No overnight fix to transit woes

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Patrick Fairbairn speaks at Monday’s city council meeting, during which he and fellow public transportation user Patricia Leplante spoke in favour of improving city transit service. 

There’s no easy fix to the pile of public transportation problems and concerns brought to city council for consideration at this week’s meeting.

 

Sweeping change doesn’t appear to be on the agenda for 2014, with Mayor Greg Dionne concluding during Monday’s public forum that there’s not enough time for the amount of work required.

“We have to be more innovate and look at other options,” he concluded. “We have to look at the whole program.”

In front of city council were two public transit advocates -- Patrick Fairbairn and Patricia Laplante -- as well as a series of recommendations by transportation manager Keri Sexsmith.

Instead of simply jacking up the city’s public transit budget, Leplante suggested that the city re-evaluate its public transportation program as a whole.

Addressing a concern Dionne put forth during last week’s executive committee meeting, she said, “I understand you’ve been seeing buses going by with one or two people in there. OK -- fully understand that. Not everybody’s going to ride the bus all day long.”

Why not cut three hours of bus service in the afternoon, she asked, adding that cutting seldom-used blocks of service out of the public transportation schedule might free up enough money to extend service into the late afternoon.

Fairbairn also questioned the city’s existing public transportation budget, which including subsidies and user fees totaled $1.26 million in 2012.

“The majority (of people who) take transit are taxpayers, and therefore we are contributing to that $1.3 million in one shape or form, and we’re not satisfied with that service,” he said.

Between poorly heated buses and limited service hours, Fairbairn concluded that the people who fund the system “deserve better.”

Coun. Lee Atkinson implied that reconfiguring the city’s transit system might extend beyond any one department.  

“We’re not very pedestrian friendly, and therefore in conjunction with that, I think we also have to be transit friendly as well,” he said.

“That’s about a sustainable community. It’s not about making parking lots, because quite frankly the parking lots we have … in the downtown core -- really, are they entirely necessary? I don’t think so. Do we encourage people to walk around -- bicycles and other things? No, not really.”

That’s about a sustainable community. It’s not about making parking lots, because quite frankly the parking lots we have … in the downtown core -- really, are they entirely necessary? I don’t think so. Do we encourage people to walk around -- bicycles and other things? No, not really. Lee Atkinson

Looking at the recommendations Sexsmith made in her report, which compiled information from a recently completed public transit survey, Dionne concluded that it’s unlikely to take effect during 2014 budget discussions.

“There’s no use sending it to 2014 budget because we’re just going to turn it down,” he suggested, concluding that there’s not enough time for the required debate.

Sexsmith’s report recommends extending weekday service hours to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The current transit system runs from 6:45 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. on weekdays, with its last loop at 6:45 p.m. Saturday service currently runs from 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., with its last loop at 4:45 p.m.

Sexsmith also recommends purchasing five new low-floor buses over the next 10 years, at $450,000 per new bus.

Extending weekday service would increase costs by $170,000 per year, and extending Saturday service would cost an added $90,000 per year.

In addition to increasing the city’s subsidization of public transportation, Sexmith recommends a 25-cent increase in bus fare, which would add $68,000 in revenue.

Although Monday’s meeting didn’t poise the city’s public transportation system for the immediate sweeping change suggested in Sexsmith’s report, some smaller changes might take place on the interim.

Addressing Laplante’s concern about the difficulty she’s had accessing bus stops through mounds of snow, Dionne gave direction for city staff to lower the graders’ gates at bus stops, concluding, “I do believe we can solve the bus stop issue easier than we think.”

Monday’s meeting was not the first time either Fairbairn or Leplante met with city council. Since his last communication with council about two years ago, Fairbairn concluded, “Not much has happened.”

“We’ve heard lots of talk about what might happen or what could happen, but nothing, really, has happened to address some of these concerns.”

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