BFAST joins Burlingtonians from all walks of life in mourning the passing of Walter Mulkewich, Burlington’s former mayor, a founding member of BFAST and a member of our Steering Committee.
Walter worked throughout his long career to promote action on a wide range of issues, from nuclear disarmament to the environment to better transit.
He was elected to City Council in 1979 and served as Aldershot’s councillor until 1991, when he was elected Mayor. Walter was a progressive force on Council and successfully fought for several social and co-op housing projects. He retired from municipal politics in 1997 to focus on his health.
He remained active in BFAST and other community initiatives until very recently.
“Walter was a wonderful friend and long time ally of progressive causes,” commented BFAST Steering Committee Chair Doug Brown. “He made important contributions to BFAST and helped to make Burlington a better city. His passing leaves a big hole in the social fabric of our community. To his family, friends and colleagues, we express our sincere condolences and our thanks for his beliefs, his commitment and his unceasing efforts to help create a better world.”
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward paid tribute to Walter. “As a new mayor, I looked up to Walter and appreciated our vigorous debates,” she wrote in her Twitter feed. “He was a fierce advocate for justice, a tireless community booster for his Aldershot neighbourhood & entire city. He will be missed. Our thoughts go out to his family & the many residents of our community who he inspired during his time with us.”
A group of Aldershot seniors is organizing a week-long “Thank You” from June 22-29 to employees of Burlington Transit for keeping the system running through the COVID-19 crisis.
The event is being organized by the Partnering Aldershot Seniors Committee. Christina Tellier, an Aldershot senior and bus rider, came up with the idea.
The purpose of the week is to “show appreciation to all Burlington Transit Employees and that their efforts have not gone un-noticed, especially the Bus Drivers,” said a statement from the Committee. “Even though ridership was very low, making the trips exceedingly lonely and with having to incorporate all the additional COVID restrictions, they kept the buses running for people who had to get to work, to medical appointments or for grocery shopping etc., many times with the Drivers being the only one on the bus.”
Throughout the week, Burlingtonians are requested to blitz social media “to encourage others to join in the campaign to Thank Burlington Transit.” Transit supporters are encouraged to include a leaflet produced by the Committee in their posts, a copy of which is appended at the end of this article. On Jun. 25, social media posters are encouraged to publish a copy of a thank-you poster, which is currently being prepared.
The Committee lists a number of ways the public can show their appreciation:
‘Thank you Bus Drivers’ signs on lawns along bus routes or in windows (businesses too).
Encourage children & families to make signs and holler & wave as busses go by on routes.
Encourage families to go to bus stops and show appreciation however they wish.
Bus riders to show personal appreciation any way they can.
When walking past a bus……. Holler & clap and let driver know it is for him.
When driving past a bus, honk with a thumbs up sign
Neighbours cheering, clapping etc. at different bus stops along & across from each other (social distancing)
Take pictures of actions done and share on social media
Retirement Home Residents on bus routes, social distancing, could wave and show appreciation as busses pass or put signs in windows.
‘Thank You Bus Drivers’ on business, churches & City outdoor signs
Coffee Shops and Restaurants with a bus stop close could take out coffee to give to drivers or food at breakfast, lunch and supper times.
Share PR info & flyers everywhere, as many times & to as many people as you can
Supporters can download and print the following leaflet to add to their social media posts:
BFAST has joined a national coalition of more than 50 organizations that are pushing federal and provincial governments to help local transit systems recover from the COVID-19 crisis. The coalition, which you can visit at keeptransitmoving.ca, says local transit will need between $5 and $6 billion in emergency funding. It includes groups representing transit riders in cities across Canada, environmental organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada.
Bus-based transit systems have been
unable to collect fares during the spread of COVID-19, since
passengers could no longer enter through front doors in an effort to
protect drivers. The lack of fare revenue has been coupled with extra
expenses, such as personal protective equipment and plexiglass
enclosures to protect operators.
