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Week in review: August 27, 2016

Consultations and feedback deadlines

Transit

On the blog, Chris takes a first look at Grand River Transit’s upcoming business plan. Stay tuned for more over the coming weeks as we delve into the questions this report raises. Meanwhile, Mark spoke with Eric Drozd of 570 News about pedestrian crossings of ION tracks for the Traynor neighbourhood (interview starts around 22:50).

One Tuesday, the federal and provincial governments announced nearly $23 million in funding for transit projects in Waterloo Region. About half of the money will go to vehicle replacements and upgrades, while the rest will be spent on iXpress and ION connection stations (including a transit plaza at UW), and a new bus facility on Northfield Drive. (Here’s the full listing of projects in Ontario municipalities.) There’s also about $12 million left in Waterloo Region’s share of transit funding from the feds, with potential projects it could fund to be presented to Regional Council this fall. (more…)

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What’s in store for Grand River Transit?

What’s in store for GRT? As we prepare for the arrival of ION, the region’s Transit Services has given us a glimpse into the next few years of Grand River Transit. Here  at TriTAG, there’s nothing we like more than a thick PDF full of juicy planning details. We dive into the Interim Report on GRT’s 2017-2021 business plan so you don’t have to!

Obviously, ION’s launch in early 2018 represents a major change for our region. With ION light rail providing a fast, reliable backbone for transit trips across a single fare, integrated transit network, the bus system needs some changes to take advantage of this. In addition, plans are afoot to continue growing the iXpress bus network:

  • New 205 Ottawa iXpress (Sept 2017)
  • 10 minute peak frequency on 201 and 202 (Sept 2017)
  • Extension of 201 to Block Line ION (early 2018) and then on to Conestoga College (late 2018)

You should expect to see some major changes to other bus routes in the wake of ION, as well:

Also look for service frequency improvements a number of routes, as well as possible expansion to serve new suburbs and some townships.

Some of the changes proposed by GRT for 2017.

Some of the changes proposed by GRT for 2017.

Underlying all of this is a strong growth target being set. After over a decade of skyrocketing ridership, 2014 and 2015 saw a decrease in the number of riders. Planners blame this on a loss of school board funded high school trips, the disruption of ION construction, and also on years of unrelenting fare increases that GRT has been directed to undertake.

However, region staff expect ridership growth to bounce back and then some. Serving just under 20 million rides a year right now, the plan is to reach 28 million in just 5 years!

This will take some doing. For one, ION will need to live up to its expectations. But the real question is whether our regional council is ready to make the investment in transit that this requires. This means committing to funding the expanded service hours (29% over 5 years) and to stop driving away riders– in particular, the new riders GRT seeks– with continuous fare hikes well above inflation.

Regional government must commit to supporting ridership growth to hit these projections.

Regional government must commit to supporting ridership growth to hit these projections.

There’s more in this report that catches our eye, but only so much we can go into in one post. Do the proposed route restructures make sense? Is GRT being too cautious and incremental in its redesign to meet lofty ridership goals? And is there an overemphasis on peak service frequency at the expense of all day flexibility?

We’d like to delve deeper into these questions. Watch this space.

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Week in review: August 20, 2016

Consultations and feedback deadlines

(more…)

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ION – Walkability, Fences, and It’s Never Too Late to Fix Mistakes

ION light rail, well under construction, is going to tie our region together, promoting dense, walkable communities around each new station.

We may remember the panic at the thought of a “Berlin Wall” being erected through Waterloo Park. Cutting the park in two, and separating the sides. While we may have a fence after all, it is proving not to be a barrier at all, as plentiful crossings of the rail corridor at Father David Bauer and Central Dr keep the sides connected. When ION opens, it will be just as easy to get from one side of Waterloo Park to the other as was before.

However, while all eyes were turned to Waterloo Park, it turns out another part of town was going to be cut in two.

The Traynor-Vanier Neighbourhood
hydro-corridor-aerial-before

The Traynor Ave neighbourhood lies just north of the Hydro right-of-way that divides it from the businesses on Fairway Rd. “Divide” in this case, is a rather strong term. In fact, there are dozens of formal and informal paths connecting this neighbourhood to the dozens of retail businesses on Fairway. Restaurants, fast food, groceries, services, clothes, housewares, and much more are all accessible to this neighbourhood by a short walk on foot.

IMG_20160808_1918042But this is coming to an end.

While attention was focused on Waterloo Park, the alignment of LRT through Uptown Waterloo, station placement in the university area, and several other proposed improvements, plans were finalized for the Fairway Hydro right-of-way that would cut this community off from their local shops.

