Oops. This one slipped past us. Sometime, about a year or two ago, the Region quietly dropped the ‘a’ from aBRT (adapted Bus Rapid Transit) when referring to improved bus priority for express buses on the central transit corridor in Cambridge.
In a recent post we suggested that Greyhound might not have the license to operate service between Waterloo Region and the Toronto Pearson airport. Greyhound has been in touch to tell us that we’re mistaken. Quoting the letter from David Butler (Regional Vice President, Eastern Canada):
Over the years Greyhound has acquired many licences through acquisitions of companies like Voyageur, Gray Coach and PMCL to supplement our own P.V. licenses. I wish to confirm that Greyhound does indeed hold all the required operating authorities to provide this service under the P.V. licences issued to it by the Ontario Highway Transport Board (“OHTB”). This was verified before the service commenced, validated with senior staff at the OHTB and, prior to their coming into force, the schedules for these services were duly filed with the OHTB as is required by regulation. Greyhound has long supported, and faithfully followed the OHTB regulations in regards to our services in Ontario.
When we had contacted the OHTB, they were unable to provide a listing of services licensed to operate between Waterloo Region and Toronto Pearson airport. They were able to provide the license when given a company name, so we had requested those for Airways Transit and Greyhound. We had not anticipated that subsidiary companies would have separate licenses. We have not yet been able to track down the specific license that applies in this case, but we do not have reason to doubt Greyhound’s word here.
Mr. Butler also writes:
We are very excited about the initial response to this new service. We hope to increase frequency to match demand.
We, too, are enthusiastic about useful new transit service from Waterloo Region and increased frequency!
We’re happy to have been mistaken about the status of Greyhound’s airport service. The main question at this point is what exactly the province is doing in its review of intercity bus regulation. There have not been any public updates in many months. As it stands, it is hard to find information about intercity bus service in Ontario and, consequently, hard for new entrants to improve such service.
Update: Greyhound has reached out to let us know that they do, through a subsidiary, have a license to operate this service. Please see our new post for an update. Below is the original post.
Greyhound recently launched scheduled service between Waterloo Region and the Toronto Pearson airport, to much fanfare. To many, this is an obvious and useful connection. It is also, as best as I can tell, illegal under Ontario’s Public Vehicles Act.
Ontario has a licensing system for intercity bus service (that we’ve written about before) which effectively grants perpetual monopolies for a private company to run scheduled service on a corridor. GO Transit, the regional transit agency operated by the provincial government, is exempt from these regulations, but prefers to avoid its buses directly competing with private carriers. Last year the Ministry of Transportation put forward a deregulation proposal that is still under review.
Greyhound and Coach Canada are the biggest beneficiaries of the current licensing regime. For Waterloo Region in particular, Greyhound provides the direct service to Toronto, Guelph, and London – and no other private carrier is allowed to. It has poor reputation among riders, but there’s no other direct options. Similarly, Coach Canada provides the direct service to Hamilton. And Airways Transit provides scheduled van service to Toronto Pearson airport.
I was curious how Greyhound dealt with the system given Airways Transit’s license, so I looked up recent issues of the Ontario Gazette (where new license applications must be published). Failing to find anything, I emailed the Ontario Highway Transport Board, and was able to obtain the current operating licenses for Airways Transit and for Greyhound. And indeed, Greyhound’s license not only doesn’t allow airport service; it explicitly prohibits it.
Greyhound is using a move from Uber’s playbook, with the difference that it’s already the dominant player. The same licensing system that serves to protect profitable monopoly routes for Greyhound is the one that it’s apparently breaking in order to get more business.
If this is the case, it is not a tenable situation. If Greyhound can brazenly and intentionally break the rules, then there shouldn’t be anything stopping anyone else from offering service that would break Greyhound’s stranglehold on bus service along the Highway 401 corridor.
In August, we wrote about the missing crossing of the ION tracks from Traynor Ave to Fairway Ave in Kitchener. Without a pedestrian crossing, it means over a kilometre between crossings, and many residents are now cut off from services that used to be a walkable distance away.
Thanks to the help of the neighbourhood community, the issue made it on to the municipal radar, and the City of Kitchener recently had a public feedback session seeking feedback for a proposed crossing of the ION tracks. See the display boards here.
Read on for some analysis of what’s good, what’s bad, an analysis of how it will impact trips compared to before, and whether a crossing further west at 652 Fairway Rd (Fresh Burrito) might be better. (more…)
Last week, we talked about the gap in transit planning around ION and the 202 University Avenue iXpress. Click here to read the details. The Waterloo Region Record has also published a story, and we’ll be on CBC radio Tuesday morning at 7:40 to discuss it.
How can you help ensure that connections are in place for ION and GRT iXpress buses on University Avenue in time for 2018?
