Transit rider advocacy group want John street terminal kept and a better deal for those who use the bus as well.

By Pepper Parr

February 20, 2014


Doug Brown knows more about what Burlington hasn’t managed to do with its transit service than anyone else in the city.  He has personal files that cover more than 25 years of transit history.  He brings a strong personal commitment to public transit and can tell you how difficult it is to get about not only the city but the Region if you rely on public transit.

Doug Brown and Susan Lewis look over a 1982 copy of the city’s bus schedule.

They called the bus schedule the Digest in 1982 – a time when Burlington had 18 bus routes and a schedule that fit on one large piece of paper. The current bus schedule is 28 pages long – many of the bus drivers don’t understand the thing.

We met with Doug Brown and Susan Lewis to talk about the delegations each of them had made to the Community and Corporate Services Committee Brown brought along a copy of the 1982 transit schedule – which at that time was called the Burlington Digest

Last year Brown and a group known as Bfast , Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit, made presentations to the Standing Committee that was reviewing the budget for 2013. In their presentations, they presented what they believed was clear evidence that Burlington had continually underfunded transit.  They presented the findings of consultants reports, and compared Burlington’s capital and current transit budgets against peer communities (the same communities used in the City’s budget report to compare tax rates). Bfast had hoped the City would carefully weigh the facts and either make some adjustments to the transit budget, or explain to them why they should not be influenced by the facts. To the dismay and disappointment of the Bfast people Committee members had no questions for the delegation, and adopted none of the recommendations.

Bfast hoped the committee reviewing the budget for 2014 would follow the guidelines in the recently adopted Engagement Charter and give citizens meaningful involvement in the budget process. We expect Council and staff to “walk the talk”.

Bfast was of the view that 2013 witnessed a step backwards for transit in Burlington.  Despite some restoration of operating funds in the operating budget, there were many route changes which riders found confusing, resulting in reduced service on some routes. Also, the 8.4% fare increase, which was not supported by any analysis or staff report, resulted in Burlington Transit riders paying fares even higher than Toronto’s TTC. Transit users were not consulted about any of these changes. The net result is widespread dissatisfaction with Burlington Transit and a loss of riders from both actions.

In 1982 there were a number of ticket agents throughout the city. Today there is one bus terminal which the transit people want to close; the public would have to troop over to city hall to buy a ticket. City hall closes at 4:30 pm – never opened on weekends.

The 2014 budget does not increase the City’s investment in its transit system. The fulfillment of Burlington’s Official Plan and Strategic Plan require significant additional investment in transit.  ROPA (Regional Official Plan Amendments) 38 requires that the transit modal share go from its current 2% to 11% by 2031. This will require an average annual increase in ridership of 10%.

The growth of transit in Burlington requires a long-term plan and funding commitment. The ongoing Transportation Master Plan is an opportunity to develop a long-term transit plan, however, we have been advised by Transportation Department staff that the Transportation Master Plan will not do this. Since the termination of the Transit Master Plan in January 2012, the City has lacked any long-term transit plan.

The budget according to Bfast, continues to treat transit in isolation to the other parts of the City’s transportation system (roads, parking, and active transportation). The majority of the capital budget is for roads, (increasing in 2014 to 54% from 51% in 2013), while transit’s small share of the capital and current budgets does not even get shown in the budget pie-charts.

During the 2013 budget deliberations Bfast we recommended the City look at traffic demand management (TDM) as a means of reducing the very costly widening of roads and intersections in the 10 year capital budget.  In the case of the Appleby/Harvester EA, we have been told by the project engineer that TDM was not being looked at or considered.

There are some budget items that reflect the City’s low priority for its transit system.

We note that the funds approved in the 2013 capital budget for transit priority measures ($100,000 for 2014) have been quietly removed from the 2014 budget.  Transit priority measures should be part of the Transportation Master Plan and the current Appleby/Harvester intersection plan, as such measures will reduce the car traffic and forego the need for expensive road widening.