“Transit is an essential service,
especially to the most economically and physically disadvantaged
people in our communities,” said BFAST Steering Committee Chair
Doug Brown. “We congratulate Burlington’s city council on its
continuing support of our transit system through this extraordinary
time. But cities have limited means to finance efforts like this, and
we need both federal and provincial governments to step up and help
Following is the text of a statement from BFAST Steering Committee Chair Doug Brown:
I regret to inform you that the 2020 Burlington Transit Users’ Forum,
scheduled for May 9, has been postponed. While no new date has been
set, we will examine holding the Forum this Fall when the picture
becomes more clear with regard to the COVID-19 virus.
In light of the Forum’s postponement, I especially want to take the
opportunity to thank all the staff of Burlington Transit for their
dedication and courage in keeping the system moving in this challenging
This postponement is a disappointment to all of us, but we at BFAST
will continue to make submissions to City Council and staff to promote
continuing improvements to a transit system that was making excellent
progress in providing better service and significantly increasing
ridership before the virus hit.
We see three major issues for transit on the agenda now. The first is
to ensure that our City Council continues to support improvements to
the system. The second is to make Council aware that, while we support
the City’s efforts to develop a Climate Action Plan, its current
approach will worsen traffic congestion and not achieve the admirable
goals it sets forth. (I am attaching our brief to Council on this
issue.) The third is to participate in the development of the City’s
Integrated Mobility Program. To this end, we have been meeting
regularly with City staff to help ensure the Plan points us toward a
Despite our disappointment in postponing the Transit Users’ Forum, we
are excited and optimistic about the medium-term prospects for transit
in Burlington and look forward to continued progress.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or contributions, we
would be happy to hear from you.
Transit users in Burlington are happy with the improvements made over the past year and eager for more changes scheduled for the year to come. That’s the main takeaway from Burlington’s Fifth Annual Transit Users’ Forum, held May 4 at the Burlington Seniors’ Centre.
Another capacity crowd of more than 100 packed the meeting room as bus riders heard Mayor Marianne Meed Ward promise more improvements over the coming years. In addition to the mayor, five of six city councilors attended the meeting, showing support for a bigger role for transit as the city grows.
This year’s transit report card, an annual feature where riders vote on various aspects of the system, reflected the new optimism, with a much improved overall grade.
“You are the reason why transit is better in this city,” Meed Ward told the attendees.
“We have made some incredible strides forward on transit” in the 2019 city budget, she said. She thanked Council members for their support for free transit for low-income riders and for supporting an 18-month pilot project that will see seniors travel free in off-peak hours. “We’re going to make it permanent,” she stage whispered.
“We want people to be able to choose transit because it’s the best way to get around our city. We are not there yet,” she said.
“But the bottom line is that none of these changes would have happened without your advocacy. And along the way we’ve had some bumps. So I’d say, ‘Just hang in there. Keep advocating. Keep talking about transit.’ You did. You never stopped. And because of that, we’re here today with such great news. And there’s going to be more. We’re not done. This Council is just getting started in making sure that transit is the transportation option of choice.”
She thanked BFAST for activism on behalf of transit. “You have been in the trenches advocating for a long time, when it wasn’t a very popular message,” she said.
Not there yet
BFAST Chair Doug Brown praised Council’s new commitment to transit but reiterated Meed Ward’s sentiment that “we’re not there yet.” He pointed out that Burlington would still be below the GTA average municipal per-capita contribution to transit after this year’s budget increases.
He said BFAST rejects the recommendations of a transit consultant hired by the old Council that the city must choose between coverage of all areas and more frequent service on main routes. “Burlington needs both,” he said.
He also asked that the city meet its own long-established transit-service standards for frequency and availability.
Brown once again urged that the city examine transportation as a whole, rather than isolate elements like roads, parking and transit. He pointed to studies by Waterloo Region and the Canadian Urban Transit Association that showed transit can save cities money on road work and bring huge returns on investment for the local economy.
Burlington Transit Director Sue Connor outlined improvements that will begin in September, including more frequent, improved service.
Keep in touch
She asked users to keep in contact through the transit system’s customer service line and make suggestions for improvement. “We do take that feedback and we do look at it. We make service changes about six times per year so there are opportunities to change something that’s not working right.”
