Public loves what they are hearing about an improved transit service - finally.

News 100 yellowBy Jan Mowbray

May 7th, 2019



Doug Brown and that band of merry men who have been advocating for better transit celebrated their fifth Bfast Transit Form and were able to publish a report card they weren’t sure they were ever going to be able to issue.

It was a stellar day for transit users who realize now that there is a different city council in place with a mandate to improve both the funding for transit and making it more usable with schedules and equipment that will allow the transit staff to operate the kind of service they think the city needs.

Audience with JE

It was a full house with the more than 100 people who took part listening intently to the speakers. The interest in a better transit service is palpable.

Sue Connor has been with the transit department for three years now and has needed time, patience and quite a lot of forbearance to get the departments needs through committee and approved by council

The free transit service for the 65+ crowd that will begin June 1st and operate from 9:30 to 2:30 Monday to Friday for an 18 month trial run was approved by the new council is a battle that took years to win.

McKenna at the door

Burlington MPP Jane McKenna, on the right, poked her head into the meeting, lingered for a few minutes and left.

Most of the council members were on hand, Burlington MPP Jane McKenna, poked her head into the packed room, looked about, listened for a few minutes and was able to tick of that box and went on her way. McKenna said she was there just to listen.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward told the audience that
“This year’s budget made incredible strides for transit,” and she thanked those colleagues present for their support. This year’s budget contained additional dollars for more buses and drivers. “We want our transit system to be something the public chooses because it’s the best way to get around”.

“No change would have happened without your advocacy. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” She had advised them “to keep speaking up, and you did! We can’t do our job without you.”

The mayor thanked Bfast for never giving up, keeping up the feedback to staff and advised everyone to keep good ideas coming.

Brown thanked the various financial and in-kind supporters: Burlington Seniors’ Centre, Poverty Free Halton, Burlington Age-friendly, Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee, Customer service at the Seniors’ Centre, Community Development Halton, Poverty Free Halton, and engaged citizens and Councillors in attendance.

Brown told the audience (he’s done this for the past four years) that Burlington spends less per capita than comparable communities. He said the city manager of the day managed to get Sue Connor from Brampton to help turn Burlington Transit around; she became a powerful voice for council in 2017.

Stolte + Connor +

Ward 4 city Councillor Shawna Stolte and Director of Transit Sue Connor engage in a conversation with a transit user at the 5th Annual Bfast Forum.

Referring to drivers having to work excess hours contrary to driver standards, Brown said “transit is still in a crappy situation but at least we will be running within the law; we still have a long way to go – it’s a long journey. Bfast is still pushing for a comprehensive transportation plan; we need to break out of the silos that limit a transit plan”.

Brown noted that Waterloo had developed scenarios, then put them out for public comment; and went with the preferred plan – Regional Transportation Plan. “Municipalities can make no better investment than in transit.”

Director of Transit Sue Connor mentioned initiatives for 2019: Free Srs Pilot starting June and running for 18 months; free split pass. She welcomes feedback from the public; acknowledges that there will be changes, that change is hard for everybody. Community Connection Routes will be changed, and that staff will be on board those buses to help explain the need for change.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte is turning out to be the voice for transit on council – a bit of a surprise there.
While researching transit she told the audience of an article she came across in an American publication
that acknowledged the rock star status of “Sue Connor and her premier leadership for a successful transit system that works for everyone” in Brampton.

Doug and Colin Bfast

Doug Brown, who has laboured on transit issues for more than a decade and Collin Gibbons wore smiles at the 5th Annual Bfast Forum.

Bfast Forums are two way events – Doug Brown and his side kick Collin Gibbons make plenty of time for questions and have transit people on hand to give answers.

Transit staff are a happier bunch of campers as well. They are keen and are enjoying their work. Strong positive leadership will do that. One transit staff member transferred out of city hall where he worked on communications: he was wearing a very visible smile while putting together a bus model made out of cardboard.

One staff member told the Gazette that whenever Sue Connor opens up a staff meeting she starts by making sure staff know that they are there to make city council look good.

Don’t hear words like that from other departments at city hall now do you?

Transit users wanted to know why there was:

• No connection between Via rail and Burlington transit at the Aldershot station; service for seniors is needed.

• There are no guides at Burlington GO for Burlington Transit. Staff will rectify that.

• Request that bus motors be turned off rather than idling for extended periods.

