Can­di­dates feel strains of new tran­sit

Medicine Hat News - - HOMETOWN NEWS - GIL­LIAN SLADE gslade@medicine­hat­ Twit­ter: MHNGil­lianSlade

The only mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion can­di­date who took the full tran­sit chal­lenge, as spec­i­fied by a lo­cal res­i­dent, dis­cov­ered just how vul­ner­a­ble those who de­pend on the ser­vice are feel­ing.

Wait times at trans­fer points are longer than they used to be, it takes longer to reach your des­ti­na­tion and jour­ney times are un­pre­dictable, said Kris Sam­raj, who used tran­sit ex­clu­sively for a full week.

He be­lieves that when coun­cil voted unan­i­mously at its last meet­ing to ask the city to come back with op­tions re­gard­ing the ser­vice, which had been op­er­at­ing for a week, it was clear it ei­ther had not un­der­stood the new tran­sit plan ini­tially or per­haps had not be­lieved in it in the first place.

“If they did be­lieve in the plan they would not have back­tracked at the first sign of re­sis­tance here,” said Sam­raj.

Both in­cum­bent Coun. Jim Turner and Charles Turner are run­ning for coun­cil in the up­com­ing elec­tion. Charles took a mod­i­fied tran­sit chal­lenge last week­end and says tran­sit has be­come a “dis-ser­vice” to the city. Driv­ers are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to main­tain the sched­ule. It could only come close to work­ing if they drove ag­gres­sively and at speed.

“Each run is to take 30 min­utes, and re­al­is­ti­cally, it takes ap­prox­i­mately 45 min­utes,” said Charles.

In­cum­bent can­di­date Coun. Jamie McIn­tosh used pub­lic tran­sit for three days. To get to work early, morn­ing buses were on time and he did not even need to change routes. Later in the day there were de­lays but he at­tributes those to the “first week jitters and de­lays.” He typ­i­cally had to walk be­tween 600 and 750 me­tres to reach a bus stop or from the bus stop to his des­ti­na­tion. He plans to use tran­sit oc­ca­sion­ally in fu­ture.

“We need to stop think­ing about fund­ing tran­sit as fund­ing char­ity. That will only come when we stop think­ing of tran­sit as some­thing for poor peo­ple,” said Sam­raj.

Only two or three per cent of Hat­ters ride the bus right now but that’s still 1,200 to 1,800 peo­ple need­ing to get to work or where they need to be, said Sam­raj. The cuts made have af­fected peo­ple who have the least abil­ity to make al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments.

The city is fac­ing a se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial crunch and the main goal of the change was to save money, said Sam­raj. The im­pe­tus for the change was based on a Fi­nan­cially Fit sur­vey.

“I have seen no doc­u­men­ta­tion any­where re­gard­ing the sur­vey that in­di­cates that it is sta­tis­ti­cally rel­e­vant,” said Sam­raj. “You can’t reach con­clu­sions about what the whole city feels from this sur­vey.”

Prob­lems have come to the sur­face but seem to orig­i­nate from deeper within the sys­tem, said Charles.

“I would like to see our tran­sit sys­tem re­turn to its orig­i­nal state,” said Charles in an email: “...City Coun­cil NEEDS to ques­tion our tran­sit sys­tem on some of its lack of safety, lack of re­spect for its staff, and in­quire about pos­si­ble so­lu­tions to the cur­rent prob­lems in all as­pects of the sys­tem as whole from the of­fice to the routes and those who uti­lize them.”

While pas­sen­gers shared pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives about the sys­tem with McIn­tosh, he is wait­ing to see what changes have al­ready been made af­ter the first week, which started on Sept. 5, and what pro­pos­als the city has for other amend­ments.

There are some as­pects to the rolling out of the tran­sit changes that have not been made pub­lic yet, such as the cost of new shel­ters to be in­stalled, which will not be fully ac­com­plished un­til next year, said Sam­raj.

There is also the mat­ter of pro­vin­cial and fed­eral grants re­ceived by the city to im­prove pub­lic tran­sit. Sam­raj be­lieves the con­di­tions un­der which those grants were given also need to be made pub­lic.

Tran­sit and ser­vices such as emer­gency ser­vices cost more in low den­sity liv­ing. The fur­ther we spread out with new sub­di­vi­sions the more we need to plan ahead and con­sider the full cost of that, said Sam­raj.

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