Guelph Transit has a plan to revitalize its system with new schedules, adjusted routes and new services to "match transit service levels with passenger loads." If implemented, the realignment will see some routes renamed, rescheduled or reorganized so that transit will no longer operate on a "pulse and wave" system, but will it be enough to get more people on the bus and get them where they're going in a timely and convenient matter?
The Transit Advisory Committee was given the first look at the proposed schedule and routes a few weeks ago, and the presentation was given to Guelph Politico by a source privy to the meeting and what was discussed. Now this is a work in progress, and while some routes see minor changes, others have been wholly re-invented with a particular emphasis on expanding service in the south end down Gordon St between downtown, the University of Guelph and all the way to Clair Road.
"The Gordon Street corridor is one area that we're really struggling with," said Mike Spicer, the general manager of Guelph Transit in an interview. "There's probably 20 loads [per day] on average that we're leaving on the sidewalk, which is not good."
Work on the realignment began in early December, shortly after Spicer came aboard as the head of Transit. Using the Trapeze passenger management system, and gathering feedback from operators, the planning staff of Transit set out to look at which areas of the system needed more resources, and which ones currently had too many. "We wanted to know where we were using our resources to the best of our ability," Spicer said. "Rather than coming back and saying he just need to upgrade the service, this gives us an opportunity to do that at a much quicker pace."
The quicker pace had to come cheap too, or rather on budget. "We would need council approval to expand the budget," Spicer said. "This exercise is setting ourselves up for the Transit Master Plan that we'll be doing later this year, but this was just an opportunity for us to improve the service, predominately down the Gordon St. corridor, by increasing the frequencies to 10 minutes."
Helping out along Gordon Street in the proposed restructuring will see the implementation of the "mainline route", a north to south "spine" bus that will shuttle people from the Walmart Smart Centre on Woodlawn, to the Pergola Commons plaza at Clair and Gordon. The new "99 Mainline" is one of five new routes proposed by Transit. It will connect with all stops down Woolwich, Norfolk and Gordon including Guelph Central Station and the University Centre. The presentation given to the TAC did not include a schedule of how long the route make take from beginning to end, but it would be the most direct way of getting from the north end of the city to the south.
Two other new routes will be express service from Guelph Central Station to two major hubs in the south end. The "40 Scottsdale" will ferry passengers to express stops at either Centennial CVI or Stone Road Mall, while the "41 Downtown" will make three stops: Gordon at Nottingham, Gordon at College and the University Centre.
The last two of the proposed new routes will also be university-centric and will be part of a "rebranding" of the routes that service the University of Guelph specifically. All university routes will now be marked with a "U", as in the new "51 U Janefield", which will depart the University Centre and travel down Stone Rd to Janefield and Scottsdale and return to the UC. The "52 Kortright", meanwhile, will depart from the UC and cover Gordon St. to Kortright and Edinburgh St. through well-populated student neighbourhoods.
The 50, 57, and 58 will remain part of the new system, unchanged, and running every 20 minutes all day during the fall and winter semesters, but they will now be called "50 U Stone Road Express", "57 U Ironwood Express", and "58 U Edinburgh" respectively. The "56 Victoria Express" though will be renamed "56 U Colonial" and now travel by Goodwin, Clair and Farley as opposed to its current path down Stone Rd and Victoria Rd. S. while running on the same 20-minute peak/30-minute off-peak schedule; it current only runs 30 minutes.*
The "5 Gordon" and "16 Southgate" routes will put new emphasis on the south end in the realignment by no longer going downtown. The new "5 Goodwin" will depart from the University Centre and travel down Victoria S. to Arkell where it will follow the route as laid out now by the 5, while the 16 will be scheduled to connect to the "99 Mainline" and travel down Clair Rd to Southgate Dr, Clairfields and back to Gordon every 30 minutes.
