To set a good example for his audience, Burlington Mayor Rick Golding purposely took the bus to a Saturday morning Transit Users Forum at Central Library.
“I’ve got to tell you, it wasn’t easy,” he confessed.
While attendees anxiously waited to hear what obstacles the mayor encountered, they were shocked when he continued his tale.
“While I was waiting at a bus stop, somebody pulled over in a car. They recognized me and said they’d never met me before, but they asked if they could give me a ride somewhere!”
A kindly gesture indeed, but perhaps also an illustration of how much residents of one of the highest income cities in Canada rely on cars.
During the winter especially, Burlington Transit comes in for heavy criticism from passengers standing out in the cold about how slow its buses are in arriving.
The mayor, however, said more frequent bus service in Burlington is in the City’s 25-year strategic plan, which was approved recently. He also said the provincial government has raised the tax on gasoline to create more funding for transit.
The federal government also has announced it will contribute more than $1.8 billion to the transformation of GO Transit into a regional express rail network, increasing the frequency of trains along the Lakeshore West line to every 15 minutes, instead of the current schedule of every half-hour during peak times.
Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon, the provincial Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, said a brand new electrification infrastructure system has to be built along the Lakeshore West GO Transit line before service to and from Toronto every 15 minutes can be initiated.
A decision also must be made on exactly where new stations in Burlington will be located.
“This all is in the works with Metrolinx,” she said. “I hope it can be done in five to seven years.”
McMahon said the extra stations will be constructed in areas which have a high density of population. GO Transit currently has a diesel system, but electrification will produce clean energy.
She said she has no personal opinion about where the new stations should be built.
“I’m guided by planners at the region and city on this,” she said.
Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has been pushing for the City of Burlington to alter its ratio on spending on roads and public transit, respectively, from 80-20 in favor of roads to 70-30.
“We need to prioritize public transit,” she said.
Meed Ward has suggested the City take the $225,000 it spends annually to provide employees with free parking and use it for public transit. Employees then would have to pay for their own parking.
Asked when she thinks Burlington will get 15-minute service, she said, “I’d love to do it today. It’s long overdue.”
However in reality, she said, the item must first be put into the transit master plan and proper funding needs to be obtained.
“I’m hoping it will be by the end of the year, but it may not be until after the 2018 budget is passed,” she concluded.
We could put a whole new bus route together for that money,” she said.
At present, there is bus service every 15 minutes between Burlington and Hamilton during peak hours, as well as along the Plains Road – Fairview St. corridor. A study claims that in the neighborhood of 27,000 Hamiltonians travel to work in Burlington daily.
Peggy Leung, who attended the forum, urged Burlington Transit to consider giving senior citizens a free ride one day a week. Another participant, who asked that his name not be used, pointed out that in England riders who are 65 and over are allowed to use public transit free of charge all the time.
The irony of the whole exercise is that when the approximately 70 people who complained about bus service were asked how they got to the forum, only 26 per cent said they used public transit
Statistics show that in the period between 2013 and 2015, ridership in Burlington decreased by 13.3 per cent. At the same time, it rose by 15.4 per cent in Brampton and dropped by just 2.7 per cent in Oakville.
Doug Brown, chair of Burlington for Accessible, Sustainable Transit (Bfast), said the City’s financial contribution to public transit is very low compared to cities of similar size like Kingston, Guelph and Oakville.
“We really need the City to step up to the plate and provide more,” he said.
Brown said there are some routes in Burlington that run only one hour apart.
A brochure published by Bfast challenges some of the promotional material put out by City agencies.
“We’re always being told that Burlington is one of Canada’s best places to live,” it reads. “But that’s only true if you happen to own a car or two!”