About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Transit Ideas from Former Candidate

Some people get a taste for politics that never goes away. Such is the case with former Ward 4 candidate Steven Petric, who sent out a letter with a number of transit improvement suggestions to members of City Council (and cc'ing it to several members of the media, including myself). These ideas are pretty good, and good enough to be worth sharing. Petric's letter is much longer, but this is the summery of his various ideas.
I suggest that the Transit Commission through Council reconsider the Midday levels (9am-3:30pm) and maintain 20 minute service along with the introduction of the AM/PM Rush service of 15 minutes coming this fall.
I suggest that the Transit Commission through Council reconsider the Summer service levels by maintaining 20 minute service during the AM/PM Peak periods (Start of service to 9:00am and 3:30 to 7:00pm).
I suggest that the Transit Commission through Council reconsider the Holiday service levels by at least testing a run of 1 hour service levels and having staff report back on the results of implementing it.
I suggest that the Transit Commission through Council consider the following on fares:
1) Create a Low Income Transit pass for those who qualify (i.e. Ontario Works receptionists)
2) Offer the corporate discount city wide to all businesses of any size. It has worked very well in other cities, so let stop twiddling our thumbs (like usual) and make it a reality this year. (GRT: http://tinyurl.com/68l5slb / TTC: http://tinyurl.com/yg6apyh)
3) Create a new Youth/Child cash fare, additionally look at selling bulk passes within the schools with a similar corporate discount.
4) Offer a mail subscription based transit pass (i.e. TTC Metropass (http://tinyurl.com/yas7o29) that is lower in price.
5) Start selling tickets in 5, 10 and 20 packs and not just 10 packs.
6) Create a weekly pass (Adult only)
7) Find more places to sell passes and there is a huge gap between places where you can buy.
8) Take a serious look at the PRESTO card for 2011/2012. The current reason we do not have it now, according to the Transit boss, is University of Guelph students who already use a card to ride the buses – their student card, which includes a universal bus pass for which all U of G students must pay - something that is now been solved by GO Transit (basically set up like monthly pass but can split over the semester) and it can be done here. Article: http://tinyurl.com/6emobrs
I also have some small, simple ideas on improvements that should be considered this budget and next year:
1) Start service at 5:00 AM Weekdays - something that will greatly help those who work nights/early day shifts, those who need to make connection to commuter services (i.e. Greyhound and GO) and would be more in line of other transit systems. This idea would be much better then running GO express buses in the morning as being considered by the Transit Commission.
2) Extend services later by 30 minutes to 12:45 am - this allows many riders, including those who work later/overnight (i.e. Galaxy Movie theatre on North end of city) to travel home (i.e. from North to South end) without being stuck downtown or at another transit point.
3) Create a citywide late night bus service for Friday and Saturday in cooperation with University of Guelph Students. Current buses paid for by students should remain the same (show pass or pay cash fare), however, other buses not covered by the UoG Students could be charged a "premium rate" of $4.00 (No transfers would be allowed as well. This should cover cost to run these extra buses currently covered by UoG students.
4) Extend the Sunday service: Start the service 30 minutes earlier and late to allow those who work (especially retail) to get to and from work on time. Consider the 1 hour service level for extended evening service in 2012.
5) Improve the layout of the Guelph Transit website: Compared to other cities, ours is a messy mix of information, some of it outdated. Additionally, improved customer services/suggestions/ideas/complaints contact information needs to be more visible.
6) Install the Next Bus Announcement System long ago announced in 2006 and never implemented. Defiantly a legal issue here that the TTC went through and I bet will happen here as well.