Bus Cleaning:  It is not clear what is being proposed or if more or less money is required. Bfast fears  that that the City may be considering a lower standard of cleaning for the buses. This would be unfair to both drivers and passengers, and sends a wrong message to current and potential transit users.  However, Bfast does support the proposal to have the cleaning done by city staff rather than by external contract provided bus cleaning is not compromised.

There was a time when the car did not rule and the transit department saw bus service as something that was vital.  The marketing people certainly took a different approach.   Imagine something like this coming out of the transit department today?

Back-end loading of transit in 10-year capital budget. Bfast points out that  75% of bus purchase expenditures occur in 2018-2023 and only 25% occur in 2014-2017. Similarly, a large proportion of bus stop location upgrades and bus shelter expenditures occur in 2018-2023.   

To be fair, the city has said it will be doing a total revision of the current capital budget –so anything in that budget beyond this year has to be seen as something that will be getting a very close look.  Bfast might want to begin developing its own long term capital plan and prepare to take that to the city.

It appears that the City is planning to close the Downtown Terminal on John Street which Bfast describes an important place of shelter, information, tickets, and washrooms for passengers and drivers. While not a major budget item, the Downtown Terminal is very important to transit users and for the development of a walkable, liveable downtown.  Ward 2 councillor Marianne Meed Ward has said she will be speaking very strongly for the retention of the John Street terminal.

Bfast argues that city council has not yet seen a detailed business case for the closing of the terminal downtown and more significantly, neither the general public nor transit users have yet seen a business case for the closing of the terminal.   Bfast adds to that the  Official Plan process that  is holding meetings on potential mobility hubs with the downtown as one of four such mobility hubs.  One of the fundamental parts of a mobility hub as defined by the City’s Official Plan process and Metrolinx is that they contain a transit terminal.  Further, the Master Transportation Plans is integrating all modes of transportation including transit and at this point we do not know how that plan will deal with transit and the downtown terminal. 

If there was ever a place to locate a transit terminal – that would be John Street where the only terminal in the city is now located. Transit department is recommending it be removed and tickets sold at city hall. Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward isn’t buying that business case

Bfast suggests this Council is not in a position to determine whether a downtown transit terminal may indeed be a necessary part of an effective transit system that can grow and serve the public effectively in the long run.   Any decision to close the downtown terminal now to obtain efficiencies which translate to only $16,000 annually might create long term problems and cost the City far more if the City then has to re-introduce a terminal in the downtown.  Bfast is recommending that the future of the downtown terminal be deferred until the Council is more clear on the direction of the Mobility Hub concept re the downtown and the Master Transportation Plan ideas re transit in the downtown.  Further, Council needs to direct staff to consult with transit users and the public regarding a possible closing of the terminal.

In their remarks to the committee hearing budget delegations Bfast points out that the 2014 capital budget does include a major investment ($3.4M) in street-scaping in the area of the Downtown Terminal.  Surely, this is an opportunity to redevelop the present “kiosk” into a first-rate terminal facility.

There are parts of the transit portion of the budget that confuse Doug Brown, part of the Bfast committee.  Referring to a part of the budget about Restoring Transit Services, Brown says “it is unclear exactly  what is meant by the item, we haven’t seen the separate report referred to in the Budget document. It would be logical to assume that the Restore Transit Services item comes from the lost capital revenue from changing the federal gas tax funding from a 70-30 split to 80-20. ($500,000 for two years gives $1,000,000).  This shouldn’t be regarded as an additional funding option since the funding is already there, just diverted to roads. 

Bfast believes Burlington Transit needs to put money into new, (replacement and additional), buses, more shelters, real-time schedule information online and at bus stops, and, more marketing.  

When Burlington created its first really relevant Strategic Plan it had no idea how readily the citizens would take to the document.  There are very few delegations made that don’t refer to the document.  Bfast puts a firm grip on the making Burlington “a walkable, liveable community”.  Brown points out that this view has been reinforced by some thoughtful presentations at the bat the Mayor’s Inspire Series where Christopher Hume and Gil Penalosa spoke.   Brown wants to see at least some of the ideas that were brought to the city adopted.  If we aren’t going to pay any attention to the experts we bring to Burlington to talk to us – then why bother bringing them?, asks Brown.

