Transit - is it a solution or a service no one wants to pay for

By Pepper Parr

February 18th, 2024



The City spends millions on transit.

Tens of thousands don’t use the service.

Council buys the Staff argument that transit is essential going forward.

Tough place to be.

Counsellor Paul Sharman will talk about our getting to the point where we won’t own cars but will rely on a service where you will dial up a company that will have a car at our front door that takes you to exactly where we want to go – with no one actually driving that car.

That isn’t going to happen in my lifetime nor that of Paul Sharmans.

Then where are we going to go with transit?

Two recent services done recently; one by Get Involved, a part of the city web site and Deloitte, an accounting firm hired by the city to survey public opinion on levels of satisfaction on services delivered.

What is interesting is that they ask if people use transit and if they don’t – why?

No one seems to be asking people – what do you expect to use to get around town or when you want to visit with friends in Hamilton, Guelph or  Kingston.  And where does the GO service fit into the thinking people do about how they are going to get around?

Let’s look at the data we do have.

No direct routes, takes too long to get where you want to go and not convenient are the leading reasons given for not using transit.  Are there solutions that could attract people to using transit?  Probably not in the near future.

There is no data that compares the Burlington experience with other Regions; York has made great strides and Brampton had the benefit of a very innovative transit executive that Burlington hired.  She decided to retire before the job was done.

The survey work done by Deloitte had questions on transit. Their data was basically the same as the data collected by Get Involved.


What is the take away on this?

Council is committed to transit; there was a time, before Covid, when the ridership numbers were growing significantly.

What the public is not seeing are small pilot initiatives developed by Burlington Transit testing some of the options that are being used elsewhere.

One gets the sense that Council has settled into a model that provides transit for those who do not have a car.  Those with cars will drive and complain regularly about grid lock without coming to terms with the fact that no new road capacity is going to be built.

At some point some innovative thinking is going to have to be applied.

Related news stories:

Wishful thinking going back to 2019

The 5 year Transit Strategic Plan took us to 2023.  Needs an update – badly

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9 comments to Transit – is it a solution or a service no one wants to pay for

  • Don Fletcher

    I’ve had a Starbucks’ coffee at Caroline & Brant on more than a few summer days & wondered, given Burlington’s stance on climate change, why we continue to employ noisy, diesel-fueled & polluting, full-sized buses to transport so few passengers? Doug Ford (according to Paul Sharman) told us to can’t be either believed or accepted. I’m no expert but there just has to be a better way!

  • Ted Gamble

    Eliminate it and provide shuttle and Uber for the old and needy

  • Eric Stern

    During a community meeting at Appleby Sharman stated the province will only allow Burlington to buy huge buses and the unionized drivers, of those large buses, earn about $80,000 a year plus benefits. Other communities manage to buy smaller buses but we live in a community where Doug Ford forces us to do things like take on strong mayor powers and buy huge buses. Niagara and Durham are two examples of communities offering on demand service with smaller buses. It’s possible more people would use, and pay for, public transit if it was more convenient.

  • David

    All transit should be taken over by the Region.

  • Allan H

    I like David’s comment…..How many times have I seen empty buses (or maybe one or 2 passengers at most) busing around our community. I like the idea of a shuttle type service but that could be problem if demand is high. However, bottom line is we really can’t sustain a taxpayer funded service that’s way under utilized, Sad thing is, I don’t visualize that changing any time soon.

  • Penny

    One of the areas that a “hop on, hope off” bus service could be useful would be from Lakeshore/Brant to Walmarts, or perhaps as far as Costco. Wonder if the city ever discussed the possibility of a joint partnership with these major stores in sharing the cost to provide such a service?

    This service would allow many of the seniors who live downtown and others to get groceries, pick up prescriptions, get eye examinations, have access to a walk-in Medical Clinic ( Walmarts), and have a meal. This would be a win/win.

    Sue Connors, the former Director of Transit implemented this service in Mississauga but was never able to get this happening in Burlington.

    Fifteen years ago, I attended a meeting when Rick Goldring was mayor and he mentioned this as well.

    As usual all talk no action.

    Public transit is necessary and for those taxpayers who find it onerous to be paying for this service, let me remind you that you are paying for many other services that you don’t use or even know about.

  • Tom R

    What about the low income elderly and those on disability
    Should they have to pay for the service too it’s the only way they can get around and it’s not like they’re making a lot of money.
    You try living off of less than 1,300 a month as a single in the City of Burlington it’s impossible
    Unless you have a lot of help including programs like the free split passes

  • David

    When we are staying in St Pete’s Beach instead of hiring a car we use the ‘Freebee Shuttle’
    You phone the service and a vehicle will pick you up usually within 15 to 30mins and take you to your destination within the St Pete’s area for free, no charge you just give the driver a tip average is $5-$10 they usually drive mini-vans and help you load the weekly shop, very friendly and efficient.
    The other things we use are the trolleys (about the same size as our buses) a very simple route up and down Beach Blvd with a connection even further North beyond St Pete’s at the Southen end they turn around if you want to continue down to Passa Grille Beach you can use the ‘freebee bus)
    an eight-passenger electric vehicle, I was told it was cheaper to do this than have the trolley do the run, I know this is a tourist location but the majority of trolley rides are locals.

  • Caren

    Presently, Burlington Property Tax Payers are burdened with the cost of Burlington Transit whether they use it or not. This poll indicates a very low number of residents use it. So why has our City Council made it free to all or most of these residents??
    The COB spent Millions of dollars on new buses that we don’t need. And someone needs to pay for them!
    All Residents who use Transit in Burlington should pay to use it. If users pay, it will help bring our Property Taxes down.