Last month, Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit (BFAST) issued a challenge to members of Burlington city council. The transit advocacy group asked us to take the bus for any five days over the course of a month, with a deadline of March 28.
This past weekend, I completed my challenge and wanted to share my perspective.
First and foremost, my experience taking the bus was positive.
The buses, overall, were on time and clean. Our drivers, who have a reputation for being among the friendliest in the GTA, met expectations. Riders were friendly and there were between 3-10 people on each bus I travelled on during the various days and times.
The walk to the bus stop from my house was about five minutes. As the challenge was in February and March, it gave me the opportunity to take the bus in the coldest part of this winter.
The downtown stop was a close walk to City Hall. Both the stop near my home and downtown had bus shelters, which helped during the colder days.
I took the bus on weekday mornings, weekday evenings, as well as on Saturday and Sunday, to get a good idea of the different levels of service and run times. I did not let transit staff know what dates and times I would be riding the bus so as to get a real experience, with the exception of the media day we held the first week where we invited reporters and photographers to ride the bus with myself.
I spoke with a number of transit users on the bus who were also happy with the service. They said the buses are generally on time, with great drivers.
Another positive outcome of this challenge was the community interaction and engagement about our transit system.
Through my rides on the bus, media coverage and my social media accounts, I interacted with hundreds of residents about transit.
People approached me everywhere from the coffee shop to the grocery store to talk to me about my experience through the transit challenge.
There were mostly positive comments, as well as constructive criticism. It was good to hear a variety of opinions.
I understand there are residents calling for improvements to our transit system. As with many municipalities, riders are looking for reliable, affordable and convenient service.
I hear your concerns and we are working on solutions. However, change cannot happen overnight, and we need to do our homework.
We need to ensure we have the necessary data on ridership and routes before we make any major changes.
A big development is expected this fall with the implementation of a transit intelligent transportation system.
This system will give riders electronic access to real time bus information.
Handi-Van riders will experience some significant improvements with real time bus arrival texts, improved booking technology and trip planning tools.
Importantly, it will provide Burlington Transit with electronic reporting on such aspects as on-time performance, boardings and ridership. This gives us hard data when determining transit improvements.
Public engagement is also ongoing for the Transportation Master Plan.
This municipal strategy co-ordinates transportation networks and services with anticipated community growth. A final report will be ready for December 2015.
We are doing our homework and I am committed to improving our service.
A welcome impact of an efficient transit system is reduced traffic congestion, but I recognize this will also require a shift among our residents to try alternative modes of transportation.
I continue to struggle with the reality of getting people to park their cars and get onto the bus.
I believe the cost of our transit service is too high to make this a meaningful alternative to people that own cars.
The vast majority of people who drive cars to a Burlington destination can park for free except in downtown Burlington. However, in downtown you can park for free on Saturdays and Sundays.
It costs approximately $132 per month to park per month in the downtown and since December is free, you only have to pay that for 11 months, whereas an adult transit pass is currently $95 per month.
The difference in cost is not big enough to get drivers to switch to taking the bus.
It is also an expensive mode of transportation for some of our lower income residents.
I recently took a vacation to Texas, where I used public transit in San Antonio and Austin.
It cost $1.25 per ride or $2.50 for an all day pass.
In the United States, the federal government provides transit operating funding, which we do not have in Canada. Therefore, our fares cannot be as low, but one idea that came from my trip is that Burlington Transit should offer an all day pass.
Among other ideas for improving transit that I heard from riders during my trips on the bus was the need to have schedules on the bus stops, as this helps promote transit.
I also heard we need a good transit app that people can download to their smart phone – that will come this fall with the transit intelligent system.
People have asked if I will continue to ride the bus now that I completed the challenge.
I believe I will when my schedule warrants. I’m often in meetings across the city on a daily basis, with little time between for travel, but on days I’m only at city hall, I will hop on and let Burlington Transit do the driving.
I will be sharing my experience and ideas with transit staff. I encourage you to connect with me about this challenge and any other ideas you would like me to share with our transit department by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.