John Street terminal to stay for now; bigger issue got put on the table: Where is Burlington going with public transit – council doesn’t know.

By Pepper Parr

March 5, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

The John Street transit terminal will remain in place – for now.  On a vote of 5-2 (Sharman, Dennison were prepared to let people stand out in the cold)  The city is currently looking at the matter of transit hubs – there are four that are being avidly discussed – with the John Street location seen as one of the more critical locations.  The Burlington GO station has more bus routes going through it – 16 as opposed to the 8 that run through the John Street location.  The Mayor sees it as a critical part of the downtown core.

There was a time when a much larger bus terminal existed 25 yards to the left of this small terminal on John Street – it was where people met. There were fewer cars, Burlington didn’t have the wealth then that it has now. We were a smaller city, as much rural as suburban. The times have changed and transit now needs to change as well.

The transit people wanted to shut the terminal down because the drivers wouldn’t need the facility and the public would be able to get answers to their questions at the Harvester Road transit office which is open longer than the terminal and has staff available on Sunday.  What Spicer kept calling  “fare media” when he meant bus tickets, would be available at local retail locations in the downtown core.  The Queen’s Head and Coffee Culture are the closest retail locations that are open long hours but Spicer told council that his people had not approached anyone yet.

Were the terminal to be closed, tickets will be available at city hall – but the hours there are limited.  What was startling was no mention whatsoever about customer comfort.  In this brutally cold weather that has been with us for more than a month the outdoor shelters just don’t cut it.  The terminal is a warm place to wait for a bus.

Mayor Rick Goldring said transit had to have a meaningful presence in the downtown core and added that he talks to a lot of people who use the John Street terminal.

The Mayor and Meed Ward were the only two people to talk about the terminal.  Meed Ward then moved on to part two of her transit mission: where was transit in the Transportation Master Plan review which has focused a bit on the creation of four mobility hubs.  Burlington’s friends and supporters of transit (Bfast)  couldn’t see it in the proceedings so far.

Mobility hubs at the GO stations is close to a no brainer – it is the possible hub in the downtown core that has yet to be thoroughly thought through. Council decided that closing the terminal on John Street to save $8000 a year was not a bright idea.

Meed Ward was the chair of the committee reviewing budget submissions which means when she has a question she turns the gavel over to her vice chair Paul Sharman who behaved like an enforcer on a hockey team and appeared to feel his job was to keep the puck away from Meed Ward and if she did get her hands on the thing – then his job was to knock her down.  It was particularly deplorable behaviour during which there was precious little respect shown.  We have seen this kind of behaviour from Councillor Sharman in the past.

With the gavel in his hands Sharman challenged her right to bring a new matter to the committee meeting.  The Clerk ruled that Meed Ward could bring a new matter and given that transit was being discussed and her matter was related to transit she wanted to proceed.

What became clear during the discussion about the John Street terminal is the difficulty the city is having with just what it wants to do, will have to do and can afford in terms of public transit.

The transit advocates maintain that the city had not made it perfectly clear that transit was part of the Master Transportation Plan the city is currently reviewing.

General Manager Scott Stewart put that dog to rest when he made it perfectly clear that transit is a vital part of the transportation thinking. 

Doug Brown, chair of Bfast – Burlington’s friends and supporters of transit, can read a bus schedule better than most bookies can read the Racing Guide. He meets with Susan Lewis a transit user.

Doug Brown Bfast chair said he has been asking if transit was being considered within the Transportation Master Plan and hadn’t been given an answer.  Last November Brown sent the following questions to everyone he felt was involved.  He says he has yet to get an answer.  Bfast wants to know:

1) Will the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) develop a comprehensive long-term transit plan, including funding, to guide the growth of a robust transit system?

 2) Will the TMP fully analyze and assess all opportunities to minimize road and intersection widenings and the construction of additional parking facilities through investments in transit, active transportation, and Transportation Demand Management?

 3) Will the TMP be evaluated against criteria demonstrating that implementation of the TMP will:

a) meet the City’s own planning objectives (ROPA38 requirement to increase local transit to 11% modal split from current 2%);

b) meet the objectives of the City’s Strategic Plan (walkable, liveable, inclusive communities; GHG reduction targets)

c) will be environmentally and economically sustainable by determining all costs and benefits of proposed transportation options 

 4) Will the TMP look at successful measures in other cities (i.e. Portland, Ottawa, Victoria) to increase transit and active transportation modes.

Meed Ward read these out at the budget meeting.  Stewart said he wasn’t aware of the questions; Meed Ward said she would send them to him.

The discussion around what the transit issue really is was instructive.  Burlington is expected to increase the transit part of its modal split (that is the number of people who use different forms of transportation) from 2% to 11% by 2031 and that can only happen if transit ridership increases by 10% each year.

Blend into that the fact that transit ridership was lower in 2013 than it was in 2012.

City manager Jeff Fielding points out that our population is only going to grow by 1900 a year for the next ten years and then asks:  “Do you really think you are going to get a modal shift from 2% up to 11% in the next 20 years.  I can’t see it, I really can’t see it and I’m a big transit supporter.  There may be some other approaches we need to look at.”

Councillor Taylor was just as direct.  He said we are not going to get new people to take transit.  If transit is to grow it will have to come from the existing population – and that is going to mean changing our communities and intensifying.  The one way you can change transit said Taylor is to make it more convenient for the users.

