In the mail yesterday, was a press release from the city titled: "Guelph Transit to offer improved service in 2011." To which we happy few that take the bus religiously say 'Hallelujah." It's only been a long time in coming.
But the tone of the press release was decidedly bitter, at least in my opinion. There's been quite a bit written about the disgruntlement of the people and the transit union - more than just me - in response to the news that 20-minute service will once again be cut this summer, and on top of that, the fee for riding the bus will go up by a quarter for a one-way cash fare. Reading between the lines below it almost seems like City Hall is calling us ingrates for those complaints:
GUELPH, ON, February 11, 2011 – Guelph Transit service is set to change for the better this year. Riders will benefit from a new transit terminal, more direct routes and shorter travel times as the City implements its Transit Growth Strategy this fall.
All good things. Direct routes and shorter travel times is always the Achilles' Heel of any transit system. It will never match the convenience of getting into your own car in your own driveway, and driving directly to the place you're going and parking out front, but transit will never be that anyway.
"We are committed to transit because an affordable, integrated transit system supports a healthier and more connected city that works for everyone,” says Mayor Karen Farbridge. “It allows those without a car or a driver’s license to travel to all corners of the city, and it allows all of us to tread more lightly on the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants."
Again, all good points, however, I think a lot of people will have difficulty with the word "affordable" attached to a $3 fare, or the equivalent of what TTC riders pay in Toronto to go from Mississauga to Scarborough.
Over the next few weeks, City Council will consider the impact of transit service improvements on fares and schedules as part of the City’s 2011 budget.
While recent changes to the University of Guelph student U-Pass contribute to more fair and balanced rates for all transit riders, City Council is considering a fare increase for adults and students in 2011.
That's fine, but the fact of the matter is that the cost per semester is still a fraction of what it costs for four months of bus passes for adults and students, it's just now more like 28 per cent the cost as opposed to 13.
"A small fare increase is reasonable given that Guelph Transit will actually increase from 20 minute service to 15 minute service during peak periods. That’s a 25 per cent increase in service this year," says Derek McCaughan, Executive Director, Operations and Transit. "This fall, Guelph will have a new transit terminal, improved commuter routes, express routes, and 15-minute service frequency during peak hours. We’re making some big changes this year to ensure that our Transit service continues to meet the expectations of our riders."
Fair enough, but since 2003 the cost for a single-ride, cash fare on the bus has gone up from $1.85 to $2.75, and the only improvement on service for that 90 cents has been 20-minute service for nine months of the year. Stat-holiday service came and went, and for a while there, we had 40-minute service for some reason. The history of Guelph Transit lately has seemed to be one step forward and two steps back. To be fair, the expectations of transit riders have been far beyond the grasp of the service for some time.
"If the proposed fare increase is approved, fares for seniors would not change. Riders who use tickets would pay ten cents more per ride, and a monthly bus pass would cost three dollars more," says Michael Anders, General Manager Guelph Transit and Community Connectivity. "Occasional riders using cash, less than ten per cent of our customers, would pay twenty-five cents more per ride."
I don't doubt that a small percentage choose passes and tickets over cash fare, but what's the amount that people see first. It's a perception thing, right? People see the $3 for the cash fare, and the mind jumps to a commentary on the expense of the bus. And first-time transit users or visitors to the city probably aren't likely to buy a bus pass, and that first ride is the gateway to getting more people to use the bus more frequently. Plus, it feels like Anders is saying that he's doing us a favour: for just 25 cents, a dollar or three, we're getting a bus system that's light years ahead. Well thanks, but if the City were truly committed to being Green and getting people around the city in an affordable and more direct manner, it wouldn't have taken so long to get here.
It is proposed that Guelph Transit continue to offer 30-minute service frequency during June, July and August and no service on statutory holidays in 2011.
And it's worth pointing out that Transit is the only city service being asked to take lay-offs this year when City Hall is puting out the "Now Hiring" sign. To my mind, we all have the right to be a little ticked that once again, transit is taking the brunt, and because the demographics of bus riders are currently a little inflated to the have-not side of the equation, it seems like a tax on them. Even Rob Ford couldn't stomach the public outcry when he announced a 10-cent fare hike for the TTC as part of his budget announcement last month. The next day, the $24 million needed to close the gap had been magically found other places. So I guess miracles can happen. Fingers crossed then for a Guelph reprise.