Council nixes the idea of a pilot project that would let seniors ride free on Monday's They approved $16,000 for their Car Free Sunday event.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 21st, 2016


Robert Lovell doesn’t understand.

Robert Lovell A

Robert Lovell

He was interviewed for the job he has as a member of the Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee and thought he was expected to do just that – advise city council on things that mattered to seniors.

BSAC met on a number of occasions and went into the community to learn when people wanted in the way of transit services.

They researched what Oakville was doing and came to the conclusion that the Free Transit on Monday’s was a good idea and certainly worth trying in Burlington.

They then delegated to city council and made a strong case for trying the Free transit for seniors on Monday’s.

They argued that ridership would rise and the free service might convince people to try the bus. They argued it would also allow people with limited means to use the bus service more often.

Councillor Rick Craven, centre, with a copy of the 2013 budget on a memory stick. Craven did a superb job of chairing the budget committee last year. He will have no argument with candidate Henshell over the need for additional shopping facilities in Aldershot - getting themt there has been the challenge.

Councillor Jack Dennison, Rick Craven and John Taylor voted not to proceed with a pilot project to learn how much additional ridership could be added to the transit service. All three voted for an allocation of $15,500 for the car free Sunday event that takes place in wards 4,5 and 6.

A majority of city council didn’t see it that way and they voted (4-3) against the pilot program that was to run for six months.

Councillors Marianne Meed Ward, Blair Lancaster and Mayor Goldring voted for the pilot program.

Councillor Craven said very little during the debate. Councillor Taylor seemed to feel that the program was intended for those who could not afford transit – and he argued, if that was the case, there were Regional programs that gave financial support.

Taylor seemed quite prepared to have people submit to a financial means test to get support to buy a transit pass. He saw the pilot project as social welfare which he explained is handled by the Region.

Councillor Dennison has never been in favour of much in the way of support programs. Councillor Sharman said he didn’t have a problem with the program but he wanted to be sure everyone fully understood just what the outcomes and expectations were for the pilot project.  He wanted the Director of transit to set out what would be measured so that a proper evaluation could be done when the six month pilot ended.

Lovell said he had been told by friends that the Advisory committees were just a sham – that they were put in place to let the public think the city wanted to hear what they had to say. “If that is the case: said Lovell, “then I am out of that committee. I am interested in working on committees that want to make a difference.”

Lovell was one of three people who delegated on the Free Transit for seniors on Monday – a program that Oakville has had in place since 2012 where it is reported to have increased transit ridership by as much as 14% in one period.

Burlington Transit has always had difficulty growing transit ridership. There have been significant price increases which has depressed ridership and route changes haven’t helped all that much either.

When the matter got to council for debate it was clear that some of the members of council didn’t hear what the delegations were saying the day before.

Jim Young was asking council to forget the cost but focus on service – he argued that it was taxpayer’s money and the seniors wanted this kind of service.

What council failed to see was the real opportunity that was being missed. Burlington has busses that travel the streets “more than half empty most of the time” if we understood what Councillor Sharman says.

Bus station 1

A new bus is added to the fleet – city hall staff and area politicians drove over to the transit garage to give a round of applause. They get paid for this – don’t they?

We own the buses, we pay a driver to be behind the steering wheel – if there was a chance to increase the ridership at no additional cost and at the same time provide a service and entice people to use the buses – why wouldn’t one at least try the pilot?

The city wasn’t going to lose any money – there would be passengers on the bus who would not pay a fare – they wouldn’t have been on the bus anyway

There is an additional benefit if ridership can be increased. The gas tax rebate the province gives a municipality is based on two measurements: the population of the municipality and the ridership.

There are currently 130 municipalities sharing $332 million dollars.

There was an addition to the 2016 budget that was estimated to cost $14,000 – they spent more than an hour

Burlington has had problems convincing people to use transit. Doug Brown maintains the city does not have a plan to increase ridership and that there really isn’t anyone within city hall who will advocate for improving transit. There is no one at city hall who fully understands transit – responsibility for transit get mentioned by the people responsible for transportation.

More than 17% of the population is over 65 and while many people are able to drive their cars well into their 90’s our aging population is likely to become subject to graduated drivers licenses.

We will get to the point where a doctor will be required to advise the department of transportation that the patient is no longer capable of driving a car.  What do we do when we have a growing cohort of people who are either not allowed to drive or are no longer comfortable driving?