Dan Burden, an urban planning expert, was engaged by the City to “set the tone” for the Transportation Master Plan. Burden recommended the City create narrower streets to create street life and make the streets safer and more useable by pedestrians and cyclists.

However, the 2014 Budget includes very large expenditures for widening the roads and intersections         ($21M for Walkers Line & North Service road and $23M 10 yr. total for Harvester – Appleby to Guelph Line) while, transit, sidewalks, and safe cycling facilities have been underfunded.

Doug Brown, chair of Bfast, wants to see a bus schedule with routes that work for people and not the current bus route set up in place. It doesn’t work claims Brown. Susan Lewis, who does not drive looks on. There are places she just cannot get to in the city because transit doesn’t work – at least not for her.

Brown makes a point that many make on the budget review process Burlington has in place. “Public input on the Budget has again come at the 11th hour, when large changes to the budget are not possible. We encourage the City to provide their citizens with a much earlier opportunity to help shape the budget in the future.”

Doug Brown is chair of Bfast.  He brings degrees in science and engineering to the volunteer work he does.  What boggles a lot of people is that Brown isn`t used by the city as a significant source of information and advice.  Doug Brown was riding the bus in Burlington before the current Direct of Transit Mike Spicer even got to this city.

The city has an asset it needs to consider leveraging.

There is a lot more to be written about transit and how people like Susan Lewis get around in the city.  Let’s see what city council decides to do with the current transit budget.

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9 comments to Transit rider advocacy group want John street terminal kept and a better deal for those who use the bus as well.

  • Maggie Steiss

    Once again transit is letting me down. I have to be at Central Library for 10 this morning for another writing workshop. When I signed up for it I thought great, this one won’t be so hard to get to. Not the case. Unless I want to catch the first Francis bus, I don’t, then I can’t get there unless I want to walk to maple ave from north shore king rd area. I don’t. Admittedly today would be okay to ride my bike but I have plans to meet people afterwards for dinner and a movie which would make having my bike awkward. Cab again.
    At Susan’s suggestion I checked the new schedule and I would have been able to get there on time but this certainly doesn’t help me now.
    I would also like to point out that no Sunday or evening service makes it difficult for retail workers. I once quit a job at Burlington mall in large part because of busing problems. Getting there was no problem but getting home at night was. By the time I did the close and night deposit. I could not get a bus until after 10 and then I still had to walk from plains road down king. It was well after 11 when I got home. For the pittance I was making it wasn’t worth it. While I have never been afraid to walk alone at night I know many women are.
    I seem to recall that the Francis rd bus did run on Sunday’s in the past. I can remember taking it to Cedar Springs for tounaments.
    Business people do take public transport. How many more would do so with efficient service. when it takes 3 or more times as long to get where you are going, if you even can, as driving, then it is no wonder people prefer their cars. Increased efficiency would increase ridership, which would increase revenue.

  • Thanks everyone for your comments. You can connect with Bfast on our website, Facebook, or Twitter. We’d love to hear from anyone who feels strongly about transit issues. (@bfastransit)

  • Joan Turbitt

    Hi Chester yes you and I and many many others share the same concerns. However, I think you will be pleased to learn that our ward 2 councillor Marianne Meed Ward is on our side. Go to Mariannes ward 2 Newsletter of February and scroll down to Neighborhood Enhancements regarding the Budget there she describes the pros and cons of the closure or keeping open of the downtown bus terminal. The last bit states that to keep it open directly benefits the residents. (para) More details there. I think if you had a chat with her about your concerns you would be pleasantly suprised at how much she does care about her constituents concerns. She is very intelligent, compassionate, and certainly is on the side of the best solution for all. I think if we all write to the Gazette, the Mayor, the councillors, and whoever else, the transit people etc. we will show them we have a united front even though they have made it almost impossible to go out. We still have our voices. Keep up the good work and hope to see you at the terminal or somewhere nearby soon.