Public Expresses Displeasure With Budget

The public finally got their chance to speak their minds about the budget before, and directly to, City Council this past Tuesday, and guess what was on the mind of most of them. But there was actually much more on the minds of speakers as they talked about an array of issues to consider before the final budget is passed this Wednesday.
Anastasia Ziprick was the first delegate and she spoke to council on behalf of several major arts festivals including the Guelph Jazz Festival, the Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival and Hillside, remarking about how rental fees on the River Run Centre need to be lowered. Ziprick said that it’s hard to deal with mounting expenses and if fees at the River Run’s Co-operators Hall aren’t reduced, then the Jazz Festival may have to relocate.
Sandy Ferguson-Escott spoke next on behalf of the Guelph-Non Profit Housing Committee. She was looking for tax relief on the GNPHC’s development on Paisley Road. The problem for GNPHC is that they got a bad deal when the project was developed in 2005, which prevents them from seeking additional revenue by transferring it over from one of their other eight sites. Without the tax relief, Ferguson-Escott said, there won’t be enough money to pay for the bills, and the project will be effectively bankrupt. 
Terry O’Connor on behalf of the Income Security Action Group for Poverty Task Force, was the first to talk about the proposed service cuts and fee hike to Guelph Transit. He was also the first to talk about the possibility of introducing a low income bus pass directed not just at people of limited means, but could also be used to help people on EI, CPP, the disabled and seniors be mobile. O'Conner pointed out that numerous other municipalities across the province already have something similar in effect, and that Guelph support agencies already give away tens of thousands of dollars worth of bus passes and tickets per year already.
Next, community activist Ben Bennett took the podium and opened with a broad swipe. "It took so long [to walk up here], I should have taken the bus perhaps," he joked. Bennett began that if cutting transit was so controversial, then the simple solution would be to not cut it at all. Bennett added that the City should be making people "excited about the possibilities, and not depressed about the on-the-street realities. [...] Transit needs to be affordable and reliable; do it right, or don't do it." Bennett's remarks won a warm round of applause from the crowd and an admonishment from Mayor Karen Farbridge, who asked the people in the gallery to contain future exuberance. 
Barb McPhee, on behalf of Community Voices, also spoke about the transit fee increases and said that a meeting her group had about the subject drew three-times the number of people they were expecting. She explained that a fare increase will leave people stranded, and that the continued lack of stat holiday service is creating a city of haves and have nots. She also noted that many of the people that have to work on stat holidays are the very same people that take the bus to their places of employment, and those that have the day off are left unable to enjoy city festivities like Canada Day in Riverside Park. McPhee suggested that the City should look two hours of transfer time instead of one, and that the goal of transit should be to treat riders with respect and to make sure people make can their transfers on time.
On another subject, Konnie Peet, Executive Director of the Guelph Community Health Centre on behalf of the Wellington-Guelph Drug Strategy Committee, asked for $30,000 in new funding from the City and the County of Wellington in order to hire a co-ordinator and help fund overhead costs. This money would be an annual budget line item to help the WGDDSC with its outreach, treatment, harm reduction and prevention programs. 
Andrew Seagram of the Guelph Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination brought the conversation back to transit. He reiterated the points of no fee increase, the revival of stat holiday service, and the introduction of a low income bus pass. Paul Clarkson, who followed Seagram, tried a different approach in advocating for transit by referring to a study that says that people that take public transit are three times more like to get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity. This got the attention of some of the councillors, but Ward 6 rep Karl Wettstein wanted to talk about whether or not Clarkson had approached other levels of government about funding, in-part, Guelph Transit, before going on a bit of a tangent about how the Federal and Provincial government should be carrying a combined 40 per cent of the weight of city buses.
Paul Reeve, Chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, asked council about releasing $100,000 in this years budget to continue towards the goal of removing physical barriers from City rec facilities. Peter MacNeill of Guelph Tranist spoke on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1189, and reiterated many of the same points made by Gary Daters in my interview with him a few weeks ago. Later, former council candidate Steven Petric added another transit suggestion by offering that idea that the Guelph Transit Advisory Committee should be re-initiated.
Before the end of the night, Guelph Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Longfield took the floor to state his concerns about the City’s hiring of 87 Full-Time Equivalent positions saying that most businesses are continuing to act with an abundance of caution in these early stages of economic recovery. He also added that as much as he wants the City to help foster industrial and commercial development, he also wanted them to keep in mind residential growth, as many of the businesses he works with are telling him that they’re looking outside the city limits for skilled, and professional workers. 
The last speaker was Lou Maieron, Mayor of the Town of Erin. who was looking for an ambulance to fill the newly constructed ambulance station at the Erin Wellness Centre. He also, apparently, went to the University of Guelph with Mayor Farbridge, which is an interesting bit of trivia to come out of the evening. (it helped keep things light.)
So it was a diverse pallet of opinions at the meeting. Reaction from the councillors seemed oddly stayed on the issue of transit. For the majority, perhaps that means there's some hope that transit won't be a victim in this budget. We'll know for certain on Wednesday, however.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