A 1 Kilometre Detour

Over the past month, installation of a fence next to the tracks began, sparking shock and surprise among locals. The Rapid Transit team has since confirmed that there are no planned pedestrian crossings between Courtland Ave and Wilson Rd, a distance of 1 km. What was once a 100m walk for Swiss Chalet is now to be a 1100m hike. Residents have now started a petition asking for a crossing to be reinstated.

Before construction began, there were dozens of paths connecting residents to the businesses. Here they are highlighted in red with some close ups:

Formal paths in green. Informal paths in red. Selected crossings shown with inset photos

Formal paths in green. Informal paths in red. Selected crossings shown with inset photos

These are not simply informal holes cut in fences. Most of these paths have even been legitimized by the businesses that they open on to. Fences have been properly framed to allow crossing. Other properties have never even bothered to install a fence, allowing customers free access.

Unintended Consequences

Much has been made of ION Light Rail’s ability to help make Waterloo Region a more walkable community. However here, we see a community that was already walkable, have their access removed. It’s unreasonable to expect residents to walk the 1km detour being imposed upon them, and this will directly lead to more trips by car. The exact opposite of the goals of Rapid Transit.


Residents crossing the LRT tracks through incomplete fences.

The residents of the Traynor neighbourhood already see little positive impact from LRT. They are at the midpoint of the second longest stretch of track between stations in the entire system. The line goes through their literal backyards without stopping. Now, to add insult to injury, LRT has cut them off from their own neighbourhood stores.

Not Too Late For Change

The good news is that it’s not too late to change this. There are 18 months still to go before ION’s opening day in 2018. The issue now has the attention of regional councillors. Whether a change is worked out with GrandLinq, or the Region does the work on their own after initial construction finishes in 2017, there is still time to fix this before it requires interrupting ION service.

There will be a cost to put this right, but the purpose of ION is to connect us, not to divide. Let the Region of Waterloo, and the City of Kitchener know about the importance of this connection by signing the petition, and speaking to your councillors.

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Week in review: August 14, 2016

Consultations and feedback deadlines:

ION light rail

Grand River Transit

Bicycling

Vision Zero

Land use

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iXpress loves you and wants you to be happy

State of Fare Affairs – How GRT Compares

In our last post, we saw that Grand River Transit’s ticket prices have been raising faster than monthly passes, leaving occasional riders to take more of the burden for cost recovery than the did 10 years ago.

But that analysis is in isolation. What decisions have other cities made, and is this the right balance?
To find that out, we can compare Waterloo Region to a selection of cities from around Canada that fall into a few major categories:

Major Cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton
Large populations, frequent service, and established rapid transit systems. We can look at these cities to see where we are going.
Minor Cities: Waterloo Region, London, Hamilton, Halifax, Winnipeg
Populations around 400-600K, growing transit networks, and many are planning or building out rapid transit. These cities are our peers, and can see how they choose to solve the same problems as us.
Suburban Cities: Brampton, Mississauga, York Region
Medium sized cities in the commuter-shed of Toronto, having to serve transit needs across multiple sparse business districts in a decentralized suburban form. These cities represent an alternate version of what we might become.

Cash & Ticket Prices

Cash and Ticket prices in municipalities across Canada

Cash and Ticket prices in municipalities across Canada

It turns out that after the last decade of aggressive increases, GRT’s ticket and cash fares are now right in the middle of the pack of these cities.

When you compare to the other Minor Cities, GRT actually has the highest individual ride prices, and is even more expensive than the larger cities of Edmonton and Montreal. Only Major Cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, and their immediate suburbs are higher. It’s a clear trend that the suburban form of York Region, Mississauga, and Brampton make transit more expensive.

Monthly Passes

Monthly transit pass prices in various Canadian municipalities in 2016

Monthly transit pass prices in various Canadian municipalities in 2016

Comparing monthly passes, the chart is dominated by incredibly pricey Toronto and Vancouver passes, with the GTA cities close behind.

At the low end of the chart, Waterloo Region is right in the middle of our peers: a bit higher than London and Halifax, but a bit lower than Winnipeg. Waterloo Region is among the lowest cost cities in all of Canada. Of note, London has not had a fare increase since 2008, meaning GRT’s monthly pass has exceeded London’s only this year.

Monthly Pass Break Even

With GRT’s middle-of-the-pack ticket prices, and a low monthly pass price, let’s see how it compares against those other cities in number of rides for a monthly pass to break even.

