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Thoughts on City’s new Transit Survey

The City of Burlington has launched a new survey on transit which they say is aimed at transit riders and people who currently do not take the bus. The survey is available until March 26th 2018.

The survey is a nice idea – but is a very minor item and so much more is needed.

We believe that the City Manager and new Transit Director are committed to improving transit. However, this will require a political commitment for increased long-term transit funding. Will this be possible given that our council that has consistently cut transit and and the City now spends less than one half of the GTA per capita average on transit?

The analysis that James Ridge, Sue Connor and Colm Lynn presented to Council on September 7, 2017 made a very compelling case for immediate money to bring the transit system up to labour standards and provide better safety and reliability. For the first time in recent years, this council listened and approved the emergency funding.

During his September 7 presentation to council, the City Manager made clear that the emergency funding would still leave Burlington with “a crappy system” i.e. with low service levels and long wait times – but at least it would run on time and within provincial labour standards.

So what is really needed now is a comprehensive transportation study that will look at all aspects of transportation, roads, cars, transit, walking, cycling, parking, and development. This study should develop alternative options and evaluate the alternatives against economic, social and environmental criteria. Unfortunately, this is not happening as plans for transit, roads, parking, and cycling continue to be developed separately.

The City must begin to look at the cost of transit with regard to all the benefits that a robust transit system would provide – i.e. large savings in road and parking expenditures; improved air quality; improved road safety; improved social accessibility and equity; and savings in private automobile costs. The economic benefits of transit have been documented in a number of Canadian studies. A national study of the economic benefits of transit1 concluded that municipalities could make no better investment than in transit with “a rate of return of at least 12% if not more.” A recent study in Hamilton2 showed significant economic benefits from transit investments, while in Waterloo Region, their transportation plan3 determined that a transit-oriented scenario would provide more economic, social, and environmental benefits than the car-oriented scenario.

So the financial case for better transit has been clearly demonstrated. The question is not whether we afford better transit, but whether we can afford not to invest more in transit.

So will “Canada’s Best Mid-Sized City” continue to have a “crappy” transit system or will we build a good transit system to provide accessibility for all our citizens, and make the City truly a liveable, walkable, community.

Doug Brown
Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit

References
1. The Economic Impact of Transit Investment: A National Survey:Metropolitan Knowledge International , McCormick Rankin Corporation, and Dr. Jeff Casello, University of Waterloo for the Canadian Urban Transit Association, 2010

2. Economic Impact of the Community Climate Change Action Plan City of Hamilton Dr. Atif Kubursi, Econometric Research Ltd, 2016

3. Region of Waterloo Transportation Master Plan. Moving Forward 2031. Final Report Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Jan 12, 2011

2018 Budget Reaction

BFAST is cautiously optimistic about the outcome of yesterday’s budget committee meeting; this is a very good first step – but much more is needed beginning with the development of a long-term transportation plan where all aspects of transportation – transit, motor vehicles, cycling, walking are looked at together and long-term resources are put in place to build a very good transit system – saving costs on roads, parking, pollution.

Transportation should be developed and evaluated against, economic, social, and environmental criteria.

The following motions moved by Councillor Meed Ward were approved (source)

  • Additional $372,424 to add five transit operators. This will improve service by providing “layover” time between routes, to allow buses to meet schedules if there are unexpected delays (for example, traffic congestion). Layover times are currently below industry norms.
  • Additional $20,600 to provide transit Holiday Service on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, the only days where no transit service is currently offered. Committee heard from our Director of Transit that Burlington is the only municipality in the GTA that doesn’t operate 365 days per year.

Click here to view our 2018 Budget submission

Summary of Metrolinx Town Hall on December 12th 2017

The following writeup of the Metrolinx Town Hall was submitted by BFAST Chair Doug Brown

I went to the Metrolinx “Town Hall” on December 12. The Town Hall was held so that the public could ask questions of Metrolinx management and get answers. BFAST supporter Nicholas Civiero had submitted a question on missing funding for local transit in advance online. His question was basically similar to the comments I had sent to Metrolinx on November 7 following the Hamilton Roundtable on the Draft Metrolinx 2041 Regional Transit Plan.

The meeting was held in the Metrolinx boardroom at their offices in the northeast corner of Union Station. It was very well attended – ~150 people there as well as many watching online. Unfortunately. the meeting was only 90 minutes long (6:00-7:30) which meant that most questions that people wanted to ask, either in person or online were not presented.