They Have an App for Grand River County

Because now in days you can't do anything without having an app for it. Grand River County now has it's own iPhone app that will enable people to take Grand River with them no matter where they go. Here's the City's press release
GUELPH – February 25, 2011 – Now there’s an easy way to discover Grand River Country right at your fingertips. And best of all, it’s free.
The outdoor adventures, scenery, accommodation and dining destinations of Guelph have never been more accessible to visitors planning their next trip. Launching today, and available for free from the Apple iTunes App Store is Grand River Country’s best new trip planning companion for the iPhone, an easy-to-use App featuring the best of attractions, dining, accommodation, festivals and recreation found throughout the Grand River watershed.
Travelers are increasingly relying on mobile devices to access destination information, and the App offers Grand River community partners in Guelph, Elora & Fergus, Wellington North, St. Jacobs & Woolwich, Brantford and County of Brant, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, and Haldimand County a new way of reaching and engaging visitors.
“I am excited to pass this one-of-a-kind benefit on to our tourism partners,” says Sue Trerise, Senior Business Development Specialist-Tourism for Guelph Tourism Services. “We are working hard to keep up with the changing technologies available to the tourism sector.”
Visitors planning to visit Guelph can browse over 40 Guelph business listings with the iPhone App or search by activity and location, build a trip itinerary, save listings to a favourites list, send out a tweet to friends on Twitter, ‘like’ a location or activity on Facebook, and even book a reservation at a local inn or restaurant directly from within the App.
“It is one more way that Guelph is reaching out to the Ontario market. It will allow us to connect with a demographic that has been a challenge to access in the past.” says Trerise. “It’s thrilling to be leading the industry and interacting with our visitors through a new medium. It extends the reach we currently offer with the Guelph Tourism website.”
Travelers can download Grand River Country’s App from Apple’s iTunes store for free.
About Grand River Country
The Grand River is located just an hour west of Toronto. Grand River Country is a group of municipalities (DMO’s - Destination Marketing Organizations), including the Grand River Conservation Authority, promoting tourism in the Grand River Country region. We focus on the area’s heritage, arts and fantastic outdoor recreation opportunities, many of which led to the Grand’s designation as a Canadian Heritage River. grandrivercountry.com

City To Play Telephone

If you're one of those types that hates annoying phone calls about... whatever, then March is not going to be your month. The City of Guelph will be ringing hundreds of people across the Royal City next month to learn from them what they think the City's priorities for the next four years should be. To those of you either too jaded or too lazy to write letters, make phone calls, go to public meetings, or even vote, this is your time to shine. (But you'll probably hang up before you even learn what the call is about.) Here's the City's press release:
GUELPH, ON, February 25, 2011 – Starting in early March, phones will ring in hundreds of Guelph households as the City of Guelph surveys residents on their priorities and aspirations for their community over the next four years.
The survey results will be used to update the City's Strategic Plan, The City that Makes a Difference, a document that guides the City's goals, objectives, and priorities. They will also provide Council and staff with statistically-valid information about the community's views.
Environics Research Group, one of Canada's leading public research firms, will conduct the survey. President and CEO of Environics Barry Watson provided Council with an overview of the survey's process and content at a meeting February 23rd. He explained to Council, “A scientific survey is the only way to get an accurate, representative picture of what the public thinks.”
Other steps in the updating of the strategic plan will include workshops with Council and the City's executive team to revise the mission statement, set priorities, review services and agree upon strategic initiatives for this term of Council. Workshops will be led by Chris Bart, Principal, Lead Professor and Founder of The Director's College and Professor of Strategy and Governance at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business.
“A key focus of this process will be revising and refining the City of Guelph’s mission statement to more clearly define the City’s core business,” said Bart. At the February 23rd meeting, Council and the City’s Executive Team agreed to conduct a complete review of services and programs in the context of the City’s core business.
In June, the City will seek the community's input on the draft revised strategic plan through a series of public meetings.
About the Survey
The 10-minute survey will be conducted in English and three other languages among a representative sample of 600 residents aged 18 and older. The sample will yield an overall margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Questions on age, gender, education, income, ethnicity, and ward will help ensure the demographics of the sample mirror Guelph's population as a whole.
The City of Guelph last conducted a public opinion survey of this size in 2008. That survey led to new customer service standards, a corporate communications plan, and reviews of sidewalk snow clearing and building services, among other initiatives.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Paging Wet Blankets