No one moves to Burlington to get around using transit.Councillor Sharman was both direct and blunt.  Burlington is a great city and a place where wealthy people want to live.  Wealthy people have cars.  No one moves to Burlington to get around using transit.

Those views sum up the predicament and the challenge that transit faces.

That brought Meed Ward back into the conversation with a question for staff:  “Can they tell us with some specificity how transit will be handled within the Transportation Master Plan?”  Stewart was able to oblige her.  Transit will be part of the Transportation Master Plan discussions but there will not be a transit business case coming out of the TMP.

Stewart undertook to get answers to the Bfast questions; when, asked Meed Ward.  Not in March, that’s for sure responded Stewart; probably in April or May.

Transit is due to produce their first report card on how the service is doing in June.  Add to that the news that transit is currently working with the providers of a technology that will give the transit managers real-time data on who gets on and off a bus and exactly where this happens; data Burlington Transit says is vital if they are to effectively allocate the resources they have.

As the discussion was coming to a close Sharman, filling in as chair of the meeting, asked Meed Ward if she had a motion.  No, she replied and I now want to withdraw the motion I might have had.  She had made her point – transit was now very much on the table and a part of an upcoming agenda.

Viewpoints that were not known before were now public.

The city does have a transit advisory committee – problem with that committee is that it can’t manage to meet which increases Stewart’s frustration level.

The one way you can change transit is to make it more convenient for the users.Susan Lewis a consistent transit user, she doesn’t drive, was asked to join the Transit Advisory committee and headed downtown in January  for a meeting.  When she got to city hall she and one other person were the only people in the room; the meeting had been cancelled and not everyone was told.

Mayor Goldring and Councillor Meed Ward want clarity, the transit advocates want a clear policy commitment and better funding.  The city manager doesn’t want to provide that money because he doesn’t see value in it and the bulk of this council don’t have a lot of time for transit.  They spent more time talking about the removal of snow.

There is one sliver of hope.  The city manager is a transit supporter and he would very much like to have some bold ideas to work with.  The Bfast people, who can be a bit pedantic at times, do know what moving people around on public transit is all about.

If Stewart does manage to get all the players in the room he just might find that the Bfast people have a lot to offer; he just has to manage the frustration that overcomes him on occasion.  He might think in terms of making Bfast the transit advisory committee.  It couldn’t be any worse than what he has now – and the transit staff would be well served to listen carefully to these people.  More respect for each other would go a long way as well.

The discussion really wasn’t a budget issue; Meed Ward was pushing the rules, but she brought to the table a discussion that has been needed for some time.  Councillors Lancaster and Dennison had nothing to say; it will be a long time before you see either of them on a bus.

Councillors Lancaster and Dennison had nothing to say; it will be a long time before you see either of them on a bus.Back to those mobility hubs and the John Street terminal.  The hubs and hinged to the GO stations which makes sense – the downtown hub was the location that council wasn’t as certain about.

One of the “big picture” tasks the city is working on is opportunities to develop the north end of John Street where the city owns a parking lot that abuts the plaza at the top of John Street.

Medica One or the Carriage Gate project – pick the name you like best – will go up at the top of John Street and consist of a medical offices building, an above ground garage and an apartment/condo complex. It will bring significant change to the intersection and drive redevelopment of the plaza to the immediate north, A transit hub a couple of blocks to the south then makes a lot of sense.

The Carriage Gate group is expected to break ground soon on its medical building, parking garage and apartment/condo tower which will make the Caroline and John Street part of town a busier place.

Parking lot # 3 at the top of John Street just south of the shopping plaza is being given a very close look for redevelopment. The Carriage Gate development will draw people to the area creating a John Street that could undergo significant development. There might be life in the downtown core yet.

Some of the city thinking has the plaza at the top of John Street being given a massive make over and that portion of John Street north of Caroline a cleanup – it looks more like a laneway right now.  All this thinking will impact what happens at the south end of John, where just blocks away the Delta Hotel and the Bridgewater condominiums are about to see some real construction activity.

A John Street mobility hub then would be a critical part of any makeover of this part of town which is all   very much a project that is in the thinking through the ramifications stage.

The Mayor wants to stay with this one; get in front of it and lead the parade.

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2 comments to John Street terminal to stay for now; bigger issue got put on the table: Where is Burlington going with public transit – council doesn’t know.

  • Penny Hersh

    I find it difficult to imagine that Councillor Sharman would even say that the people of Burlington are wealthy and want to use cars. If he honestly believes this he should not even consider running for council. Burlington has many seniors living on very fixed incomes who do not have the luxury of owning a car and depend on public transit. Shame on you Mr. Sharman….

    As for the way Councillors treat each other – it is deplorable. Leadership comes from the top. I have felt for a long time that it is up to the Mayor to make certain that the councillors treat each other with respect. I have witnessed first hand the rude attitude that exists between some councillors. This should not be tolerated.

    I hope that when October comes along that the residents look closely at the people running for office. Make choices not based on whether they think the person is a good person, but rather if the person is a good leader.

  • Pat

    The first step is for all of council to take a ride on a city bus and see exactly how the system works.

    When is the last time the Mayor or council have taken the city bus? Serious question. How can they understand the issues without doing some homework on their own?

    Sharman, again sounds so dumb. He is so out of his league to be an effective manager of city issues. Dolt.

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