• One senior said it was going to be strange to get free transit and must pay for her grandchild. Response from Connor is that services must be balanced. The more free services provided, the more it will cost to deliver the rest of the service.

• To a response about using the service, making some sense as to just how the Presto Pass service works (good luck on re-loading your card the first time you try) – Connor said staff is looking for ways to provide videos on the city website, and travel training on the buses and in the schools. It will take some time she added – and her audience seemed ready to give her all the time she needed.

• A young man asked that at some point service be provided free for 18 years old and younger rather than current 13 limit, that subsidized fares for his generation would help them to get around, get jobs, etc. Connor said staff is working with the school board.

• A request that electric buses be used to help control green house emissions. Electric buses are part of the future but it was noted that the mere fact of using transit is helping to reduce those emissions; also that the current buses are cleaner and greener than they used to be.

• Sue Connor said Burlington was part of Phase II list for 8 electric buses, which come at a much higher cost. Funding was pulled back by the current provincial government but again emphasized that public transit is a greener option.

• A request around shelters that have advertising covering a whole wall: that they have a clear narrow band so that people can see in each direction – that it’s a safety issue.

• There was a request for heated and lit shelters. It has been considered but apparently the hydro that is provided to shelters is very minimal. Staff is setting a standard for shelters; will be assessing need and demand, and reasonable placement of shelters.

• A request that drivers be more considerate of passengers when using their brakes, that it’s particularly hard on those less-mobile.

• The public was advised to put suggestions in writing.

• Complaint that too many people talk too loud on their phones on the buses – perhaps bus drivers could remind people of common courtesies.

• Many issues around the Handivan – that there used to be quarterly notices, that there have been none in several years; that notices posted on Handivans are sometimes 3 years and older; and request that notices that are placed in the big buses, also be placed in the Handivan buses. These issues will all be reviewed by Sue and her staff.

• A comment from one attendee that it was a shame not all Councillors stayed for the whole event and asked about providing presto cards to each of them so they can better assess the service.

Something few people knew: Burlington Transit had provided each Councillor with a Presto pass when the service first started – a question that might be asked is how many actually tried the system out.

Collin Gibbons told the Gazette that Mayor Meed Ward has signaled that she will propose the re-establishment of a Transit Advisory Committee, chaired by new Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte.

“It will be a rebirth for the Committee, said Gibbons, “which was axed by the old City Council and supposedly rolled into the Integrated Transportation Advisory Committee (ITAC). But nothing useful on transit ever came out of ITAC. Bfast made the re-establishment of the Transit Committee one of its key proposals in the civic election.

As reported in the Gazette, previously, the Transit Advisory Committee will be part of a shakeup of the City’s advisory committees that the new Council must approve.

Gibbons added that the Mayor is recommending the transit committee cooperate with the Cycling Advisory Committee and the Integrated Transportation Advisory Committee.

“We have over 1 million rides annually on our transit system but no dedicated citizen’s advisory voice to council on transit,” said Meed Ward’s report. “Establishing a committee honours the importance of transit in the community expressed during the election campaign and honours the direct request for a stand-alone transit advisory committee from Burlington For Accessible Sustainable Transit and others”, said the Mayor


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3 comments to Public loves what they are hearing about an improved transit service – finally.

  • Penny Hersh

    This Council has been more generous in providing funding for public transit. However, there is much more to be done. City Advisory Committees have proven to be ineffective. For many years residents who sat on these committees have indicated that these committees were “lip service”. The committees were run by staff and committees were given “work” to keep them busy but never got past presenting the report to Council.

    Before we get yet another City Advisory Committee the entire advisory committees system needs to be changed. These Committees need to run independently with a councillor as a liaison when needed.

    We have a council that declared a Climate Emergency yet indicated that the reason we don’t purchase electric buses to help control green house emissions is because better public transit will do the job. Public Transit in Burlington will be successful when the routes meet the needs of the residents.

  • Bonnie

    As a former member of the Transit Advisory Committee, I am so pleased to read that it may be re-established as a working committee. Certainly rolling it into the ITAC was not a successful move.

  • steven craig Gardner

    Two comments One is it really a good thing that the director of Transit thinks her departments role is to make city ouncil look good? I thought it was to provide a superior transportation experience for the taxpayers of Burlington?
    Second comment will there be a new advisory committtee for the vast majority of citizens that use cars not transit or cycle to ensure thye are represented. No more New street road diet fiasco.

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