Link to CityTV coverage of the Town Hall

Although a number of supporters had voted for the question submitted by Nick to get it in the top ten, the meeting closed before we even got through the top 10 advance online question. I quickly got in the line for the microphone and was able to ask a question about where the 15% of Big Move funds committed for local transit had gone – roughly $300 million/year for GTHA municipalities. Chief Metrolinx Planner, Leslie Woo gave a very confused and unclear response. I hope to find the recording of the Town Hall to see if I can make any sense from what she said. I also raised the question of parking expenditures and said that Metrolinx’s first/last mile approach seemed simply have people drive to and from the GO stations.

Another serious question was raised about the Metrolinx requirement that their capital projects be Public Private, Partnerships. Metrolinx CEO. Phil Verster maintained that 3P’s were necessary to reduce financial risks, but when pressed to explain, simply got angry at the questioner.

In addition to the short time allotted for questions, Metrolinx staff were overly zealous in quickly clearing the room after the event, preventing many people from questioning staff.

Update: Video of Town Hall is now available

Comments on Metrolinx’s Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan

More transit – less parking!

In the “Big Move”  25% of funding was to go to the GTHA municipalities. Of this 25%, 15% was to support local transit improvements. This should have resulted in an annual infusion of $300 million annually to GTHA local transit systems. This would have resulted in large improvements to local transit.

However, this commitment has quietly disappeared from The Big Move and from the 2041 draft RTP.

Instead, we have more parking planned at GO stations!  It looks like the first mile/last mile will be by car for most GO users.

Even the lower parking scenario, GO will be creating ~ 30,000 additional spaces. At $40,000/space (Clarkson parking facility cost $40 million to create 1000 spaces) this will cost will be over $1.2 Billion!

It would be far more cost effective to invest this money in local transit.

Also, the large parking lots and parking garages surrounding suburban stations will create large barren parking zones. This will make it more difficult to develop pedestrian-friendly mobility hubs around each station.

Also, Metrolinx should be charging for parking at GO Stations. A recent study in Hamilton clearly showed that paid parking will greatly increase the transit modal share1 . Metrolinx needs to review the extensive research on parking strategies carried out by Shoup et al2.

 

  1. Pinder, Matt: By the Numbers: Impacts of Paid Parking at Work on Commuter Modal Share, Published July 08, 2015 in “Raise the Hammer”

 https://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2647/by_the_numbers:_impacts_of_paid_parking_at_work_on_commuter_mod

  1. Shoup, Donald: The High Cost of Free Parking: Updated Edition Paperback– Apr 1 2011

Submitted by Doug Brown, M.Sc., P.Eng, Chair, Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit
November 14, 2017

Shuttle to Transit Users Forum

Due to construction on New Street, Burlington Transit bus # 10 will be re-routed starting March 21st. This re-routing may make it difficult for transit riders to reach the Central Library.

Burlington Transit has kindly offered to operate a shuttle service from the John Street Terminal to the Central Library so that transit users can reach the Users Forum on April 2nd. See the schedule below:

Shuttles from the Terminal to Central

9:00am
9:15am
9:30am
9:45am

Adjournment is at 12:00pm

Returning shuttles

12:10pm
12:25pm

Brent Toderian in Burlington

On February 11th, noted Urbanist and Twitter phenom Brent Toderian was invited to come to Burlington to speak with City Council and Staff, as well as to present to the public as part of Mayor Goldring’s “Inspire Burlington” series.

You can watch the Council Workshop here. TV Cogeco will be showing the Inspire Burlington talk on Tuesday March 1st at 4:30pm and again on Sunday March 6th at 2:00pm (link to schedule)

Here are some things we picked up on from Brent’s presentation to Council:

Brent Toderian’s first point was to that we need to change our thinking from being a suburb to being urban. We need to look at 3 dimensional streets rather than one dimensional roads. He noted that a suburb with more density will result in gridlock and congestion. In order to make this transition, and to position us for success our government needs to treat the Official Plan review as a rethink, not a tweak. Part of this is being willing to fail before we succeed.

Mobility: Brent stressed the need to prioritize transit, walking, and cycling over cars. We now have a very car-centred system meaning the we have to go well beyond the so-called balanced approach to moving budget dollars from cars to transit, walking and cycling. The car as the primary means of getting around has had a 40-50 year head start, so just seeking balance now won’t get us there. He also stressed that in urban places, balance isn’t good enough.

