funding, a step in the right direction. We know there is a direct correlation between ridership and fares; when fares go up, ridership initially goes down. I’d rather have full buses at half the fare, than half empty buses at twice the fare – both scenarios would bring in the same revenue to the city, but the preference is always for more riders, and fuller buses.
- Improving communications of route changes, before they take place, and engaging our residents in solutions. We lost a number of riders after changes were made last November; many residents didn’t know about the changes. For others, their trips required more transfers or led to missed connections, and generally made their trips longer. Overall ridership has gone down in the past year
- Establishing an “active transportation” committee with the goal of getting people to walk, cycle and/or take transit as an alternative to the car. We need to ensure a resident voice on active transportation generally, which includes transit. The Transit citizen’s advisory committee of city council was sunset last year because the committee was struggling and had difficult meeting quorum. The Cycling committee only considers one form of active transportation, namely cycling. By establishing an “Active Transportation Committee” and folding into that committee cycling, transit and pedestrian transportation, recommendations for budget decisions can take into account all the active transportation options and opportunities, rather than focusing in a siloed way on one form of active transportation over another.
- Enhancing Handi-Van service and eligibility. Last term, I supported adding resources to Handi-Van, and voted in favour of adding two new buses in the last term. We also need to expand the eligibility for Handi-Van users to include people who are blind and can’t ride conventional transit without an escort. Some riders don’t have an escort and as such should be eligible for Handi-Van. Additional investments in Handi-Van must be geared to achieving specific benefits for riders (e.g. shorter wait times; ability to book preferred times) rather than attaining a pre-determined average “per capita spending” target.
- Restoring funding to the taxi-script program. I did not support cutting the program; I believe Taxi-Scripts will continue to be necessary for many of our most needy residents, including residents with the greatest mobility challenges. Council has been advised that Handi-Van is booked on a first come, first served basis, and there is no discrimination on the basis of the purpose of the appointment. However, first hand reports from users are that the intake schedulers for Handi-Van give preference to certain types of appointments (for example medical) making it difficult, if not impossible for some users to book Handi-Van for other necessities (groceries/errands). Compounding that problem is the elimination of the Taxi Script program, where users could book a taxi at a discount rate if Handi-Van was not available. We know that to foster maximum social inclusion in our community, and allow our residents to live independently, they need access to transportation for many worthwhile things beyond simply medical appointments, including senior’s centre programming, grocery shopping and errands, church, visiting friends and family, and more.
- Additional investment in transit aimed at: increasing mid-day ridership; increasing service on holidays; increasing hours of service, especially late night (which has been added to clear the downtown at bar closing); providing community buses in residential areas to feed major routes; reducing time between buses (headway); and reducing walk distances to buses, including restoring transit service into Mapleview Mall.