Numbers Definitely Add Up for Light Rail Transit

He’s said it before, and he’ll say it again: John Shortreed likes buses. You might say he even wrote the book on the subject! Mr. Shortreed is a retired civil engineering professor, who worked for decades within the context of the post-war transportation planning mindset. During the tenure of Mr. Shortreed and other transit planners of the same era, streetcars were replaced with buses, transit use plummeted, highways got built through downtowns, and sprawl became ubiquitous. And actually, it’s not really true that he likes buses, since he’s publicly admitted that he doesn’t “have time to take transit” (though he lives next to the Route 7 mainline). Is this really someone who is fit to give transportation advice for the 21st century?

But he’s written his screed against light rail, and it deserves a response, so I will provide one by considering his points one at a time. (more…)

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Sardine Challenge and Overcrowding on GRT

In 2009, Regional Council did not support a recommended budget issue to address overcrowding, so Grand River Transit transferred 4000 annual service hours to its heaviest used routes from its lighter-used ones — yet overcrowding remains a serious problem. Regional Council is again being presented with a budget issue to address ongoing overcrowding, with a request for a meagre 2900 additional service hours in 2010.

When a bus leaves a would-be rider behind, that helps turn that rider off transit as a viable means of transportation. At a time when Waterloo Region is actively attempting to promote transit services and increase ridership this is not acceptable. By hindering the perception of transit, persistent overcrowding also has the potential to decrease support for transit funding, thereby exacerbating the problem. Particularly during a time of recession, it is critical that transit is available to those who need it. And considering the longer term, investment in transit is more cost-effective than is the road expansion that insufficient transit spurs. Hard economic times are an opportunity for the encouraged growth of transit, and there is a cost to failing to take advantage of that opportunity. Hopefully Council realizes this and approves the recommended budget issue.

This November, we asked people to send in photos for the Sardine Challenge, and we’d like to thank all who participated. The below photos should help illustrate the situation on a number of Grand River Transit’s routes.

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TriTAG Urges Region of Waterloo to Cut the Gas Tax Budget for Sprawl

Investigation by the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) reveals that the planned 2010 budget for the Region of Waterloo is heavily skewed towards road expansion and makes minimal investments in transit, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure.

“While the Region is budgeting $100 million for road infrastructure in 2010, little of that money is for sidewalks and bicycle lanes — and most of that expenditure is almost incidental”, said Tim Mollison, a TriTAG founding member. “Major Regional roads such as Franklin Boulevard, Ottawa Street, Fischer-Hallman Road, Coronation Boulevard, Westmount Road, King Street, and Hespeler Road are all still missing sidewalks. Of the Region’s proposed $100 million transportation budget, less than $1 million is planned for sidewalks, and out of a total expenditure of $2.2 million for sidewalks and bike lanes, only $300,000 is not part of an existing road project.”

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Guelph Transit wants to scrap their U-Pass

Update, 2010-02-12: Guelph city council voted in December to retain the U-Pass program. Instead, reports the Guelph Tribune, students will be looking at a much more modest 33% increase in the price of their bus pass this year (around $20 per term) — assuming the increase is improved by a referendum. This proposal makes much more sense than the expensive opt-in pass that was originally proposed. Kudos to Guelph for recognizing the value of their U-Pass program.

The original post from December 7, 2009 follows.

TriTAG’s primary focus is transportation in Waterloo Region, but we are also interested in learning from other cities’ transportation issues.

Today I learned that Guelph Transit wants to scrap their popular universal bus pass program. The U-Pass is similar to the UW and Laurier bus pass programs. One of the first of its kind, it was introduced in 1994 and provides every University of Guelph student with unlimited transportation on Guelph Transit for $61.13 per term.

According to an article in The Cannon, students contribute a quarter of all Guelph Transit revenue — $2.2 million per year. Why, then, does Guelph Transit want to get rid of the U-Pass? Here is what Manager of Guelph Transit Michael Anders had to say:

Anders said he knew the change was “controversial” among students, and would result in an estimated 25 per cent drop in university student ridership. However, he said it was necessary because the current U of G rate is “way underpriced” and needs to be adjusted to reflect the costs of running transit.

Reading the article linked above, it seems that Guelph Transit hopes to raise $300,000 by scrapping the the U-Pass — at the cost of a quarter of the university’s transit ridership. Could there be a better way?

Given that students pay $61.13 per term and generate $2.2 million in revenue, it can be calculated that students account for around 36,000 pass-terms per year. At that figure, students could contribute an extra $300,000 to Guelph Transit if the price of the U-Pass were raised by $8.34 per term! I’m confident that an increase of under $10 per term would succeed easily if taken to referendum. And if the fee increase were not approved by students, Guelph Transit could still implement their current plan, which is to provide a more expensive optional student pass.

If the U-Pass were scrapped, student ridership would drop by 25%, and those students who continued to ride transit would pay many times what they pay now. Students would drive more, causing further congestion and parking headaches. Those who could not afford a car would be faced with the choice of an expensive bus pass or a loss of mobility. Guelph Transit would lose the guaranteed revenue provided by the U-Pass, replacing it with an uncertain revenue source that can’t be collected more than a month in advance.

It’s a pretty clear choice. I hope that Guelph councillors realize this and vote not to scrap the U-Pass.

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Field Report: King Street Car-Transit Modal Split at Kitchener-Waterloo Border

In a 1999 paper, Weyrich and Lind argue that judging transit in North America by overall transit modal share is misleading, as most of the urban population is either not served by transit or served poorly. They suggest it is more appropriate to consider transit usage on transit-competitive trips. In light of this, I decided to investigate the modal split between transit and private vehicles on a transit-competitive corridor in the Region of Waterloo.

