Despite the fact that the firing of Guelph Transit General Manager Phil Meagher has yet to be explained, the City of Guelph is proceeding into the future with the announcement today that they've hired a bran new general manager. Mike Spicer, fresh from being the Director of Burlington Transit, has come aboard Transit Services in the Royal City to lead our system through difficult times.
Spicer has a 17-year career working in transit, joining the City of Burlington in 2008 as manager and being promoted to director in 2012. Interestingly, Spicer worked under Scott Stewart at the City of Burlington where Stewart, now DCAO of Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise Services in Guelph, was the general manager of development and infrastructure. “Burlington Transit is focused on providing sustainable transportation options for the people of Burlington” said Stewart in a post on the Burlington Gazette in 2012. “Transit is an important service, one that I know Mike will continue to lead efficiently and effectively.” Before that, Spicer worked down the road at Brantford Transit.
“Senior management’s vision for Guelph Transit remains consistent: the reliable, efficient delivery of public transit to the Guelph community; and we know Mike will continue to build on that vision here at the City,” said Colleen Clack, Deputy CAO of Public Services for the City of Guelph in a press release.
So considering the general dissatisfaction among riders with Guelph Transit's services, and with City management putting Transit under the microscope as one of three pilots for the service review framework, what might Spicer bring to the service? Well, it's hard to measure Burlington Transit's effectiveness under Spicer, there are no Google reviews when you search for "Burlington Transit" and the service doesn't have a Facebook page like out own Guelph Transit. The only social media outreach that BT does have is a Twitter feed, and it's hard to gauge customer satisfaction from random tweets of criticism.
And then I found this. It's from an organization called BfAST, Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit. BfAST is a "citizen group formed in March, 2012 to advocate for better transit service in Burlington" and they did not like what they saw at Burlington council earlier this year at budget time. “When inflation is considered, the 2016 transit budget is actually less than the budget in 2015,” said BFAST spokesperson Doug Brown.
The operating budget for Burlington Transit in 2016 was $10,110,796, which the Hamilton Spectator did note according to the raw numbers was an increase of seven per cent over the year before. Guelph meanwhile budgeted $14,698,370 for Transit this past year, and the recommended budget for 2017 adds another $2.3 million more, but that's just to keep pace with the present service level. While Guelph spent $4.5 million more on transit this year, Burlington has 50,000 more people. So if there are problems with Guelph Transit, imagine the issue with Burlington...
"Funding and service cuts, schedule changes and fare increases over the past four years have resulted in a 17 per cent decline in ridership for Burlington’s chronically underfunded transit system," noted the BfAST release. "Burlington’s politicians like to point to the survey by Moneysense magazine that rates our community as the most livable mid-size city in Canada," added Brown. "But that same magazine notes Burlington is well down the list when it comes to walkability and transit."
What does this mean for Guelph? Who can say? Perhaps Guelph, far outside the very congested [immediate] Greater Toronto Area is an island onto itself, and thus our needs and requirements are very different from Burlington and Spicer will recognize that. In the meantime, there are people worried though that the City is preparing not to expand transit service, but to cut it further. I guess we will have to wait and see...