  • Joan Turbitt

    I agree that we definitely need to keep the downtown bus terminal open. We also need to improve on it somewhat. I have not been there in quite a while as I can no longer walk this far and council and transit cancelled the taxi scrip program so necessary for seniors with mobility issues.
    Someone said that members of council said buses dont work for them or executives dont take transit is nonsense. First of all the issue has nothing to do with whether it works for council or not. Council is elected as all government officials to represent the views of their constituency. Too many labour under the delusion that they are elected because of their brilliance in determining what everyone needs. WRONG. This may not yet be law but it should go to referendum and become law. Further as someone else pointed out and anyone with eyes can see many business persons do take transit. Not everyone wants to and certainly can not afford to take the car, pay for the gas, and parking and time it takes to drive to every meeting. This is usually reserved for persons whose company pay it for them. Persons such as government employees. If such employees cannot do the research and find out that many persons in the population can do and would take transit if it were affordable, accessible, and ran efficiently which it does not. Keep the downtown bus terminal open turn it into an efficient mobility hub, cooling center, info center, place to meet friends and relatives coming in for the festivities etc. and a place to get a drink or sit down if a mobility challenged senior or disabled person. Now that may not be required for the decision makers but then that is not even a consideration. I say, that if our decision makers cannot make decisions that are beneficial for ALL citizens then we need to elect those who will and do so by making these issues an election issue. I am fed up with the BS. which inconveniences so many seniors and disabled persons who have built this city on work and volunteer work. You enjoy most of the perks that exist because of them.

    • Chester Brunee

      Well said. I am also worried about the same worries you describe.

      What is it with these politicians? What is wrong with our mayor and council representative these days?

      As an aging citizen of this community, I am disgusted with the lack of respect for our aging seniors and old people. I usually go to the Dickens Pub across the street, but, that is usually where I see Marianne Meed Ward talking about how she is going to sell more lakefront land and cut services and increase bus fares because business people make high salaries.

      Let’s make the bus station a place where we can meet and have a drink.

      You have legitimate concerns and really good ideas which are typical of how many European cities operate and actually respect seniors.

      Shame on Meed Ward for not caring for seniors.

  • Maggie Steiss

    There is no question our transit system is terrible. It was certainly never prefect but it’s worse than ever. Last Saturday I needed to get to downtown Oakville for a workshop at their library by 10 am. I checked how to get there by bus. It would have taken me over an hour on 3 Burlington buses plus an Oakville bus and taking the earliest Francis rd bus I still would not get there on time. I ended up taking a taxi. Yesturday I went into Hamilton. I tried by both internet and phone to find out bus times when I wanted to return home. I arrived early at the stop and waited and waited. No bus showed up. I was cold and left to try again later. Still no luck. I finally cabbed home. I live in Aldershot and the Francis rd bus stops early in the evening and doesn’t run at all on Sundays. At those times if I want a bus I have about a 20 minute walk to Plains road. I am a member of Cedar Springs racquet club. If I want to leave there past 6pm I have to walk to Guelph line or wait till almost 11 and then still the walk down king road. It’s no wonder one of my biggest expenses is taxi’s. Can’t wait for the better weather when I can regularly ride my bike.
    Burlington needs to drasticly improve it’s transit system, particularly in Aldershot. If we want to attract new business and a healthier green lifestyle this is imperative.
    I would also like to point out that we pay a higher fare than Toronto for proportionly worse service.
    Our service on holidays should not stop at 6pm either. On the Victoria day weekend I wanted to into Hamilton but would have had a hard time getting back. What about the people who want to come to the festivities in Spencer Smith park. Yes there is a shuttle to the go station but then what. With no buses how, besides expensive taxi’s do non drivers get home. Many seniors, disabled and people on low or fixed incomes simply can’t afford to take a taxi, particularly if they live far from the go.
    Drunk driving is another issue. The commercials suggest we use public transport or have a dd. This is hardly possible is there is no public transit available and you don’t have a dd. Again taxi’s are very expensive.
    We want people to participate in the events the city puts on but don’t offer them a safe, affordable way to get home from these events.
    Perhaps more people would use public transit if it was more convienent, reducing congestion on our roads and drunk driving.

