From the website of Burlington For Accessible Sustainable Transit (Bfast). To read it on their website, click here.
On Thursday February 20th Burlington Transit staff made a presentation to Community and Corporate Services Committee concerning report TR-04-14. This report was released to the public after the February 13th meeting where public delegations (including BFAST’s) were heard on the budget.
We were pleased that the Community and Corporate Services Committee agreed to hear further delegations on this and other reports introduced after February 13th, despite objections from some members of council. It is however very unfortunate that this important report came to light at such a late point in the budget process, giving interested parties very little time to study and respond to it.
We would like to comment on some elements of the staff presentation (not made available before the meeting) and comments made in response by city staff and council members:
1. In his presentation, the Transit Director compared investment in transit among municipalities, citing Oakville, Kingston and Thunder Bay. While Oakville makes an appropriate comparison, Kingston and Thunder Bay have little in common with Burlington in size and urban/rural setting. It seems that transit staff are cherry picking cities for comparison.
2. The Transit Director dismissed the 300 complaints following the November 3 route and schedule changes by saying this represented .07% of riders. What wasn’t said is that this represented a significant proportion of transit users as regular users typically take the bus many times over a month.
3. Councilor Sharman commented on the lack of reliable data linking transit spending with ridership, citing a 2012 presentation to Burlington City Council by Jeff Casello of the University of Waterloo. It should be noted that Jeff Casello is the principal author of the 2010 Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) study on the benefits of transit to Canadian municipalities. In this study, Casello found enormous benefits from transit investments and concluded that Canadian municipalities could not make a better return on investment than on transit.
4. In response to questions from council, city staff called into doubt statements made by BFAST in our delegation that we had been told the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) will not develop a long-term transit plan. Five BFAST members attended a December 5th 2013 meeting with Transit Staff. The question regarding a long-term transit plan as part of the TMP had been submitted in writing weeks ahead of the meeting, so as to avoid misunderstanding. We clearly heard that while the TMP would include transit, it would not develop a long-term transit plan. BFAST would like staff to clarify this situation for council.
5. Comments made by staff and council on the prospect of restoring transit services to pre-Nov 2013 levels indicated some were not comfortable with even minor changes due to not having enough data on ridership, needing more time to evaluate the changes, and time to provide notice to transit users. However the data used to make the changes in the first place were never presented in a staff report to council, nor was it discussed or debated (or approved) by council. BFAST has previously stated that we feel the notice given, and consultation with the community was insufficient. As Councilor Meed-Ward noted in discussion of her (failed) motion to restore service to Ontario St. “When changes were made they were made very quickly without notice to the community; if the change was made without notice, we can add it back without notice”.
6. In their presentation, Transit Staff continue to use Revenue to Cost (RC) Ratio as a significant measurement of transit investment performance. Roads, Park & Rec, Parking, Culture and other areas of the city do not use this measurement. To our knowledge no other transit system uses RC ratio as its main performance standard. Burlington Transit seems to use it as their onlyperformance standard.
7. Transit staff illustrated an increase in Boardings per Hour. This was presented as a triumph, however it actually shows a failure of the system. BFAST maintains the reason for the increase in boardings is largely, if not exclusively, due to routes being broken up into smaller & smaller niche routes forcing customers to make more & frequent transfers. This also results in much longer commutes, and makes the system less attractive in general.
8. Councilor Taylor commented that Burlington’s existing population base “has said they are ‘not interested’ in converting to transit” and that they are “quite happy the way it is now”. While this may represent the view of some residents, we believe that it does not represent the community at large. It is understandable that some citizens would discount transit as a viable option when we have constant route changes, high fares, and infrequent service.
9. Councilor Meed-Ward pointed out that the report presented by staff only shows changes in ridership to routes that were changed or added; we haven’t seen data on routes that were removed and resultant reduction in ridership. This is an important observation. We are concerned at the absence of this vital information, which should be available to inform council’s decision making process.
10. Mayor Goldring commented that he wanted to see the “transit report card” results in June before making any changes. Unfortunately, by this time the budget will have been approved and significant changes in transit spending will likely not occur until the approval of the 2015 budget, over a year from now. Is it fair to ask Burlington Transit users to be guinea pigs for almost 2 years?
Other items mentioned in BFAST’s delegations including transportation demand management, road widening, cancellation of transit priority measurements, closing of the downtown terminal, lack of performance standards, and back-end loading of transit in the capital budget – were not addressed.
We hope that this will be corrected when the item comes back before committee for further discussion prior to final budget approval on March 4th.