I wish to take a moment to highlight a letter received to the Guelph Tribune and published last week. It’s from Mitch Fountain, and it’s basically one of the few articulations as to why a transit fee hike is a good idea.
"There were lots of good letters from both sides on how budget restrictions may affect bus service in Guelph."
I honestly haven't heard a lot of support for one side, and if anything all the momentum is on the side of those that oppose cuts to Guelph Transit. Want proof, see the delegations at the City Council meeting this week. Also, see the councillors who themselves are trying to backpedal  by having staff look at the cost of keeping 20-minute service in summer, and reinstating stat holiday services.
"The fact remains, though, that we the taxpayers, especially the ones who have never ridden a city bus, cannot afford to continue with these high annual tax increases."
Hmm. Well, I don't use the city's soccer fields. I don't use the Victor Davis pool. I don't visit the library in the south end. I don't walk on the sidewalks on Clairefield very often.
I also don't rent games from the X-Box 360 section of Rogers Video. Nor do I ever go in to the 7-11 at Victoria and Eramosa. And I have never attended Festival Italiano.
This is a ridiculous argument: I don't use a service, ergo I should not have to pay for it. Transit it there for people that need to/want to/have to use it. Like garbage pick-up. You don't have to leave your garbage and recycling on the curb for the city to pick up, you can always drop it off at the dump yourself. Cherry picking the services you want to support will have the same effect as the school vouchers argument in the U.S.; some services would be flush and others would be left indigent.
"What is the real cost of a bus ride in Guelph?"
 It's $8.9 million. That is what it cost in the year 2010, anyway. It's right there in the budget document.
"Why don’t we figure that out..."
They did. And they do every year.
"...then put the buses back into Sunday/holiday service for the routes that make sense with a Sunday/ holiday rate?"
Not necessarily bad ideas. Why does the #24 run the full Industrial sector on Sundays? And a lot of University bus routes like the #57, #58, and #59 don't run on the weekend already. Special holiday rate, I'm not opposed per se, but having different rates on certain days of the week or times of the month doesn't make a lot of sense if we're trying to promote consistent and  regular transit use. "Honey, is today a $2.75 day or a $3.25 day on the bus?" Reduced service on certain routes at off-peak times is something other transit systems do, but I can't think of any with rotating rates. 
"No impact to the taxpayer, and people who need to get to work or wish to go to a park can do it for $5 or $6."
People who take the bus don't need to get to work? Interesting. 
"That’s what it costs for me to drive there in my Jeep!"
It actually costs you a lot more than that when you factor in gas, maintenance and insurance of your Jeep. And while we're on the subject of paying the true cost for things, why don't you start paying the full price for gas? It's an industry still heavily subsidized in North America in the interest of making it as cheap as possible. 
"City workers facing summer layoffs could even pick up some overtime shifts. Wouldn’t that work?"
I'm not sure what your definition of "layoff" is, but it generally means no work of any kind for those affected. How many "overtime shifts" would a driver have to do a week in order to make up the lost salary of their full-time job? And while you're at it, multiply that by 22, which is how many drivers were laid off last summer.
Overall, this letter sticks in my craw (as it were) for a kind of base ignorance it has. It's an attitude I keep hoping we'll grow out of, that bus service is beneath some people and is an option left open only for poor folks, students and hippies. It's okay to piss on them because, well, I guess because some of us live in a world were Scrooge was never visited by Marley and the Christmas Ghosts. (Incidentally, the name of my new band ;-) 
Just another reminder that for some people in Guelph, all services are sacred except transit. We shall see if council can resits the urge to acquiesce.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Budget Night: Let's Get Ready to Rumble!?

At tonight's City Council meeting, the floor is opened up for the first time to public delegations about the  budget. Sadly, I won't be able to be there because of a prior commitment, but I expect there will be some sharp words from many speaking, especially the many who are speaking on behalf of the disadvantaged.
If you want to be a spectator, be at City Hall by 7 pm. Or if you can't be there, you watch the whole thing live on Rogers TV.
In the meantime, here's the list of tonight's delegate:
  • Anastasia Ziprick on behalf of the Guelph Jazz Festival
  • Sandy Ferguson-Escott on behalf of the Guelph-Non Profit Housing Committee
  • Terry O’Connor on behalf of the Income Security Action Group for Poverty Task Force
  • Erinn White on behalf of the Guelph & District Labour Council
  • Ben Bennett
  • Barb McPhee on behalf of Community Voices
  • Konnie Peet, Executive Director of the Guelph Community Health Centre on behalf of the Wellington-Guelph Drug Strategy Committee
  • Andrew Seagram on behalf of the Guelph Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination
  • Colin Hunter on behalf of the Guelph Professional Firefighters Association
  • Paul Clarkson
  • Paul Reeve, Chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee
  • Peter Mac Neill on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1189
  • Jacqueline Dixon

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Get Well Soon

Though it's been a few days, I thought I'd send out best wishes to Guelph Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig, who collapsed last Monday at the City Council meeting during the budget presentation. Loewig was taken to the hospital by ambulance, but was released the next day and allowed to continue his recovery at home. In the interim, Mark Amorosi has been appointed acting CAO until Loewig is able to return to work. No further information has been released about the cause of Loewig's collapse, but it's the second time in two years that he's taken time off from his CAO duties for health reasons. I, for one, wish him a speedy recovery and hope that he's back at his City Hall desk sooner rather than later.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's Right with this Picture?