Transit: Brent noted that western Canada’s largest condo developer has said that the key factor in real estate development has changed from “location, location, location” to “transit, transit, transit”. Brent called improving transit “our strongest opportunity” as a city.

Strategic Plan and Budget: Brent noted that the City’s Strategic Plan was good – but the budget was not. He stated “the truth of a city’s aspirations is not in its plan, but in its budget”.

Making the transition -“pull the bandaid off quick” Brent was very critical of the slow approach re bike lanes. He said this approach maximized the controversy. Instead, he recommended rapid completion of a viable network that would work immediately. He also said that separation was needed on arterials – but not on other streets. Although he cited cycling in this approach, it would also apply to transit.

Prioritize the incentive for taking transit: Brent said that drivers need to see a benefit to take transit for example, bus only lanes that allow buses to move faster than cars.

Parking: Brent emphatically said “get out of Park’n Ride” (will Metrolinx listen?). He suggested that the City constrain the supply of parking.

Intensification: Brent discussed how building density right is a challenge because it can result in “the sweet spot of failure”; intensification on too low a scale will create traffic congestion but not enough density to support efficient transit. We need to have an honest conversation about the real cost and consequences to growing the right and wrong ways, with respect to climate change and public health. The starting point of “I don’t want the city to change…” is common, but ‘stable neighbourhoods’ are a lie. All cities are changing in ways beyond the control of local government, so take the word ‘stable’ out of your vocabulary. Cities should reject the idea that there is an optimal number for growth (how big should we get) and worry about quality instead of quantity.

Doing the wrong thing better: Painted bike lanes were one example of this; need to make sure we don’t mistake for doing the right thing.

Public Engagement: Your goal should be to convince the convinceable; as leaders you need to change the conversation. Just because we don’t have consensus doesn’t mean we can’t have an intelligent conversation.

Burlington Transit: It was upsetting to hear that Brent Toderian did not get to meet with anyone from Burlington Transit.

Book Review – Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead

moveRosabeth Moss Kanter: Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead. New York, WW. Norton, 2015. 279 pages, hardcover. Available at the Burlington Public Library.

Burlington’s City Council is set to pass a budget for 2016 that features no increase in transit funding. As BFAST reminded citizens in a recent news release, the budget represents a decrease in transit funding once inflation is taken into account.

Content to follow their fiscal model of extravagant spending when it comes to useless baubles (the pier) and penny-pinching on essentials (transit and seniors), the majority on Burlington Council has evidently ignored books like Move.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at Harvard Business School and is Chair and Director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative. She’s a prominent advisor to corporate CEOs and executives and serves on many boards and advisory councils. She’s been named one of the 50 most powerful women in the world by the Times of London.

While her book focuses on all kinds of transportation infrastructure, her take on public transit alone is worth reading. For Kanter, public transit is a tool for city building and for improving the prosperity of the city and its citizens.

It’s no coincidence, as Kanter points out, that the American cities with the least income inequality and the most social mobility are usually the ones with the best transit systems. A bad transit system traps people who can’t afford cars in a system where it can take literally hours to get to work. It limits their educational and job opportunities. It forces cities to increase their spending on supports.

Burlington’s City Council stretches credibility when it says it wants to run the city like a business, yet blithely ignores making one of the most important investments it can in the city’s people.

Some facts from Kanter’s book about the economic effects of transit:

• According to a 2014 study by Daniel Chatman and Robert Nolan, which studied more than 200 cities of all sizes, adding four rail or bus seats per 100,000 pupulation produces a 10% increase in the number of employees per square mile in the central city.

• A 10% increase in transit service leads to wage increases of up to $200 per year in the central city and bumps up the city’s gross metropolitan product by 1-2%.

• The American Public Transit Association estimates that every dollar invested in transit generates about four dollars in economic returns.

• A 2013 competitiveness survey by the Harvard Business School of companies in the US saw better transit as the biggest choice of where companies thought public money should be invested. Their reason: transit helps people get to work.

• In 2013, Americans took the most trips on public transit in 57 years. Transit ridership nationwide is up 37.2% since 1995, surpassing both population growth (20.3%) and vehicle miles travelled (22.7%).

Many remember that a large European company recently chose Oakville over Burlington for its Canadian headquarters because Burlington’s poor bus service would hinder potential employees from applying for jobs or getting to work. How many more companies have made the same choice when it comes to relocating or expanding?

