Candidates feel strains of new transit
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.