The number of bus rides needed for a monthly pass to be cheaper than tickets across several Canadian municipalities

The number of bus rides for a monthly pass to be cheaper than tickets across several Canadian municipalities

As we mentioned in our last post, over the last 10 years the GRT monthly pass has dropped from 38 to 31 rides per month to pay off the cost of the pass, making Waterloo Region second only to Montreal’s 26. At the other end of the chart, Toronto’s Metropass needs a staggering 49 rides to break even, meaning taking transit to work every day in addition to multiple extra trips. Largely, most cities have settled around 40 rides, which is just shy of the monthly average of 42 trips someone working 5 days a week will make.

With the GRT Corporate Pass and the Federal Transit Tax Credit, the number for Waterloo Region can be brought all the way down to 23 rides, meaning for those lucky enough to be eligible, you only need to ride the bus to work and back a mere 12 days a month.

Conclusion

Sure enough, even compared to other cities, GRT’s fares are heavily aimed at value for pass owners, at the expense of single rides. Occasional riders of GRT have to pay fares almost as high as Toronto for service that is simply not comparable, while pass holders get discounts that keep fares at or below the cost of our peers.

It is laudable to encourage ridership through affordable monthly passes, but single-ride fares are the first interaction people have with a city’s transit system. If it is too steep a cost to even try the bus on occasion, then we risk losing those riders forever. If we must endure greater-than-inflation fare increases, then it is time for single-ride cash and tickets to have a break, as they are now higher than our peers, and in the league of much larger cities with more mature networks.

With electronic fares coming in the next year, new opportunities open for new fare structures that can help break down the divide between tickets and monthly passes. Stay tuned for another post elaborating on options for the fares of the future.

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iXpress loves you and wants you to be happy

GRT: A Brief History of Fares

July 1st is coming up, and with it, Grand River Transit is raising fares.

Every year, the fare increase is put under scrutiny. On the one hand, fare increases are natural, and make sure that inflation doesn’t starve our transit system of revenue needed to keep the buses running. On the other hand, steep fare increases can damage ridership.

Which hard choice is going to be made? Are we going to raise monthly passes the most, hitting loyal riders? Or are we going to raise tickets, so the burden is placed on the occasional rider instead? Do we raise cash fares, and hit those who may not be able to afford a whole strip of tickets at a time?

Which way does this year’s change lean? How do this year’s fare changes compare to previous years? And what does that say about the transit system we have?

That’s a lot of questions, and to dive into them, we first need to see what’s changing

GRT Fare Change, July 1, 2016

  • Fare Type:            New    (old)    increase%
  • Adult Cash:           $3.25  ($3)     8.3%
  • Adult Ticket:         $2.66  ($2.57)  3.5%
  • Adult Monthly Pass:   $82    ($79)    3.8%
  • Reduced Ticket:       $2.31  ($2.23)  3.6%
  • Reduced Monthly Pass: $70    ($67)    4.5%
  • U-Pass:               $85.20 ($81.15) 5.0%

On average, GRT was aiming for a 5% fare increase. This year cash fares, unchanged since 2012, are taking the brunt of that increase, at 8.3%. Monthly passes get a much lower 3.8%, but that’s still twice the rate of inflation.

This kind of increase is clearly aimed promoting the use of monthly passes. GRT wants riders to become regular riders, and don’t want to scare them away with a suddenly more expensive pass. Occasional riders will have to make up the difference.

But wait a second. Wasn’t this the same compromise that was made last year? And the year before that? How have these fare increases been stacking up over the years? A little investigation, and here are the past 10 years of fare increases for GRT:

From 2006-2016, tickets increased by 50%, while cash and monthly passes have increased by 25%

Relative GRT fare increases, as a percentage since 2006, adjusted for inflation (See also without adjustment)

Woah, that’s quite the jump in fares. One thing that really stands out are the fare increases of 2012-13, when Regional Council gave GRT a mandate to work towards 50% farebox cost recovery. The GRT 2011-2014 Business Plan called for 50% cost recovery from the fare box, and proposed up to 9% increases per year to meet that goal. We’ve written in the past about the need to be careful about precipitous fare increases for transit. The 9% increase in 2012 brought strong words against council. It’s reassuring to see that the large increases of those years have been tempered, though the 5% annual increases are still pushing the real cost of transit up every single year.

