A lot of good ideas are exchanged during the City of Burlington’s annual budget discussions, but this was not one of them.
Incredibly, a couple of years ago council dealt with a recommendation from staff to close the downtown bus station on John Street. Luckily the politicians had enough sense to turn it down.
Citizens attending a recent public meeting staged by Burlington For Accessible Sustainable Transit (BFAST) aired several complaints about Burlington Transit, although there was unanimous support for the courteous manner in which bus drivers deal with the public.
James Smith, who lives in the southeast corner of the city, said with the increase in GO train service, it now is more frequent than City buses and the schedules are not matching.
At one time, he said, City buses ran every 15 minutes and his family even made the decision to not have a car and use transit.
“I used to be able to go all the way to Mapleview Mall, but not anymore,” he said.
Paul Benson, who uses a wheelchair to get around, said he once was marooned in extremely cold weather after traveling to Oakville by bus. On the way home, he took an Oakville bus to the Burloak RioCan Centre, where he was supposed to link up with a Burlington bus. But when it didn’t show up, he had to take another Oakville bus south on Burloak Drive to catch a Burlington bus on another route.
Glenna Cranston, who also requires a wheelchair, said some seniors actually can’t see their stops because of dirt on the windows and advertising the City sells to increase revenue. Some vehicles ressemble a giant pizza box.
Stephanie Bye said getting to places on time isn’t the only reason teens appreciate public transit.
“We’re trying to self-identify and no longer be just our parents kids,” she said.
More bus routes for young people on shift work at nights also was discussed. There are 30,000 teens between the age of 15 and 19 living in Burlington.
Mayor Rick Goldring acknowledged that Burlington spends 50 per cent less per capita on public transit than other cities of similar size in the GTA, but he said the others have unique circumstances.
“A lot of them have post-secondary institutions,” he explained.
In November of 2013 the City made schedule changes, allocating more resources to higher demand bus routes and reducing service on lower demand routes.
In 2013, council made an 8.4 per cent fare hike, which raised cash fares from $3 to $3.25 — more than in the city of Toronto. It’s going up again to $3.50 on May 1.
Although Burlington has one of the lowest transit service levels in the GTA, it leads the way in its fares. For example, Hamilton cash fares are $2.55 (22% less than Burlington!)..
However, there are those on council who say the City can’t afford to operate a lot of buses when they are essentially empty.
Councillor Paul Sharman even suggested the City buy every one of its regular riders a book of cab chits, and it would still be cheaper. He said 85 per cent of Burlingtonians use cars only to get around.
Staff are proposing three new community connection buses this year, with the seniors centre as a hub. Community connection routes use smaller transit vehicles to bring passengers to the main entrance doors of popular destinations like community centres and malls.
Mayor Rick Goldring and Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward are the only two members of council who accepted a challenge from BFAST to take the bus themselves for any five days over the course of a month.
The mayor said this fall a transit-intelligent transportation system, which will give riders electronic access to real time bus information, is to be implemented.
During a recent visit to San Antonio, Texas, he said he purposely used public transit and is convinced Burlington Transit should adopt the all-day pass, which is available there. San Antonio charges $1.25 per ride or $2.50 for an all-day pass.
Meed Ward decided to try taking public transit to Halton Region headquarters in Oakville, instead of driving.
She said she first took a bus to the GO station, hopped a train to Bronte and then took a bus to Halton Region headquarters. But the round trip took three hours, while it takes only a half-hour round trip by car.