Director of Transit levels with Bfast audience - there are challenges at transit - without funding she can't do the job,

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

April 23rd, 2018



It was a Transit Forum that had people applauding and for the most part leaving the room satisfied that there were going to be changes made to the bus service in the city.

The public got their first chance to listen to the new Director of Transit, Sue Connor, who came to Burlington from Brampton where she turned that operation around. Transit users in Burlington are hoping she can do the same thing here.

Sue Connor with Jim Young

Jim Young joined Director of Transit Sue Connor on a panel discussion

Connor came across as a little on the humble side. She admitted that there are problems and she believes they can be fixed but the fixing is going to take time and she will need money from the city to make it all happen.

Which of course has been Burlington’s problem for the past decade – the city has not been willing to put money into transit – shaving and paving the roads is where the dollars have gone.

Bfast founder Doug Brown cautioned Connor not to get fixated on just the capital side – the buying of new buses and fancy technology – he wanted to see dollars going into operations.

Connor talked of transit as a business – Brown cautioned her on that too – transit is a service he said.
The 4th Annual Transit Forum was the largest ever held – the event had to take place at the Seniors’ Centre where a larger room was available.

There were a number of differences this year – the city manager sent his deputy but she didn’t say a word.
Other than Marianne Meed Ward there wasn’t a city Councillor in sight. The Mayor was reported to be out of the country and ward 3 Councillor John Taylor was on a vacation – in Amsterdam.

With that kind of council member attendance one can get a sense as to how big a task Sue Connors has ahead of her.

Bfast audience Nisan - scobie +

Ward 3 city council candidate Rory Nisan on the right with community advocate Gary Scobie in the center

The hope, perhaps, is that there were at least five people who have announced they are running for office in the October municipal election.

There were a number of school board trustees in the room: Leah Reynolds and Richelle Papin.

Some people thought a new transit plan was going to be announced – that didn’t happen but the audience certainly heard about the $45 million the province has showered on the city for transportation. Eleanor McMahon, Burlington’s MPP, who is also running for re-election, said that we are “entering a golden age for transit”

McMahon + Hersh

Burlington MP Eleanor McMahon on the left in full campaign mode bending Penny Hersh’s ear during a break in the Bfast Forum.

She added that communities on the Lakeshore East and West GO lines will be the first to get 15 minute service – no date though on just when that will happen.

Doug Brown pointed out that Burlington has already experienced a golden age for bus transit – in 1982 the city has 15 minute service on every bus route.

He said that 2012 was a disastrous year for transit – gas tax money that went to transit was reduced from 30% to 20% and half a million dollars was taken out of the transit budget. A transportation Master Plan at the time took another half a million out of the budget by cutting back on the number of routes and service frequency.

Up until very recently Burlington didn’t offer any transit service on both Christmas and New Years Day.

Connor is working on a new plan for transit and moving at least some of the service from the current radial approach to more of a grid system. She wants to create a five year plan – her challenge is going to be to get it funded.

Model with Tanner

Transit and intensification are joined at the hip in Burlington. Citizens had wanted the city to prepare a 3D model of what the downtown core would look like once the high rise towers began to get built. City said they couldn’t create a model – so residents had students do something with LEGO. Former city planner and now Deputy City Manager Mary Lou Tanner looks over the model.

She told the audience that there would be service changes in September and that her immediate focus is going to be on reliability – something the transit operation has not been able to do with the number of buses in the fleet and the number of operators on staff.

For the most part the audience had nothing but praise for the drivers – they always get a round of applause.

Some good news – Shoppers Drug Mart will become a part of the Presto card sales and refill operation.

The Downtown terminal will be open from 8-6 Monday to Friday and 9 to 6 on the weekends – and will no longer close at noon for lunch. There was a time when the then Director of Transit wanted to close the downtown terminals and have people hoof it over to city hall to buy bus tickets.

Connor told the audience that she has to first fix the foundation of the existing service and that she has a lot of work to do.

The audience learned that 80% of the transit traffic comes from half the routes

Sue Connor at mike

Burlington Director of Transit Sue Connor.

Connor told the audience that she wants to dialogue with the community – words like that haven’t been heard a Transit Forums before. Connors came across as a nice lady who wants to make a difference.

Connor expects to take a report to city council sometime in June – at that point the audience that liked what she was saying Saturday will know if she can walk the talk,

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5 comments to Director of Transit levels with Bfast audience – there are challenges at transit – without funding she can’t do the job,

  • Roger

    Councilor Paul Sharman when elected actively removed bus routes because he did not want them near his house – when running for office – he promised free bus rides for seniors – when elected and the re-elected – did not deliver – Mr. Sharman is not the only councilor who speaks well of transit but takes no action except to dismantle transit.

    The city deputy manager who was in attendance remained very silent however the city manager and other staff are more than vocal when presenting or defending the new Official Plan.

    It is important to note the Grow Bold Plan has NO TRANSIT plan – please see city web site – status – PENDING

    The new transit director is well intentioned and qualified however with no funding or council support – much like her past directors – will fight the good fight and leave as a majority of the present council has no interest in even fixing transit

  • Steve

    Without substantially increased funding I don’t see how they can make the system all that more attractive for existing riders and certainly won’t attract new ones. At the moment the routes, with the exception of route 1 and 101, are catered to seniors and students, often winding through subdivisions. If you take away the routes that service schools and seniors residence and focus only on the major roads you risk alienating your existing customers and without 15 minute frequency will still fail to gain new ones.

    I’m not saying that it is necessarily worth funding transit at the high levels required for service every 15 minutes and the other improvements needed to attract new riders but spreading the same resources around different routes will still not make for a transit system that will attract new riders.

  • Penny

    Actions speak louder than words. A forum where Public Transit is the issue and the Mayor doesn’t think it necessary to send someone in his place as he is away. Councillors in all Wards except for ward 2 don’t feel that they should come and listen to the residents that voted them in? I hope residents remember this when they go vote in October.

    Public transit will become an even more important issue, as residents age. Public Transit has been ignored by Councillors for many years. For a City that allows fewer parking spaces in new developments and is constantly telling residents to get out, walk, cycle and have one or no cars, one would think that public transit would be a priority.

  • FJ

    What struck me at the Forum the lack of City representatives. Who represented the Mayor and Members of Council? We were told that the City Manager will be attending but I don’t think he did. Mary-Lou Tanner was in attendance but did not speak. Burlington Transit will not change until all members of Council and the City Manager are totally committed to this.

    • Jim Young

      There were more members of transit drivers union at the forum than there were city councillors.The drivers obviously care more about transit users than most councillors do. Kudos to Marianne Meed Ward and Sue Connor and BfAST. Healthy discussion informative forum, great way to engage citizens who rely on transit.