Record attendance at transit users’ forum hears of hope for system

BFAST Chair Doug Brown addresses a standing-room only crowd at the Burlington Central Library at the Third Annual Transit Users’ Forum Apr. 1. (Photos by Margaret Steiss)

Mayor Rick Goldring said 15-minute service on major routes was made possible by new provincial transit funding.

More than 120 people heard predictions of a new era in transit from city officials Apr. 1 as attendance reached a new high at Burlington’s Third Annual Transit Users’ Forum.

But Forum participants, who voted on this year’s transit report card, gave the system grades of C or C-minus — the second lowest category — for the system’s real-time stop information system, convenience, fares, passenger information, handi-vans and schedule. While the system’s drivers maintained their A grade, an overwhelming majority of attendees gave city council an F for continuing the system’s chronic underfunding.

Mayor Rick Goldring praised increases in both federal and provincial contributions to transit capital and operating costs as harbingers of a new era in transit for the city. The federal funds will provide the addition of two new accessible and three new conventional buses, transit shelter upgrades, and the purchase of new transit technologies such as arrival display signs.

Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon detailed plans to increase provincial funding for transit systems.

Goldring received applause when he predicted a new era in transit for Burlington, with increased funding leading to a system with 15-minute frequency on major routes. He promised major public consultation as part of a transit study and planning initiative now underway and even held out the possibility of a bus rapid-transit line along the Fairview-Plains corridor at some point in the future.

Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon detailed a doubling of provincial gas-tax contributions that will give Burlington Transit an estimated $2.4 million annual boost in operating revenues, as long as the city doesn’t reduce its own contribution to transit funding.

Lowest contribution

BFAST Chair Doug Brown used the city’s own figures to show Burlington contributes the lowest per-capita amount for transit of any comparably-sized city in the province. The same figures showed that while ridership is steady or increasing in most GTHA communities, Burlington’s fell by more than 15% over the three years following major cuts to the system in 2012-13.

Burlington Transit Supervisor Bob Mannell explains parts of the system as Acting Transit Director Jeff Black looks on.

For the first time, Burlington Transit was a full participant in the Forum this year, with Acting Director Jeff Black, Transit Manager John Duncan and Supervisor Bob Mannell providing information on the current system and hinting at improvements in frequency and service they were hoping to provide.

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward, of late the only transit supporter among the city’s six councilors, was also in attendance.

Record participation

Again this year, attendees broke into smaller workshop groups to air complaints and propose changes to the system. Reports from the groups will be compiled into a forum report that will be sent to city council and Burlington Transit.

BFAST Steering Committee member Glenna Cranston was among the volunteers who registered a record number of attendees at the 2017 Transit Forum.

Organizers acknowledged new supporters that had signed on as event sponsors. The growing interest demonstrated a broadening and deepening level of community concern about the city’s lack of support for transit, they said. New sponsors included the Burlington Seniors Community Inc., the Burlington Seniors’ Advisory Committee and the Burlington Gazette.

“The attendance at this year’s transit forum was representative of a broad cross-section of Burlington residents and we thank those who came out for their ideas and input,” said Brown. “The growing interest in and demand for transit was on display today for anyone to see. We hope our anti-transit councilors — none of whom attended — will take note. We thank Mayor Rick Goldring, Ward 2 Councilor Marianne Meed Ward and Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon for being with us today.”

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