More than half of the meeting was given to the users themselves as they made comments and asked questions to a panel made up of Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte, Connor, BFAST Steering Committee member Glenna Cranston and Burlington bus driver Slawomir (Swav) Ozog.
Stolte said that after she was elected, she was researching other transit systems and came across an American article featuring the significant improvements made to transit in Brampton, where Connor was director at the time.
“We are so lucky to have Sue [Connor],” she said. “And what I am personally committed to, and I know the rest of Council is, is to working hard with Sue and to making sure that our Burlington Transit system is also one that eventually gets written about in articles across North America as a premier, leadership public transit system that’s working well for everybody.”
Questions and comments came thick and fast on everything from electric buses to getting younger people to ride transit to service problems. Stolte noted that Connor took pages of closely written notes from the session. Connor herself promised that she would take the comments to a meeting of transit staff in the coming weeks.
The meeting also heard greetings from Burlington MPP Jane McKenna, who said the provincial government looked to forums like this to point the way for action on transit. Halton District School Board Chair Andréa Grebenc and provincial NDP candidate Andrew Drummond also attended.
Attendees also paid tribute to Mike MacDonald, a transit activist and BFAST member who passed away recently.
This year’s forum was endorsed and supported by 14 community organizations.
Burlington Transit passengers will have a chance to discuss proposed service improvements scheduled for September at this year’s Transit Users’ Forum on Saturday, May 4 at the Burlington Seniors’ Centre. It will be the fifth annual such gathering sponsored by more than a dozen community organizations in Burlington.
The forum starts at 10:00 a.m.. Doors open at 9:30, and a continental breakfast will be served.
Click on the graphic to download a poster for the event.
Transit riders will also have a chance to discuss service issues with drivers, who will participate in a panel discussion, and to vote on an annual transit report card.
“Where past forums were dominated by pleas for greater funding, this year’s meeting will focus on sustaining and improving the service. A significant increase in the transit budget, approved by the new City Council, has opened the door to a better transit service in Burlington,” said Doug Brown, chair of Burlington for Accessible, Sustainable Transit (BFAST), the lead organizer of the event.
“We were extremely pleased with the budget increases that transit achieved in this year’s city budget,” said Brown. “City Council’s decision means that Burlington is on the way to providing support for transit that at least meets the average of comparable communities. We are very optimistic about the future of transit in Burlington.”
“Transit is an essential building block for an inclusive and environmentally-friendly city,” Brown said. “Everyone benefits from an improved transit system, including drivers.”
This year’s meeting will be co-sponsored by Burlington Transit, which will also provide logistical support for the event.
“We welcome BT’s participation. This year, we will be working together more closely than ever before,” said Brown. “It’s a tribute to our new Transit Director Sue Connor and her staff, with whom we have developed an excellent working relationship. They have been an immense help in bringing the concerns of transit riders forward.”
Connor and Mayor Marianne Meed Ward will also speak to the gathering, which averages attendance of more than 100 people each year.
Sponsors of last year’s event included the following community organizations:
Burlington Age-Friendly Council
Burlington Seniors’ Advisory Committee
Burlington Seniors Community Inc.
Canadian Federation of University Women Burlington
Community Development Halton
Engaged Citizens of Burlington
Halton Environmental Network
Poverty Free Halton
Voices for Change Halton
On election night, Burlington’s new mayor, Marianne Meed Ward, promised to “fix transit.” She and her Council team have made a great start in the city’s 2019 budget.
Mayor Marianne Meed Ward
Burlington’s City Council approved the biggest jump in transit funding in many years at its Mar. 25 meeting, including a 19% increase in Burlington Transit’s operating budget and a 10-year commitment to capital funding that will add buses to the fleet and improve transit facilities like bus shelters.
“We are very pleased with the significant increases in the transit budget – both capital and operating,” commented BFAST Chair Doug Brown. “This is a very good start toward building a good transit system. Although the operating budget is only for 2019, the fleet expansions included in the 10-year capital budget reveal an intention to significantly increase service hours (and operating budget) in the coming years.”
