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Election heralds new era for transit in Burlington

Marianne Meed Ward and Doug Brown

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 members' transit answers

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.

We mourn: Mike McDonald, BFAST member

Mike McDonald

Mike McDonald helps a transit user to maker her point at this year’s Burlington Transit Users’ Forum. (Photo: Sandy WIlliams)

Mike McDonald, a member of the BFAST Steering Committee and a key figure in organizing this year’s Transit Users’ Forum, died July 20 following an illness.

Mike was always willing to pitch in to help with whatever work was required. He organized facility arrangements for this year’s Forum and managed the audio that allowed the question-and-answer session to be such a success.

A former driver, Mike helped to bring an operator’s perspective to discussions on transit with city officials in his role as a member of BFAST’s steering committee.

“Mike was a tremendous asset to BFAST and to the Burlington community,” commented BFAST Chair Doug Brown. “We extend our deepest sympathy to his many family members and friends.”

A visitation will be held at Smith’s Funeral Home , 1167 Guelph Line, on Saturday, July 28, followed by a memorial service and reception.

New Transit Director to speak at Transit Users’ Forum

Burlington’s new transit director will outline her plan of action for repairing and improving the system when she speaks at the Fourth Annual Transit Users’ Forum Apr. 21.

Following her report, she’ll be part of a panel that will answer questions from the audience and discuss the issues that transit users raise.

The Forum will be held at the Burlington Seniors’ Centre, 2285 New St., Saturday Apr. 21, from 10:00am to 12:30pm. Registration starts at 9:30am and a continental breakfast will be provided.

Sue Connor was appointed to the job less than a year ago, but has already taken decisive action to make the system safer and more reliable. She helped to secure more than $1 million in new funding from City Council to hire more drivers, supervisors and mechanics to make Burlington Transit legally compliant and more reliable.

While the extra stopgap funding is welcome, Burlington Transit needs a greater commitment from City Council and a strong, sustained funding base, said Doug Brown, chair of Burlington for Accessible, Sustainable Transit (BFAST), one of more than a dozen community organizations that support and sponsor the annual transit forum.

“We’ve made progress over the past year and Sue Connor’s appointment is a sign of that,” Brown said. “But we need to do more in order to bring Burlington’s transit funding in line with the rest of the GTHA.”

Connor, Chair of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, is well known for her success in transforming Brampton’s transit system, which has posted ridership gains in the double digits over the past few years. Burlington’s ridership showed double-digit declines over the same period due to the underfunding of transit services by Council.

“We’re pleased and honoured that Sue Connor will speak to the riders of Burlington Transit,” Brown said. “Bus riders will find that she’s open, honest, frank and demonstrates a real concern with solving riders’ problems.”

This year’s Transit Users’ Forum will also feature the third transit users’ report card. Last year, more than 100 users rated the system and this year’s Forum participants will also determine Burlington Transit’s marks.

Community organizations participating in the Forum include:
• BFAST (Burlington for Accessible, Sustainable Transit)
• Burlington Age-Friendly Council
• Halton Environmental Network
• Burlington Seniors’ Advisory Committee
• Engaged Citizens of Burlington
• Voices for Change Halton
• Community Development Halton
• Burlington Seniors Community Inc.
• Canadian Association of University Women, Burlington
• Burlington Green
• Poverty Free Halton
• North BurLINKton

For the first time, Burlington Transit has also signed on as a sponsor of the Forum.

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.