Tomorrow from 4:30pm to 7:30pm Grand River Transit is holding public consultation centres in Kitchener (150 Frederick St) and Cambridge (Cambridge Centre) on its 2011-2014 business plan. See the GRT site for details and for an outline of the current proposal and an online feedback survey. (Some more information, including maps, is in the report on page 19 of this month’s Planning & Works Committee agenda.) If you can, please attend a session in person — but in any case, please send your comments in.
To me, the outline strongly suggests that GRT (and by extension, Waterloo Region) is already giving up on the Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP). It’s giving up on making major changes to the bus network, and limiting itself to tweaks here and there, hoping for LRT to come along and make everything better. GRT leaves changes of substance to beyond a three-year horizon. The RTMP aims to increase the transit mode share from 4% of peak hour trips to 15% by 2031. If that happens, it will be no thanks to GRT’s current plans.
Before the criticism, I should acknowledge that they are planning for another iXpress line — in 2013, along Erb-University-Bridge in Waterloo. Otherwise they are planning an extension of the 201 iXpress, a realignment of Route 12 of dubious value, slight increases to service hours, and even slighter increases to frequency. Technology-wise, GRT promises “advanced information” on iXpress routes, real-time information, transit priority for the aBRT portion of the rapid transit corridor in Cambridge, and a smart card system. There are also some plans for expanding service to the townships. But the business plan outline suggests little of the initiative seen in this year’s realignment and improved west side Waterloo service.
The plan calls for choosing one of three different options (5, 7, or 9%) for raising fares annually — but all aim to massively increase farebox recovery rates for GRT, to 50%. Where is this number coming from? This is an issue of paramount importance to transportation in the Region, and here it is being slipped in as a target so obviously worth reaching that it doesn’t deserve public discussion. Last time I checked, there were no usage fees for any roads in Waterloo Region, and parking was some of the cheapest in the country. Road operation is and will continue to be paid through general property taxes, but it goes without saying that transit users should be paying for 33% more of the costs? This certainly casts doubt on whether the Region really wants to increase the number of people who choose transit instead of driving. Not to mention the impact on low-income households.
Here’s what I didn’t find in the current proposed business plan to 2014:
- A redesign of Route 7
- Express routes in Cambridge
- Redesign of routes in Cambridge, particularly connecting Hespeler to the rest of the city and network
- Realigning existing routes to straighten them out along major corridors, instead of milk runs and a focus on terminals
- Moving to headway-based frequent service on some major routes, and abandoning time-based transfers such routes
- Changes to service standards, including acceptable loading standards and the definition for the minimum level of service provided Region-wide
- Potential changes to buses ordered and the criteria which go into the choice of bus and layout
- A new (longer) standard for stop distances
- Serious signal priority for regular buses, or at least all iXpress buses
- Bus lanes, and other transit priority measures
- Getting rid of mid-route layovers
- A concrete plan to make real-time bus locations publicly available as part of Waterloo Region’s new open data initiative
To be fair, based on the current Regional Transportation Master Plan and Rapid Transit funding plans, GRT only has 25% more budget to work with by 2018. (Not that this is set in stone.) But many of the above points don’t require more operating hours. Rather, they require some vision for transit in Waterloo Region, and a will to get it done. It seems that the will to substantially improve transit is not coming from GRT, so it’s up to all of us to push for a GRT that will be worth taking.