Another folly of Council’s current thinking is their belief that we have to wait for higher population density in order to build a good transit service. Mayor Rick Goldring, in a recent address, outlined a vision somewhat similar to Toronto Mayor John Tory’s smart track plan: an LRT-type service which would piggyback on the electrification of the GO line along Fairview Street.

Kanter suggests a practical alternative to this utopian and unrealistic vision: improved bus service, including bus rapid transit, that can easily accommodate new riders because of the innate flexibility of a bus system and doesn’t become a money pit that serves only a portion of the community.

In only one chapter on public transit, Kanter could give the hidebound among our city councilors a lesson on why public transit is an investment, not an expense.

(reviewed by Collin Gribbons)

City budget shortchanges transit users

For Immediate Release
January 13, 2016

Despite commitments in the City’s Strategic Plan, transit users in Burlington are again being shortchanged by the municipality‘s 2016 budget, says a spokesperson for Burlington For Accessible, Sustainable Transit (BFAST).

Council is set to approve a budget for the system that provides no funding increase for 2016.
“When inflation is considered, the 2016 transit budget is actually less than the budget in 2015,” commented BFAST spokesperson Doug Brown.

Funding and service cuts, schedule changes and fare increases over the past four years have resulted in a 17% decline in ridership for Burlington’s chronically underfunded transit system. This is despite the requirement of the Ontario Municipal Board that the city increase transit ridership to 11% of all city trips by 2030.

In contrast, Oakville has seen large increases in transit use as a result of higher funding and better service levels.

“Burlington’s politicians like to point to the survey by Moneysense magazine that rates our community as the most livable mid-size city in Canada,” Brown said. “But that same magazine notes Burlington is well down the list when it comes to walkability and transit.”

Brown said adequate transit service is an investment, not an expense.

“How much does it end up costing us when people without cars can’t get to their jobs? What’s the real cost of students not being able to take advantage of educational opportunities because Burlington Transit can’t get them to school on time? How much does it cost every taxpayer to own a second or even third car because they can’t rely on the transit system?”

Council is set to vote on the 2016 budget on Jan. 25.

BFAST is a citizen’s group formed in 2012 to advocate for better transit in Burlington.

Comments on Draft 2015-2040 Strategic Plan

In early December the City released a Draft of it’s 2015-2040 Strategic Plan. The following are comments submitted to the City on behalf of BFAST:

Actions not matching words
Like previous strategic plans, this update contains a number of good goals and objectives. What is missing is the follow-up implementation reflected in specific plans, actions and budgets to make these goals a reality.

This is particularly true in the transportation sector in general and transit in particular. There are many statements about transit throughout the document:

“Key Strategic Impacts – “better infrastructure and public transportation”; More Public Transportation and Modal Splits”; and, “Improved traffic flows within the city and region through improved public transportation”

The fact that the City’s actions do not match its words can be seen in the soon to be approved City Budget for 2016. Despite overall cuts to the transit budget over the past four years, worsened by recent fare increases and service changes, the 2016 budget is exactly the same as the 2015 budget, In fact, when inflation is considered, the 2016 transit budget is actually less than 2015.

The service cuts, schedule changes, and fare increases has resulted in a 17% drop in transit ridership over the past three years. In contrast, our neighbor Oakville has seen large increases in transit use as a result of higher funding and the resulting better service levels.

Since the completion of the iTrans 5 year review in 2009, the city has had no well researched, long-term transit plan, Also, it appears that the ongoing Transportation Master Plan will not develop a long-term transit plan.

We note again that the OMB has required in its approval of ROPA 38, that Burlington increase its transit modal share from the current 2% to 11% by 2030. The Draft Strategic Plan does include the goal of “More Public Transportation and Modal Splits (sic)”- but it has become very clear that the City of Burlington has no intention of meeting this requirement.

Other comments
Healthier Environment: The transportation sector is ignored in the discussion of energy conservation initiatives. Motor vehicles are a major source of GHG’s and air pollution. The reduction of single occupant motor vehicle trips through more transit, walking and cycling should be included.

Mobility Hubs: So far, the city has not identified any mobility hubs north of the QEW. There should be a mobility hub planned for north Burlington to connect 407 GO, Dundas St. Bus Rapid Transit, and BT’s northern bus routes.

Doug Brown for BFAST