Steady improvement key to Burlington Transit’s future, director says

Burlington Transit Director Sue Connor makes a point during her presdentation as BFAST Chair Doug Brown looks on.

Burlington Transit’s report card improved slightly over the past year and about 100 transit users and community activists left the fourth annual Transit Users’ Forum at the Seniors’ Centre Apr. 21 with a renewed sense of optimism for the future of the city’s bus system.

Burlington Transit Director Sue Connor told the meeting she is committed to seeing steady improvement in service and is hoping for support from City Council.

Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon outlined millions of dollars in extra provincial funding for the system. Participants also got the chance to question Connor and a panel of community transit advocates at the forum, sponsored by BFAST (Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit) and 13 other community organizations.

BFAST Chair Doug Brown said new federal and provincial funding for transit doesn’t let City Hall off the hook in paying its fair share for transit.

Longtime BFAST volunteer Gareth Williams, a candidate for Ward 3 in the municipal election, moderated the panel discussion.

New fall schedules will make use of new equipment and personnel to ease the strain on the system, Connor reported. She said she was frustrated that improvements could not be made faster but many technical issues had to be fixed. “You have to fix your foundation before you build you house.”

Drawing on her experience as Director of Brampton’s system, Connor said Burlington Transit would investigate establishing a grid system of routes that she said would get passengers to their destination more quickly.

15-minute service

“It won’t be long before we have 15-minute service to the three GO stations in Burlington,” she said. “We have to be prepared for that.”

“Although there’s still a lot to do, I have to recognize that City Council made a big investment in transit in 2017 and 2018. And I think that was a remarkable step and hopefully we can keep that momentum going,” she said.

Connor praised BFAST for organizing the forum. “Their insight into transit in Burlington has certainly helped me, in my early days, to see what some of the issues are,” she said.

BFAST Chair Doug Brown urged Burlington’s city council to do its part by raising per-capita funding above its current rank of lowest in the GTA.

“Transit investment saves cities money. Brown said. “It does not result in additional spending, it results in long term savings. You need less road capacity, you need less maintenance, you need less parking, you’ve got all the health benefits of lower emissions and the list goes on an on.”

Strategic investments

Burlington MPP and President of the Treasury Board Eleanor McMahon said the government was reversing a previous pattern of downloading responsibilities and costs to municipalities.

Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon reviewed new federal-provincial funding for transit.

“It’s important that we continue to make strategic investments in transit infrastructure in Burlington,” she said.

“Burlington will receive an extraordinary $45 million in public transit funding” as a result of a federal-provincial agreement detailed in an announcement a week ago, she said.

Recent school closings will also affect demand for transit, warned a trustee for the Halton District School Board. Connor reported that Burlington Transit was now meeting regularly with school-board transportation officers on issues like these.

Jim Thurston, chair of the Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee, asks a question during the panel discussion.

The bus bays on the north side of the Burlington GO station will finally move back to the south in 2019, Connor reported. But designers of the station renovation left room for only six bays on the south side. “I have not been able to get an answer from Metrolinx” on the reason for the shortfall, she said. Burlington Transit is studying construction of a bus bay on Fairview St., a short walk to the station, but final plans would not be ready until 2019.

The downtown terminal will have improved hours, from 8am to 6pm on weekdays and 9 to 6 on Saturdays “and we will not be closed a half hour for lunch,” Connor said. The new hours will be effective in May.

Presto cards more available

Ward 2 Councillor and mayoral candidate Marianne Meed Ward brought greetings from City Council.

Transit users applauded the news that a deal is being finalized to make Presto fare cards available at seven Shoppers’ Drug mart locations across the city. And they welcomed the announcement that the downtown terminal will be open longer and will not be closed during lunch hour.

The marks on this year’s transit report card, decided by the roughly 100 people in attendance, improved slightly from last year. While the system’s drivers once again got an A and fares got a B-minus, passenger info got C-minus and convenience and schedules got an E. The BFAST Steering Committee awarded a D to City Council on the budget issue, saying last year’s infusion helped but more commitment is needed.

Those were among the highlights of the half-day meeting, which saw a number of provincial and municipal candidates in attendance. Ward 2 Councillor and mayoral candidate Marianne Meed Ward welcomed participants in the absence of Mayor Rick Goldring, who was out of town for the event. Former MP and current mayoral hopeful Mike Wallace also attended.

Burlington Transit donated door prizes and had drivers and staff on hand to answer questions.

Volunteers Heather Thompson (left) and Glenna Cranston registered more than 100 attendees.

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