Because of the "99 Mainline" perhaps the most affected routes are the two perimeter lines, the "2A/B West Loop" and the "3A/B East Loop". The 3 will be shrunk to the "3 Westmount", which will travel from Guelph Central Station to Westmount and Nicklin before turning back around at Woodlawn and Edinburgh Rd. The 2 will expand to become the "17 Woodlawn Watson", which is mostly a combined route made up of the current 2 and 3 routes except with no stop downtown. The new route will run both ways, with the clockwise one being the 17, and the counter-clockwise one being called "18 Watson Woodlawn".
Those that take the "8 Stone Road Mall" will be treated to a more direct route to the mall by leaving the station and travelling down Wellington St to Edinburgh S, College Ave, and around to the back of the mall by Janefield and Scottsdale. The western end of "9 Waterloo" will now move south , turning around at West Acres Dr as opposed to Willow Rd., while the "11 Willow West" will come about at Silvercreek Pkwy instead of Marksam Rd.
One of the most controversial changes proposed in this realignment will likely concern "13 Victoria Road Recreation Centre", which will turn down Stevenson St instead of Metcalfe St. The minutes of TAC meeting show some concern that the planned route for 13 will now bypass social housing at the corner of Grange and Stevenson; a lot of people in housing, of course, being transit users. Like many of the changes, the goal is to create fewer connection issues; shorter routes mean better odds that people on those buses can make their transfers at Guelph Central Station.
"Hopefully we'll see a ridership and a revenue increase because we'll be actually picking people up," said Spicer, who added that these changes are a first phase in making transit "attractive and reliable," before discussing an expansion of service, or looking at options like queue jump lanes and signal priority. Those discussion will be a future phase and/or part of the upcoming Transportation Master Plan.
The "6 Harvard Ironwood" and "7 Kortright Downey" routes will remain unchanged in the new alignment, while "4 York", "14 Grange", "20 Northwest Industrial" will see no route changes, but they will be going to a flat 30-minute all day schedule and offer no peak service. They join a much larger number of routes that will no longer be offering peak service, including routes 1, 8, 9, 11, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Routes 10, 12, and 13 will maintain the current AM and PM 20-minute peak schedule, while the 3, 5, 6 and 7 will have 20-minute peak service every weekday from 7 am to 6 pm.
"This is the starting point to react quickly to what people are saying to us, which is that the level of service just isn't meeting our needs," Spicer explained adding that putting Guelph's own transit house in order will pave the way for bigger things. "I've already met with Metrolinx, but I am going to be reaching out to our friends at Grand River Transit to get some things down on paper that gives us some guiding principles about how were going to address [regional transit], and the timeframes that would be associated with that."
Until then, the plans here are not etched in stone, and there will be a lot of room for constructive public input and feedback. "We're trying to do a much better job in our engagement and in our discussions," Spider said. "We're not going out there saying 'This is what we're doing and you're going to have to adapt to it.' We're saying, 'This is what we're thinking, and if we're missing the boat completely on something, we'd like to know about it, and how it's going to affect you.'
"We'll then take that away and make a final design that will make most people happy," he added. "Our goal here is to do a much better job of how we talk to the community, how we speak to the community, and how we value their feedback."
The new plan will be presented to the Central Student Association at their Wednesday board meeting, and it will then be put forward for feedback from the general public at the end of March. A formal plan could come before council in June and be ready for implementation on September 3, and unlike the roll out of the schedule changes back in 2011, Spicer said that drivers will be given the time and training they need to get used to the new routes.
"We are doing turn-by-turn descriptions, which we're offering to all the operators, and we're also offering them the opportunity to go out and drive these routes," Spicer said, adding that nothing has yet been confirmed in terms of implementation. "Once we finalize everything we'll be working with our drivers. Hopefully that will happen over the summer, when we've got a lot of opportunity to provide some training."
For the full picture of changes to all transit routes, check out the below video:
*CORRECTION (03/15/16): The article originally stated that the 56 currently runs a 20-minute peak service in the morning and afternoon, it does not.