Councillor Sharman: So, what should we do, you might ask? He doesn't like the look of the numbers.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 21st, 2019

Burlington, ON


There is one thing you can be absolutely certain about with the current city council: when Councillor Sharman is upset – you will hear from him and his words will be very precise.

Councillor Sharman asked the Mayor for the floor to make some comments on November the 18th.

He said:

Let me begin by making the following statements:

a) The consulting report is the subject of my discontent in these notes, it is not personal towards any person or staff.

Sharman July 2016

Councillor Sharman: “Let me begin by acknowledging …”

b) My business background coupled with my consulting and professional accounting career lead me to hold reasonable expectations of consultants when it comes to them guiding investment decisions, especially using hard tax dollars, which must be performed with sincere concern for the public trust.

c) I fully support the concept of increasing the modal split in the City of Burlington and the Region of Halton.

Let me begin by acknowledging that my analysis of the business plan, as already communicated to you by Tom Muir, (via the Burlington Gazette) is correctly reported. I will confirm and add to what has already been reported:

1. There was no assessment of the actual Burlington market, its operations, long term history or projected short, medium, and long-term rider demand.

2. There was no analysis or forecast of demographic and related ridership changes in coming years even though we already have a reasonable expectation of what is likely.

3. I will add a new point. Most people are bothered by the huge level of congestion on Burlington streets at peak hours.

This is probably the most significant motivator of increasing modal split. A few considerations:

a. Peak hour traffic will only be reduced by the amount of automobile traffic that can be redirected to GO transit. However, since most of the peak hour traffic relates to people coming into the City from outside (70% according to Transportation staff) or travelling from outside and exiting through the City (30% according to Transportation staff) are most likely not well served by GO transit. Then the probability of those people continuing to use their cars is high. But we have no analysis.

b. Given that the City is still growing, and new residential communities continue to grow to the north, west and south of Hamilton, the number of vehicles on Burlington roads will increase for the foreseeable future. But we have no analysis.

c. Since Burlington Transit essentially serves only the trips of those who travel within the boundaries of the City, increased service cannot be expected to have any material impact on ridership growth in terms of re-directed commuter trips.

4. Halton modal split numbers are theoretical. Our purpose should be to figure out in realistic terms if, how and when they can be accomplished.

5. Our consultant used Canadian Urban Transit Association standards to determine what that meant in terms of how many more buses, drivers, maintenance staff, overhead staff and facilities we will need to add to the budget in each year going forward. CUTA standards are aspirational goals that have been demonstrated to not actually represent any Burlington peer municipality (Jeff Casello, Waterloo University 2012). They are more representative of highly intensified big city circumstances, which we are not… not for a long time anyway.

Intense to the point of making delegations uncomfortable ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman does know how to drill down into the data and look for results.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman does know how to drill down into the data and look for results.

6. When you look at the numbers in the tables provided, they are all premised on a 23% average ridership growth that is required to achieve theoretical modal split goals. For some reason it was assumed that growth will somehow occur in a way that is highly front end loaded with a 36.5% growth in year 1 of the plan, i.e. from 2,000,000 riders in 2019 to 2,730,000 in 2020, with no explanation of how.

7. The critical concern is not so much the report per se, but that the 2020 budget for the City of Burlington includes funding to purchase 4 new buses and hire 8 new drivers. The report proposes that the City should do that in each of the following four years at a cost of millions of dollars each year.

8. The risk is that that the City is about to pour all sorts of real hard dollars into a plan that is completely devoid of any substantive assessment of ridership projections or a realism.

9. Keep in mind that a 1% increase in the City of Burlington budget equals a $1.6m spending increase. Further, that transit revenue, presently, represents less than 25% of the transit operating cost. This is at a time when the City is built out and new sources of property tax increases are drying up. Remember the 2019 budget use of reserves to keep tax rate increases low. This is not going to get any easier.

10. My concern is that costs will go up way more rapidly than ridership… so will taxes in a period of low tax growth, therefore increasing taxes by perhaps 10 to15% in total just for extra transit spending over the next 5 years. What does that mean giving up?

11. We can agree that “more bus users” would be good, but we do not agree to getting there by any means or a hope and a prayer.

So, what should we do, you might ask? Well:

1. Hold off a year to see what happens in 2020 with the new grid network;

2. Hold off a year to see what happens when the new buses and drivers approved in the 2019 budget actually come on line in the next month;

3. Use 2020 to remedy the concerns I have advised you of above;

4. Use 2020 to plan acquisition of electric buses instead of traditional diesel fueled vehicles;

5. Use 2020 to plan a complete transition of Burlington Transit to a 100% electric service;

6. Use 2020 to plan the implementation of on-demand service to undeserved neighbourhoods

I hereby move that we refer this to staff

Related news stories:

Muir on the transit problems.

Council doesn’t like what the consultant had to say – neither did the Director of Transit


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4 comments to Councillor Sharman: So, what should we do, you might ask? He doesn’t like the look of the numbers.

  • Jim Young

    Developjng on Clr Sharman’s points. The busiest routes on Burlington Transit are the ones that connect Burlington with Hamilton fksalong the Fairview / Plains corridor serving those Hamilton folks who work in Burlington or commuters whose Toronto trains terminate in Burlington.
    The 30% he refers to are more likely to use Burlington Transit to complete their journey on the bus if that service is improved taking some of those 30% through cars off Burlington streets at peak periods.
    If we want to reduce traffic we must get more people on buses. That will only happen when service frequency improves. That requires investment and … yes …a leap of faith.
    If we wait for transit ridership to increase to justify investing in service we will continue to see massive congestion.
    If you build it …. They may come……If you do not build it the simply cannot.

  • I have to agree with Councillor Sharman that there is no point in purchasing new buses and adding drivers until an accurate report is brought to council.

    Personally, I have never thought that “free transit” would encourage new people to use the bus. Most residents who don’t use the public transit system at this time indicate that the present routes do not work for them. Until there is a seamless, timely system is in place I doubt ridership will increase dramatically, no matter how many new buses are purchased, or drivers hired.

    Burlington has a large demographic of seniors, and this will continue to grow. Many seniors would like to not use their cars, especially in the evenings. However, the service provided would need to be able to accommodate these needs.

    Improving Public Transit was something that residents asked for when candidates were running for election. As a resident of Burlington I feel we need to take the time to do this properly, and this needs to start with an accurate transit report.

    • david barker

      So negative!

      Many commentators have, correctly in my view, been saying to Council “Enough reports. Make decisions & get on with things.”

      Take a look at the Toronto experience. Reports galore, debates galore, but no action.

      Provide excellent transit options and they will come!