Budget increases include:
An increase in transit operating budget from $12,110,000 in 2018 to $14,940,000 in 2019 — an increase of almost 19%.
Hiring 6 additional transit drivers for $529,000 and transferring $500,000 in Gas Tax funds from the capital to the operating budget.
Expansion of the conventional transit vehicle fleet by two to three vehicles per year (26 in total), an investment of $16,482,000 over next 10 years
Expansion of the handivan fleet by one vehicle per year over the next 10 years, an investment of $1,870,000.
Replacement of 47 conventional transit vehicles, an investment of $27,444,000 over 10 years.
Replacement of 16 handivan vehicles, an investment of $3,000,000 over 10 years.
Investment of $2,810,000 over next 10 years in ongoing repair & maintenance .
A large investment in transit shelters: $512,000 in 2019 and $1,990,000 in 2020-2028. The city will also invest $110,000 per year from 2019-2028 in shelter enhancements such as display cases, schedule-information signs, landing pads and bus stop signs.
A $400,000 investment in a bus bay on Fairview St. at the Burlington GO station. The bus bay will mitigate the cut in the number of bus platforms at the station made by Metrolinx as part of the station renovation.
Upgrade of shelters where needed to meet the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), with a $55,000 budget place-holder.
Renewal and repair of BT Operations Centre and Downtown Terminal to total $3,154,000 over next 10 years.
Presto fare system enhancements worth $1,400,000, pending senior government funding.
A 2019 investment of $50,000 in the SMS/Next Transit Bus Information system.
“For the past 25 years, Burlington had been badly under-funding transit with per-capita transit funding of only half of the GTA average,” said Brown. “These budget initiatives over the coming 10 years will help get Burlington Transit service levels close to the GTA average.”
BFAST presented a brief to congratulate the new Council on its forward thinking approach to transit at a meeting Feb. 7.
“Council has taken an important step, with this year’s proposed budget, in not only reversing years of neglect, but in improving the system to the benefit of transit and automobile users alike,” the brief said.
“As transit users, we in BFAST eagerly look forward to more frequent and reliable service. If successful, Burlington’s improved transit system will be of value to automobile users as well, in reducing congestion and stress on our roadways.”
Mayor Marianne Meed Ward at last year’s Transit Users’ Forum.
Mayor Marianne Meed Ward has signalled that she will propose the re-establishment of a Transit Advisory Committee, chaired by new Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte.
It will be a rebirth for the Committee, which was axed by the old City Council and supposedly rolled into the Integrated Transportation Advisory Committee (ITAC). But nothing useful on trabnsit ever came out of ITAC. BFAST made the re-establishment of the Transit Committee one of its key proposals in the civic election.
As reported in The Burlington Gazette, the Transit Advisory Committee will be part of a shakeup of the City’s advisory committees that the new Council must approve.
The Mayor is recommending that the transit committee will cooperate with the Cycling Advisory Committee and the Integrated Transportation Advisory Committee.
“We have over 1 million rides annually on our transit system but no dedicated citizen’s advisory voice to council on transit,” said Meed Ward’s report. “Establishing a committee honours the importance of transit in the community expressed during the election campaign and before, and honours the direct request for a stand-alone transit advisory committee from Burlington For Accessible Sustainable Transit and others.”
In a previous op ed for The Gazette on the “First Hundred Days” I asked for patience and realistic expectations from a new council. Most of the issues that gave rise to the electoral shake up at Burlington City Council are simply too big and complex to expect them to be resolved in the first hundred days.
The “adopted” Official Plan, changes to the Downtown Mobility Hub and the missing transit and parking plans all require significant work by staff and review and reconsideration by council. They may also require Regional approval and compliance with provincial legislation. So while work on these gets underway in the first hundred days, don’t expect quick results on these portfolios. Given the last fiasco on the OP, we should be demanding that council and staff take appropriate time to seek our input and get the OP right this time.
However one immediately winning issue that can be achieved as a simple 2019 budget amendment, is free transit for seniors during off peak hours (10.00 to 2.30 Monday to Friday), an idea whose time has surely come.
