There’s exciting news for people who have entered the recent rapid transit debates asking for improved bus service: the proposed 2011 Waterloo Region budget delivers the first in a series of major expansions of bus service as part of the Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP).
According to the Region’s major issue paper on the RTMP (PDF currently unavailable), the plan “places a greater emphasis on transit to maximize the use of the limited road space and to plan for a sustainable future.” It does this “to achieve the compact urban form as prescribed by Ontario’s Places to Grow Growth Plan and the Regional Official Plan,” and to do this it incorporates into the transit system some form of Rapid Transit along the urban corridor that connects Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge.
There are many reasons that the RTMP was adopted, but the three driving factors are: first, the Region is obligated by provincial law to channel 40% of growth into existing urban areas (through the Places to Grow Act); second, the Region will see a population increase the size of another Kitchener over the next 20 years; and third, roads are more costly to build and maintain and less effective at channeling growth than investments in public transit, cycling, and walking.
The RTMP includes but is not limited to Rapid Transit. It also includes plans for expanding existing bus service, adding as many as 11 new iXpress-like routes servicing the east and west parts of Kitchener and Waterloo and linking the suburbs to the urban corridor. For maps showing short and long-term changes to Grand River Transit routes, see the last two pages of the major issue paper.
The 2011 Budget: bus route expansion begins
The Region has proposed a number of increases to service on existing routes, in particular on the iXpress, on the 7 around the universities, and on the 52 in Cambridge. If approved, it will add a new iXpress-like route along Fischer-Hallman, realign the 12 to follow Westmount and extend Route 29 to Ira Needles.
To achieve this expansion, the region will have to purchase “19 new buses and provide 75,550 additional service hours annually (a 13.2% increase in service hours).” The changes will take place in two parts, iXpress improvements in June 2011, and the rest in September.
This year’s changes will also include changes to the transit technology, with “increased access to accurate travel information in real-time, more reliable service with less delays and a more convenient fare payment system.”
Costs and where the money is coming from
Expanding the transit system is not cheap, but then, none of the options for accommodating at least 40% of 200,000 new people and 80,000 new jobs within the existing urban areas are cheap.
The budget proposes increasing transit fares by 5% per year, with an increase going into effect in July 2011.
But what about the impact on property taxes we keep hearing about? If you add together all the increases based on inflation, approved commitments, funding for the RTMP (1.25%) and New Issues and Critical Service Enhancements, then subtract budget adjustments and the 2011 Upload Savings (from the province taking back the responsibility for funding some programs), the net increase is 1.23%. For an average home that pays $1,500 in Regional taxes annually (out of $3,000 total in property taxes), this would be an increase of $18.50 per year, or about $1.50 per month. Note that this does not factor in changes to the police, city, or school board budgets.
To get involved or learn more
Update: The 2011 budget has been finalized, and in addition to the issues discussed here, there are many programs of interest, including arts funding, poverty reduction, and health programs. You can find out more about the budget here.