Sending out a little love to my brothers and sisters in Guelph-based journalism today (as I nod to the oratory-style of Cornel West), because The Guelph Mercury has finally launched its new website. My short review is positive so far. It's as easy to navigate as the old site once you get your bearings. It took me a while to find the links to the Mercury blogs, like 59 Carden Street for example.(For the record, you click on the "More" tab in the middle of the task bar under the flag, or logo), but I do like how the blog now pops open in a new tab on browser. So far, so good!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spin Control

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.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

If Only...

I try not to veer too much into U.S. Politics here, but I can't always help myself. Last month, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank pushed for a media boycott of Sarah Palin for the month of February. I threw my support behind that, if only because the woman is entirely too exposed for currently being nothing more than a pundit. She's a former politician that gets paid for speeches and talking about issues on TV, like any number of people that fit that broad category but have only a fraction of the press.
Whether or not Milbank and others that took his pledge succeed is one thing, but the other is the fertile, comedic ground it offered to the gang at Funny or Die. Here, we see the results of a month with out Palin as it impacts the "former Governor." Gina Gershon plays Palin, and she does do a pretty good job of channeling the Wonder of Wasilla. Check it out for yourself below:

Succinct Words from Laidlaw

So as I was writing up yesterday's piece about my interview with Gary Daters, Union President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189, I sent an e-mail to Maggie Laidlaw, outspoken advocate for transit in Guelph, and asked for her opinion. This is what she sent me:
"I am not in favour of continuing with the 30 minute summer service, nor the lack of transit on holidays nor the transit fare increases."
Succinct and to the point. It would be nice if other councillors would be as passionate in favour of our transit system.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Transit Union on Cuts: What's the Deal?

Of course, the transit riders of Guelph were not a happy bunch last week when news came down that again this summer there will be service cuts and a fare increase, but they weren't the only ones. Indeed, the people driving those buses aren't happy either, and neither are their union reps.
I talked to Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1189 President Gary Daters on the phone today about an investigation started by his union as to how the City decided to target, once again, the local transit service for cuts, and why they're doing it in a year where spending seems to be going up. And more than that, how can the City propose another service cut just a day after the union ratified an agreement that promised no more service cuts?
“We negotiated a contract under the understanding that there would be no service cuts this year," explained Daters. "We ratified the vote on January 30th and the next day we were informed that there would be service cuts. We questioned that, and we were told even last year that it would only be a one time deal.”
As well, according to Daters, his union is looking into the possibility that a motion to make the 30-minute summer schedule permanent, regardless of budgeting issues, is being brought before council.
Adding to the union's cynicism of the City's intentions is the fact that Daters and other members in union leadership didn't find out about the proposed cuts and fare hike until the day after the new three-year union contract was ratified, the same day that City Council got its first look at the proposed 2011 budget. Daters was called for a meeting with transit's general manager January 31st, but was unable to attend. Daters read about the budget's impact on transit the next morning in the newspaper.
“Our goal is to keep 20-minute service in the summer time so that the public won’t be inconvenienced and also there won’t be any layoffs on our part," Daters added. "Last year it was a tough summer, people were missing their transfers and there was a strain on the drivers that were here.”
Originally, the 2010 budget called for 30 transit workers to be laid off for June and July and an additional five workers laid off in August when service was cancelled on Sundays. The reality though was that only 20-22 workers ended up being laid off and while Daters hasn't seen or heard about any hard numbers in terms of layoffs for this year, if 20-minute service is suspended for three months they will be inevitable.
“I’ve talked to many who were laid off last year already and they’ve said that this time, if there’s another layoff [then they won't come back] because they can’t afford to work nine months of the year,” he said. Five workers didn't return after last summer's layoffs, and according to Daters it costs $10,000 per driver to train new people to pilot the city's fleet.
“So not only did they have reduced service during the summertime, but in the fall they didn’t have enough people so they ended up having to cut runs everyday,” Daters adds.
While not being talked about as much, Daters isn't pleased that statutory holiday service has continued to be put on the back-burner. “That’s a big issue as well," he said. "I don’t know what kind of feedback City Hall got, but I know it had a lot of people upset and that’s something that we don’t mind doing.”
In the hope to build support for transit and to hopefully overturn the decision to cut service and increase fares, the ATU Local is asking for public support. Additionally, the ATU is putting together a presentation for the February 22nd council meeting and Daters says that he's been in communication with other local groups making presentations to City Council during their deliberations. Daters is asking transit users to make their displeasure heard with their councillor.
(Scroll down to see the ATU's press release.)
“This will be the second year in the row where they’ve raised fares and cut service," says Daters. "I was just talking to the a Director of the Council of Canadians and he doesn’t know of any other transit company that is cutting back, or cutting service. And that’s the question he asked me, 'Why is Guelph doing it?' And that’s a question that needs to be asked of the Mayor and Council members.”