    • Susan Lewis

      Maggie, there is a new bus schedule coming out effective March 2, 2014. It doesn’t address your problems or any of mine but it is proof of how bad the Nov. 3 schedule was.

      The City had almost 300 complaints in the first 2 months of the new schedule and they keep trying to fix it by applying patches here and there but, they will not give us back the previous schedule.

      It seems patches (changes) have now been applied to almost 20 bus routes, so there is a new schedule that will be available the week of Feb. 24 and it will be effective March 2, 2014.

      If this kind of “planning” continues, the main thing we will learn from all the changes is, your bus could be here today and gone tomorrow. Not the kind of message from City Hall to convince a new user to jump on board.

  • Susan Lewis

    Up until the new schedule of Nov. 3, 2013 you could easily commit your bus schedule to memory and “then burn your car”.

    My route, the #2 ran every half hour for most of the day and every 15 minutes during rush hour. (In 1982,it ran every 15 minutes until 7 p.m. then every half hour.) For over 30 years it was easy peasy.

    Now, it runs every 12 to 26 minutes during rush hour and if you try to go south of the B Go, you may or may not have to transfer buses. The schedule doesn’t tell you, you either ask the driver or find out when you get there. It’s more complicated than that but your eyes would start to glaze over if I mentioned any more of the changes on this one route alone. It’s not just this route that’s become difficult, it’s other routes as well. The City took a bus schedule that was very simple and made it quite complicated. (Doesn’t anyone remember the meaning of K.I.S.S.?)

    It’s a bad idea to close the downtown terminal especially if it appears to save only $16,000. on a $200 million dollar plus budget. I say “appears to” because the City recently spent money to refurbish it and if they close it, they will have to build new washrooms from scratch at the Burlington GO Station. At what cost?

    The downtown terminal has been designated a Mobility Hub by Metrolinx. A Mobility Hub is a main transfer point to other forms of transportion and amenities. This is the only complete Hub Burlington currently has because you can easily walk to residential buildings, offices, many retail stores and many very interesting restaurants in the downtown area. A Mobility Hub is also defined as having parking available nearby and connections to other transit routes. The downtown Hub has connections to a Hamilton bus, a Greycoach bus or you can transfer between most Burlington City buses. The John Street Terminal has more than just public washrooms, it’s also a place for people to gather inside to get out of the freezing weather in the winter or to cool off during a heat wave in the summer. You can buy a snack or a drink from a vending machine, purchase tickets or buy a Presto Card while still being able to see if your bus is coming. It’s a pleasant place to wait or strike up a conversation. The idea of selling tickets at City Hall, 2 blocks away, would be an added unnecessary hardship for for the elderly, those who are pushing a carriage or a wheelchair and for people using canes, walkers, crutches as well as for those who are blind. Bad weather would make it so much worse if not impossible. And all this to save $16,000?

  • Roger

    I applaud Mr. Brown and his organization on their efforts – I am always hopeful that our decison makers (see present council)will make good decisons. My faith has been misplaced – present transit is a shadow of what it was and significant parts of the city are either not serviced or underserviced. Rick Goldring is on record in from of the Chamber of Commerce telling people that business people (suits) do not take transit – I beg to differ – please see thousands of people Burlington’s 3 GO stations getting on the train to Toronto. The city’s transit committee (BTAC) has not had a meeting in 7 months – how serious is a city about transit when it’s own committee has not met in 7 months. Most councillors are on the record saying that transit does not work for them or they just do not like taking the bus – how can one expect transit to get any better when the decison makers have such a low opinion of tranist in their own city. Remember these are the people including staff who thought is was okay to remove rides for the CNIB and ARC industries . Council has failed to on transit – We are the only city in the GTHA to spend more on roads then transit. The facts speak for themselves