The transit free Monday was an opportunity to learn if people would take a bus if it were free. The driving factor behind the pilot project was to see if this was a way to increase ridership.

Old school thinking had Councillor Taylor seeing the request as a social welfare issue, while Councillor Sharman wanted a clear understanding of what the expectations of the pilot were going to be.


Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster – voted for the Free Monday transit service for seniors

Ward 2 Councillor MArianne Meed Ward made her presence known to Council well before her election to office, the city knew what they were getting and she has delivered on that promise.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward made her presence known to Council well before her election to office, the city knew what they were getting and she has delivered on that promise.

Councillors Lancaster and Meed Ward were quite willing to let the Director of Transit take the time needed to prepare a report and if they had to move the start date of the pilot back a bit they could live with that as well. An amendment to the motion allowing for a report to be prepared didn’t pass either – the four opposed to the pilot project just didn’t want to see it take place.

When an item fails at the Standing Committee level there is always an opportunity to debate it again at a council meeting – these are usually held a couple of weeks later.  However, budget meetings were slipped in and the normal rotation of meetings got jammed up. If there is going to be a change at city council – those who are behind this project will have to get a wiggle on.

The Gazette understands that the good folks in Aldershot are not at all pleased with the Councillor Craven vote against the pilot.


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6 comments to Council nixes the idea of a pilot project that would let seniors ride free on Monday’s They approved $16,000 for their Car Free Sunday event.

  • Shame on those Councillors who will not support free public transit for seniors on Mondays! It is clear that some Councillors are simply so anti-transit that they can’t even stomach a six month pilot project at a reasonable 16 – 30 K$ cost! Even when an adjacent municipality has had significant increases in annual use since 2012 with such free transit on Mondays. This latest anti-transit move clearly shows that some Councillors just don’t get the need to support transit so that we can really have a modern city that works for all its citizens, especially seniors. Even when seniors’ representatives and transit advocates clearly pointed out the needs and advantages in their delegations. This is not a proud moment for Burlington City Council and I hope those dinosaur Councillors reconsider their positions and vote for a progressive senior-friendly city at the Council meeting on January 25th.

  • Burlington Resident

    I’m concerned that the Seniors Advisory Committee has become an advocacy group. Advisory committees should be as reasonable as possible. Advocating for something strongly and threatening with your vote isn’t advising. It’s not hard to see why council wouldn’t take them seriously.

    Maybe I should advocate for a property tax exemption? I’ll advocate at council meetings because it will help ‘everyone’ by boosting the economy of Burlington. Then, when I get rejected I will say I won’t vote for them and complain the system is broken.

  • Steve

    I felt the same way about the Burlington Insight surveys so recently opted out. It is just fluff to make us think our opinions are of interest.

  • John

    Spending the taxpayers money is a balance that should be to the benefit of as many as possible.
    Reading this, it appears every one involved had his or her ideas on how to achieve that.

    Councilors Lancaster and Meed Ward along with the Mayor voted for the program, but this read does not tell us why.
    Councilors Dennison and Craven’s reasons for not being in favor are equally not explained.
    Council Taylor explained that there is assistance available, and if I understand his position, tax dollars should not be spent assisting those that don’t need it.
    Councilor Sharman wants this program to be measured to ensure the tax dollars are delivering value.
    The reasons we know are valid and in the end, along with two others, carried the vote.

    The delegations presented had their solid reasons to support this, one line in this post stands out,
    “Doug Brown maintains the city does not have a plan to increase ridership and that there really isn’t anyone within city hall who will advocate for improving transit”
    I think he has it right, this is a transit issue, much bigger and complex than what was debated at committee. Perhaps Councilor Meed Ward could present this again as part of a complete and inclusive plan for city transit.

  • Karen Dumfey

    Well I hope that the senior citizens who voted for these councilors will think twice next time!! Deplorable!!

  • Yvonne

    It is a shame that the old boys club of Councillors voted no to this great idea ,they probably forgot who votes for them in the elections most of the time ( Seniors) Great way for Seniors to get around once in awhile and who knows what kind of ripple effect it would generate . Not sure what programs the region offers other than social assistance as Councillor Taylor was referring to
    Way to go Council on doing one nice thing for our seniors ,not !!!!!!!!