ATU Local 1189 Press Release

Here's the press release that was forwarded  to me by ATU Local 1189 President Gary Daters. They're looking for public support to keep 20-minute service this summer and stop the 25 cent fare hike:

Your city transit workers are very disappointed and upset with the current proposal before city council to reduce summer service frequency.
As was demonstrated last summer, 30 minute service just doesn’t work. Buses were routinely late and transfers were often missed. Your bus routes are just too busy to provide reliable, on time service with this change, as we saw last year. We feel that patrons of Guelph Transit deserve better.
That is why we made this a key issue during our negotiations with the City. We don’t want a repeat of last summer for the public, or for our union members. We are particularly upset that just one day after our members voted to accept the agreement, the City announced the proposed service cuts; after we were assured that there wouldn’t be any. This gives the impression that the City bargained in bad faith.
We are prepared to use every avenue at our disposal if we and the people who rely on proper service, face fare increases combined with service cuts again.
We are encouraging the people who depend on this most important service provided by the City to contact their council members and mayor to support the dependable on-time 20 minute service during this period.
Gary Daters
President / Business Agent
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There Will Be Budget

It was the moment we've all been waiting for. After a year that stretched city resources to the limit in the wake of a global recession, what was the 2011 city budget going to look like? Optimistic was the watch word of the evening, perhaps with the word "cautiously" prefacing it. In brief, the City is returning much of the cuts made in the 2010 budget - including those five days off that caused so much controversy - as well as hiring additional hands at city facilities. On the downside, this is going to cost taxpayers 5.67 per cent more for 2011.
On the other hand that could be as much as 8.8 per cent. In a presentation by Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig to City Council, he said that revenues were returning "somewhat" to pre-recession levels, and that in 2011, revenues would increase by about 3.13 per cent. Loewig called the 5.67 per cent "a truly sustainable budget figure. [...] It represents a series of compromises and deliberations over many months." 
One of those compromises is no 20-minute transit service in the summer months, and no stat-holiday service either. “If I could have everything, they would be in there,” lamented executive director of operations and transit Derek McCaughan at a press briefing after the council meeting. Still, it looks like there will be an additional cash fare increase of 10 cents in order to help collect $200,000 worth of the $1 million increase needed in transit revenue. Most of that will come via the changes in the U-Pass for University of Guelph students ($700,000) and another $90,000 will be raised through increased parking fees.
A lot of the new money will go towards staffing though with 87.5 new full-time equivalency positions being created with 23 of those going to the new south-end emergency station. But with so many new capital projects coming online this year - the transit hub, the new Civic Museum, Market Square, Organic Waste Plant - as well as the annualization of the POA court and the East-End Library, much of the increase is going to making sure that those facilities are staffed and operating. 
Another interesting matter to come out of last night's budget discussions is the need of the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit for new facilities in Guelph and Orangeville for the grand total of $22 million. Under normal circumstances, the Guelph share of that tab would come in at $2.5 million, but because the Province is refusing to fund any new capital projects - which it normally would considering that it covers 75 per cent of the WDGPH's budget - Guelph could have to pay as much as $10 million for the construction of new facilities. Loewig and Mayor Karen Farbridge both said that the City is seeking an audience with the Ministry of Health to see if there's any movement on the Province's decision. In the meantime, the new facility is off the books for the 2011 budget. 
So what happens next? The full budget presentation will unfurl on back-to-back meeting nights on February 14th and 15th, with delegations being heard on February 22nd and a full vote from council on both the operating and capital budgets on March 2nd. The full budget will be available for the public to see on the City's website and hard copies will be available at public library branches.