Over the past 10 years:

  • Cash fares have risen 23%
  • Adult Tickets have risen 46%
  • Adult Monthly Passes have risen 23%
  • Reduced (Senior/Child) Tickets have risen 51%
  • Reduced Monthly Passes have risen 27%

38 rides in 2006, dropping to 31 rides in 2016

The number of bus rides you need to take for a monthly pass to be cheaper than tickets

The Winners

Through these small changes, year over year, the relative cost of a monthly pass compared to tickets has been dropping. The number of rides per month to justify the purchase of a monthly pass as opposed to tickets has dropped from 37 rides in 2006 to 31 rides in 2016. A person needs only to make a round trip 16 times a month for a monthly pass to make sense. The average full time job has 22 working days a month, making that a dead simple choice, even when vacations and holidays come up.
When you consider that there is an even cheaper Corporate Pass available through many employers, and passes are eligible for the Federal transit pass tax credit, the number of rides needed drops all the way to 23, or 12 round trips. The value afforded to monthly pass riders is substantial.

The Others

With this general trend of keeping monthly pass costs lower, the occasional rider is being punished.

Tickets have been taking the brunt of the increases over the past 10 years, raising 50%. Tickets are used by occasional riders, and those who may not have regular jobs. Someone working 10 days a month has had their transit costs go up much more than someone working full time on a monthly pass, and yet the person using tickets will be less able to afford such an increase.

Cash fares have not been raising as fast, but the increase to $3.25 has made it more cumbersome than the old price of $3, now requiring you to find a Toonie, Loonie, and a Quarter in your pocket. Cash fares are often the first experience a rider has with a transit system. When someone doesn’t have exact change, they’ll be less likely to try taking the bus. With relatively cheap “rideshare” alternatives like Uber and RideCo now appearing, GRT may start to lose those first interactions with people who could take the bus, but can’t be bothered to figure out if they have the correct change.

Final Words

GRT and Regional Council should take a look at how these changes line up with their overall goals for transit in Waterloo Region. Are cheaper monthly passes to encourage daily riders the best bet? Or should tickets and cash fares be kept low, to encourage new riders who might then become monthly pass owners?

Either way, let us make sure that it is not simply an accident of a dozen individual fare increases, and is the true direction intended for GRT.

Stay tuned for future posts talking about fares, as we compare GRT to other Canadian cities, and look at how fares could be handled differently with the coming change to electronic fare cards.

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Photo credit: Nick Stanley on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/e9gKuq CC-BY-NC-ND

A potential game-changer for downtown Kitchener

Kitchener’s exemption from parking requirements for the first 10,000 square metres of floor space could drive a surge in walkable, transit-friendly, and affordable development downtown – without every new building needing to be a massive tower.

We’ve written at length about parking minimums found in the City of Waterloo’s zoning bylaw review. But the City of Kitchener is also updating its zoning bylaws, and we finally have a draft of their parking requirements. And while parking minimums aren’t exactly abolished, they’re a big step forward.

Embedded directly within the draft parking standards are provisions for shared parking spaces – for instance, an office building and a place of worship might have different peak times of use, and could probably share a lot of their parking. These rules acknowledge that without a developer needing to apply for a special exemption.

Generally, the car parking requirements are less onerous than those of Waterloo’s draft bylaw, but are greater for bikes. Outside of downtown and ION station areas, residential units only require 1.1 parking spaces each, compared to 1.5 in Waterloo, offices require just 3 spaces per 100 square metres compared to 4, and retail 3.4 instead of 4.  Bike parking for residential developments are about on par with Waterloo’s, but quadruple to 1 bike space per unit in downtown and station areas. For non-residential uses, Kitchener would require significantly more bicycle parking than Waterloo.

Parking maximums would also apply, not just in transit station areas, but across the city. These would be about 20-40% above the minimums.

The big game changer though, is found in this clause:

In a UGC-1, UGC-3, or UGC-4 zone, an exemption from the parking spaces required in Table 5-3 may apply up to the first 10,000 m2 of gross floor area of buildings on a lot for non-residential uses, and up to the first 100 dwelling units for residential uses.

Essentially, new or repurposed buildings downtown that have less than 10,000 square metres of floor space, (or fewer than 100 units), would see no parking requirements at all. Considering that structured or underground parking costs $20,000-50,000 per space, this could greatly reduce the cost of new development and consequently, housing. It could also lead to blocks with more active frontages, since there would be less need for driveways or garage entrances if a developer opts for no parking at all.

This change will open the door to transit-supportive density, without the need for every building to be a massive high-rises. Instead, the rules favour small and medium-sized buildings that require no parking.

Take action:

To comment on the proposed zoning bylaw changes, attend one of the public drop-in sessions on June 22 or 28 (City Hall, 4-8pm), or visit the Consolidated Review of the Zoning Bylaw website.

Photo credit: Nick Stanley on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.

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