The proportion of overall trips in the Region of Waterloo taken on transit is perhaps 4%. But what about corridors with frequent transit?

There is really only one such corridor in the entire region – King Street in Kitchener-Waterloo. Between the Charles Street Terminal in Kitchener and University Avenue in Waterloo, Route 7 buses can be counted on to appear every 8 minutes or better from morning to evening. In addition to the 7, the iXpress route also runs along the same corridor, with 15 minute service. No other corridor has service better than every 12-15 minutes.

So on the morning of Monday, November 23, I set up on King Street right at the Kitchener-Waterloo border (between Union and Mt. Hope streets) with a clipboard and a video camera, and recorded trips between 7:30 and 8:30 am. It was overcast and foggy, with temperature between 1°C and 4°C. At the time I recorded all non-motor-vehicle trips, and the number of people on each Grand River Transit bus. GRT buses have 35-40 seats, but people rarely use all seats, so a bus with some standees can be expected to have around 35 people. Crush load is around 70-80 people. I used these figures to estimate the number of people on each bus as a multiple of five.

I counted other vehicles afterward on video, with one category for private vehicles (motorcycles, cars, and light trucks that weren’t obviously commercial) and one for all other vehicles. These included work vans, taxis, delivery trucks, transport trucks, dump trucks, and non-GRT buses, with a few one-offs.

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TriTAG’s presentation to the Regional budget committee

At last night’s Regional budget committee public input meeting, TriTAG spoke in support of more funding for transit, pedestrian, and cycling infrastructure. The 2010 Regional transportation budget includes $71 million set aside for growth-related road expansion, but only $2.1 million for improved sidewalks and bike lanes. The entirety of the Federal Gas Tax Fund, intended to be used for environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure projects, will be spent on roads. If even half of the Federal Gas Tax Fund were diverted from road spending, the budget for sidewalks and bike lanes could be increased threefold. TriTAG also advocated for transit funding to alleviate the overcrowding crisis on many routes.

The full text of TriTAG’s speech is included below.


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Canadians Want High-Speed Rail

Yesterday’s National Post carried coverage of a new poll which shows that 86% of Canadians support high-speed rail. More than enough studies have been done, and the Canadian public overwhelmingly supports the idea — it’s about time Canada got started on it. High-speed rail between Detroit and Quebec City would connect a corridor of nearly half the population of Canada, and extensions to Buffalo would allow interconnection with future HSR links in New York, Ohio, and New England. It doesn’t have to all be built at once, and Toronto to Montreal would make a great starter line.

We at TriTAG would certainly love to have high-speed rail go through Kitchener or Cambridge, but even if it doesn’t, good connections to the line will develop, and we would have an immense improvement in inter-city mobility. Fewer cars on the 401, less airport expansion, and the newfound ability to quickly and pleasantly travel between cities.

Several times a year I make the 11 hour drive to Washington, D.C. Not green or fun, but there are few reasonable alternatives. I would love to be able to take light rail to downtown Kitchener, a GO train to Hamilton, catch a high-speed train to New York via Buffalo, and another high-speed train to Washington, D.C. It would be better for the environment, not to mention safer and more pleasant for me.

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GO Service to Waterloo Region Launches Soon

Starting Saturday, October 31, GO Transit will launch its bus service in Waterloo Region. The service will create the region’s first direct transit connection between Waterloo Region and Mississauga, two areas that exchange many commuters (in both directions). The service will be more than just for commuters, however, as buses will operate throughout the day and on weekends. Most will be Route 25 buses, operating between UW, WLU, downtown Kitchener, Cambridge SmartCentres, park and ride stations at Aberfoyle and Milton, and Mississauga Square One. Two Route 25A buses will connect to trains at Milton instead. See our intercity transportation resources page for more details, including information on connections from Square One.

This news has generated a lot of buzz in the region and at the universities, so we may well see GO adding more service quickly to this route. Hopefully this will serve to push along the plans for GO train expansion to Kitchener and Cambridge.

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Take Action on GRT Bus Overcrowding

With the arrival of colder weather, GRT is seeing a huge spike in ridership and some customers are being left behind as they are passed by full-to-capacity buses. However, without more money from Regional Council now, GRT can’t hire more drivers to put buses on the road or mechanics to keep them there. Write your Regional Councillor and ask for them to provide an emergency increase to the transit budget. The current state of underfunding is not good for the growth of public transit — one morning left out in the cold may well drive those new-to-transit right back to their private vehicles.

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Report: Light Rail Makes Waterloo Region Even More Attractive for Investment

According to a report by the Real Estate Investment Group, Waterloo Region is the best place in Ontario to invest in real estate. In an interview with CBC News, Don Campbell, head of the Real Estate Investment Group, cited the region’s Light Rail rapid transit plan as one of the reasons to invest in the area.

“You’re seeing [BlackBerry maker] RIM and seeing the high-tech industries still continue to grow and hire,” he said. “And at the same time, they’re revitalizing the downtown of the old cities of Cambridge and Kitchener and now they’re talking about [light rapid transit].”

The report credits Light Rail as a method to significantly improve property values, even when established before higher-density development begins.

“Accessibility is a critical determinant of residential land values, and the improved access between urban centres and residential neighbourhoods greatly improves the value of homes. This is even evident when light rail precedes development”


Further reading

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