This was originally proposed by Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee (BSAC) in 2016 for the 2017 budget and defeated by 6 votes to 1. The idea is detailed in BSAC position paper “Improving Transit for Seniors Improves Transit for Everybody” and has since been adopted by Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit (BFAST) who support the idea and for other disadvantaged groups and as part of a more comprehensive long term transit plan.
In the BFAST 2018 election all-candidate transit survey, all six Councillors elect and Mayor-elect indicated support for the idea, some wholeheartedly, some with qualification, suggesting it might be expanded to other disadvantaged groups.
The buses already run empty during those off-peak hours so the only cost is an amount of lost revenue and that is not overwhelming. Based on figures supplied by Burlington Transit in 2016 I calculated it might cost between $48,500 per year and $72,750 depending on the rate of uptake. The previous Director of Transit agreed the cost for a one year trial would be less than $100,000. In an email to me his biggest concern was that any trial would prove so popular, it would be difficult to repeal. It is less than one half of one percent of the city transit budget.
It is possible that provincial funding for transit, a complex formula based on ridership (not revenue) might increase enough to offset any loss of revenue.
Perhaps Transit Director Sue Connor, who has won the respect of city staff and transit advocates equally, can provide updated figures for the cost, the potential provincial funding increases and whether there might be an overall gain for Burlington Transit.
Alternative for Seniors
As well as filling our mostly empty, off-peak buses the “Improving Transit Paper” details the impact of reducing traffic congestion, improving road safety, reducing CO2 emissions, providing a dignified alternative for drivers who lose their drivers license to age related issues. It also outlines some economic benefits for the city and local businesses and the health benefits to seniors who suffer from social isolation.
BFAST events that bring citizens up to date on transit events are always well attended. Might they be heard by the new city council as well?
So come on Mme. Mayor and brand new Councillors. What are you waiting for? This will help fill the buses, reduce traffic congestion, improve road safety, provide economic benefit for local retailers and help improve the health and well being of our seniors; all of which i’m sure were on your platforms.
This is a win – win – win for Council, for Burlington Transit and for seniors. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate that our new council listens to our citizens and delivers on its election platforms and positions.
(Jim Young is a member of BFAST’s Steering Committee and the Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee.)
Marianne Meed Ward, Burlington’s new mayor, celebrates her election victory with BFAST’s Doug Brown on election night.
“We’re going to fix transit.” With those words, newly-elected Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward accepted the congratulations of BFAST Chair Doug Brown following her convincing electoral win in municipal elections Oct. 22.
“It’s the start of a new era in transit for our city,” commented Brown after results showed that five pro-transit councillors were elected along with the mayor. Only Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman was re-elected from the council in which Meed Ward was on the short end of too many 6-1 votes.
The new councillors include Kevin Galbraith in Ward 1, Lisa Kearns in Ward 2, Rory Nisan in Ward 3, Shawna Stolte in Ward 4 and Angelo Bentivegna in Ward 6. Incumbent Paul Sharman was re-elected in Ward 5. Every one of the councillors except Sharman answered BFAST’s candidate survey very positively.
How the winners answered
Council winners all responded very favourably to the questions in BFAST’s transit survey of candidates — except Ward 5’s Paul Sharman. (Angelo Bentavegna later commented that he did agree with Question 3 but made a mistake on the form.)
Now the serious work begins on fixing transit in Burlington. BFAST will be seeking to arrange meetings with the new councillors before they’re sworn in in December to answer any questions they might have on the transit file and to promote the pro-transit agenda. BFAST’s first priority is to update the transit service standards last updated by city council — and then ignored — in 2013.
“We want to work with the new mayor and councillors to give Burlington the transit system it deserves,” said Brown. “It can’t happen overnight but, working with the new team at City Hall and the excellent new staff at Burlington Transit, we’re confident we’ll see steady and significant improvements over the next few years.”
One of the challenges ahead will be working with the new provincial government to ensure it continues to help fund municipal transit, as well as the GO system. A BFAST delegation held a meeting with MPP Jane McKenna prior to the election to discuss the issues. “We’re happy to have established a cordial relationship with our new MPP and look forward to working with her in the years ahead,” said Brown.