Transit and the 2015 budget: a letter to Regional Council

Dear members of Regional Council,

Over the past several years, transit has been squeezed to meet arbitrary cost-recovery targets. Now that GRT has achieved those targets, TriTAG is pleased to see that the proposed 2015 Regional budget does not include any more painful cuts to transit, but instead focuses on continuing to prepare for integration with ION light rail and adapted bus rapid transit service.

We hope that 2015 also marks an end to the sharp fare hikes of the last few years. As the Region develops its new Strategic and GRT Business Plans, it has the opportunity to set fare and cost-recovery policies to satisfy concrete goals for transportation, ridership, social equity, and the environment.  We encourage council to be proactive in considering these goals when deciding on fare and service changes.

In past years, we have seen fares increase dramatically, while many transit routes have been restructured or trips reduced, making travel harder for some, and leaving passengers behind because of overcrowded buses.  Often these cuts have taken place during the pressures of budget time, rather than as part of the regular public consultation and planning process that accompanies major transit service changes. This has left communities feeling like changes have been forced upon them.

We are pleased to see that the service changes being planned for 2015 are taking place according to the Regional Transportation Master Plan through a thorough public consultation process, and look forward to reviewing the final staff recommendations for service improvements later this year.

We are concerned however by the planned cuts to frequency in the spring months along central corridor routes for ION construction. Decreasing frequency makes transit less reliable, when we should be doing everything possible to ensure that it continues to be as reliable as possible during construction detours. We would urge the Region to invest the resources to ensure transit frequencies are not disrupted and ridership is permitted to continue growing in preparation for ION.

Over the coming year, we would also encourage the Region to investigate how to enhance the value transit brings to riders and to the community. One area in particular is Grand River Transit’s brand value. Buses with advertising, especially those with wrap ads over the windows, detract from the GRT brand, while reducing the ability of those inside to see, and worse, making some passengers motion-sick. The income from wrap ads relative to the rest of the transit budget is quite small, but the impact on ridership and the perception of transit could be significant. Another area for consideration would be broadening the eligibility for discounted transit passes for those with low income, which would cost little but benefit the community as a whole.

We look forward to working with the new Regional Council to make Waterloo Region a better place to move around.

Mike Boos
on behalf of the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group

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