Give GRT your feedback! Follow that link to learn about the UW transit plaza and find a link to submit your feedback. Tell GRT you want them to live up to their key priority of building seamless connections to ION light rail.
Tell the University of Waterloo what you think. Contact the president’s office and explain that UW needs to step up and help our community get maximum value for our transit money, rather than obstructing good transit access to ION. Let the 202 pass!
Student or alumnus of UW? Contact the UW Feds and tell them you want the University to work with GRT, not against them, in order to make your own transit experience along University Avenue better.
Grand River Transit is investing in a new transit plaza next to the University of Waterloo’s ION station. But they have no stated plan to connect the 202 University iXpress with this location. In fact, they propose to have the 202 drive over the tracks and not stop near ION at all. How could this be? See the plans yourself, and then tell GRT you want the 202 to connect with ION.
Imagine that it’s early 2018, and ION has begun service. A young woman leaves her home in the Beechwood neighbourhood bound for work. Instead of getting in the car as she normally would, she walks towards the closest bus stop. Today she will find out if ION works for her.
It’s a short walk to the bus shelter, and a short wait for her bus to arrive: a 202 University iXpress. It quickly carries her along Erb to University Avenue, then through campus and she steps off the bus just metres away from the ION platform. It’s a quick and convenient transfer as the train glides smoothly into the station as she walks up and just like that, she’s on her way downtown.
Now imagine instead, her bus drives right past the University of Waterloo. There’s the unmistakable thump-thump of crossing railway tracks: surely, this must be the place to transfer. But no, the bus keeps going.
She gets out at the very next stop, beyond Phillip St. She doesn’t know the area, and she can’t see the station anywhere around here. She asks a passing student, who points back towards the tracks. She starts walking.
Despite crossing each other, the 202 and ION stops are a long way apart.
It’s almost 10 minutes before she has found her way to the ION station. By now, she’s cold and annoyed. These iXpress buses were supposed to connect seamlessly with the train, she thinks. Do they actually expect her to walk all this way every time to catch her train downtown, and then find her way back to this bus stop in the evening? Why does her bus completely bypass the light rail line whose tracks it drives over? She can’t understand why anyone would think this was a good idea. She resolves to go back to driving tomorrow.
Of all these routes, the 202 is the most vital to connect with ION.
Sadly, it is this latter scenario that we are being set up for. GRT revealed its plans for the new UW transit plaza and route adjustments in the area to connect here, and those plans specifically exclude the 202 University iXpress. Despite the creation of this plaza and the placement of the UW ION station, the University of Waterloo wants to block bus access to sections of Ring Road. The 202, serving our region’s second largest transit corridor, is a casualty of this decision, currently relegated to bypass ION and stop a long distance away.
The 202 is Waterloo’s best cross-town route, extending to Erb West and University East.
But there are alternatives. There are ways to make this work. Unfortunately, Grand River Transit appears to be proposing inaction when they presented to the public last week. The vision of iXpress cross-town lines feeding the ION transit spine may well be abandoned where it is most critical.
We must ensure that this connection happens. GRT needs to step up, and deliver a solution. And if GRT can’t bring the 202 to the UW transit plaza, then it should instead be routed to connect with ION at the Laurier-Waterloo Park station on Seagram drive.
Why not connect 202 with ION on Seagram, and also provide Laurier with an ION shuttle at the same time?
Making these connections between ION and iXpress is of paramount importance to ensuring that our investment in LRT benefits more than those who live and work immediately adjacent to the line, because they connect ION riders to many more destinations outside the central transit corridor.
It’s not too late to tell GRT directly that you want to see the 202 iXpress bring you to ION’s doorstep. You can see GRT’s plans yourself, and submit your comments online. Let’s help our transit planners make the connection.
At risk is the GRT business plan, which calls for increasing bus service by nearly 30% over the next five years. This is necessary in order to integrate GRT buses with ION light rail service and grow ridership by 40%. This will be a challenging task, one not made easier by the fact that ridership has fallen in the face of years of punishing fare hikes. Will Regional Council have the vision to continue to invest in transit in Waterloo Region, without gouging transit riders? (more…)
Imagine a gate at the end of your driveway that opens only once every 30 minutes. How would that affect you?
We tend to think of trips by car in terms of how much time they will take. So it’s natural to compare transit by the same yardstick. How long will this trip take by bus compared to car? Is a train that takes 44 minutes to travel 18km fast enough? No question: fast transit is good.
But frequent transit is better. Frequent transit means being able to travel when we want. But this is often overlooked. It may even be overlooked in the next GRT business plan. But more on that in a moment.(more…)
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:
Launch of the UW Transit Plaza (Sept 2017) for routes 9, 13, 31 and 201. (But not 202?)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.